In June 2010, Karl Kajomo Moritz was bicycling home after a long day working as a senior tech designer at a local sportswear company – about 22 miles that he rides as part of his daily commute. Two miles from his house in Southeast Portland, he was hit head-on by a car going 35 miles-per-hour and dragged underneath the vehicle for 32 feet. Moritz was taken to the OHSU Department of Emergency Medicine where he subsequently spent five weeks in a coma.
When he woke up, he learned he was diagnosed with a severe traumatic brain injury (s-TBI) with diffused axonal injury (DAI). Moritz also had 13 titanium screws in his hip, seven upper spine fractures and laser surgery to reattach his left ear. He was left legally blind in his left eye due to a diffused retina.
“My first memory is of me in the hospital, starting to do physical and cognitive exercises while my mom and dad visited. Every day I would ask my nurse, ‘Why am I here?’ and she would tell me I was hit by a car.”
As part of his recovery, Moritz was connected with a therapist at the Speech Language Pathology department at Pacific University, where he learned he also has aphasia.
“Prior to the accident, I was a very gregarious person, but now people think I’m just drunk when speaking. I have only had two job interviews in the last two years with no outcomes, and I think a lot of that is due to my speech.”
Eager to improve his total recovery by combining standard care with naturalistic practices, Moritz researched the best foods for brain balance and physical exercise for improved cognition. Among the top-3 activities that challenge the brain in balance and spatial awareness? Bicycle riding.
After more than 20 years commuting by bike, Moritz learned how to ride on a fixed-gear track bike, with his shoes clipped in and no brakes. He spent two years in the saddle in velodrome development classes on a rented bike. Eventually, he built his own UCI-certified track bike from the frame up, adding detachable front brakes so that he could also commute on his new ride.
“I feel much more alert now than a few years ago, all while not going as fast on a bike,” Moritz says. “I found track racing to be very challenging, and even without a brain injury, fantastic exercise.”
“I have crashed once in while in development class and learned what not to do, with scars to remind me.” he adds.
It would take Moritz three seasons – five months each year – to get certified as a Category 5 racer in velodrome track racing. Through his training, he got in shape physically, while forcing his brain to multi-task as his legs spun him around the quick 43-degree banked turns.
Moritz estimates that between 2015-2019, he rode roughly six organized event per year. He became an adjunct board member of the Brain Injury Connections Northwest and pitched the idea of having fellow TBI survivors ride with him at organized events. Hence, “Spinning for Neurogenesis” (S4N) was born.
“I personally feel great in my accomplishments of earning a Category 5 in velodrome racing and building my own UCI-certified track bike, but above all, I have worked with doctors and providers to come and speak about their various specialties at my brain injury support group, as I wanted to broaden the scope of therapies for survivors.”
Recently, Moritz worked with the Regional Arts & Culture Council and local filmmaker Cheryl Green to record his story in the hopes of inspiring other brain injury peers to seek a healing plan that works for them. (Watch the documentary below.)
Before his accident, Moritz was an active father of three young sons – Aiden, Elliott and Ariel – making dinner, reading bedtime stories and giving all three rides to the local park on his utility trike bike. The boys have been by his side since the event that changed his life. Today, his sons join him regularly at the track and on the road – each with their own custom built bike, proudly made by dad.
(Content Warning: This film contains graphic imagery of Karl in a coma.)