Musicant Family Brain Trust

David's Story

     The new year is often about losing weight, finally taking a meditation class or perhaps launching a new job search but here’s a resolution to add, compliments of David Musicant — find miracles in the worst moments. The 51-year-old Franklin Lakes, N.J., man is an admitted Type A, nailing it in private equity and completing several marathons and Iron Man competitions all over the United States and abroad. One of his training regimens includes waking at 3:30 a.m., driving into Manhattan and bicycling 80 miles in 13 loops around Central Park before a full work day. But that was the easy part of Musicant’s life. Then on June 25, 2015, bicycling alone in Ringwood, N.J., at 30 mph preparing for the Iron Man competition in Hawaii, he checked his watch to monitor his racing time — and woke up in a hospital. A truck plowed into him, tossing him 40 feet in the air, a witness later told him. He landed on the ground after striking a guardrail and suffered devastating injuries, including eight broken ribs — three in multiple places — a punctured lung, an exposed hipbone, a shoulder blade broken in three places, and a traumatic brain injury. Surgeons told him he was alive only because of his superior conditioning. His bones healed, the lung returned to normal — and then the real challenge began. “The brain injury was a lot more complicated,” Musicant said.

     The simple joys of taking a drive, working out or going to a Mets game with his wife and two children — what Musicant calls “the mosaic of my life” — had vanished. “You’re confused, you’re depressed and you just don’t think you’ll ever be yourself again and you kind of don’t want to be here anymore,” he said. The fear, the confusion, the post-traumatic stress disorder, the lack of confidence, decreased cognitive abilities — they continued for months as Musicant completed physical therapy to walk again, then ride indoors. He worked with neurological specialists to regain cognitive ability and manage the emotional fallout from suffering so many limitations. To coax him out of wrenching despair one day, a friend came by and urged him to take a walk down the driveway, all that the uber athlete could handle. His advice was simple, yet so hard for Musicant to hear. “You’re just so driven and you’re so used to performing at a different level,” Musicant said, tearfully recalling the conversation. “The hardest part that you’re going to go through is what’s happening in your head,” the friend said. The remarkable recovery has included another mission: Musicant; his wife, Julie; their daughter, Casey; and their son, Ross, have started a foundation raise money for research and to aid families forced to endure brain injuries that may not have the resources or support. In New Jersey, up to 15,000 people suffer traumatic brain injures every year, including 1,000 that are fatal, according to state data. About 175,000 people in the state are living with disabilities associated with the condition. Nationally, traumatic brain injury affects nearly 2 million people a year with an economic impact estimated at $80 billion, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Musicant said his family suffered more than he did. “He had to learn how to filter things,” said his wife, Julie. “He’d say whatever he wanted to say. If he was impatient, it was magnified by three.” Musicant, once a dynamo, was reduced to spending hours on the couch, unable to even watch television.

     Julie, with the help of their children, managed his care, dealing with a vast network of therapists, doctor’s visits — and his mood swings. Even today, when he recalls the injury, he tears up. “It gave me a better appreciation of the relationship we have as a family, the ability to overcome adversity and how lucky we are and where we are in life,” he said. In October, he completed one of the world’s most challenging athletic events — the Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, in which athletes have to qualify based on previous standings in Ironman competitions to compete in the 2.4-mile open water swim, 112-mile bicycle ride and a 26.2-mile run. Musicant had tried for years to qualify and was hit by the truck while training for the event. Photos document the remarkable transformation of Musicant from lying in a hospital bed with an oxygen mask on his face to taking steps in a hospital gown, held up by an aide. Then a little more than a year later, his sinewy 6 foot-1, 172-pound frame is racing his bicycle past black lava fields and crossing the finish line after the marathon run. It took 13 hours. “I cried during the race which is like weird,” he said. “I cried on the bike. I cried seeing those two at the finish line,” he said referring to Julie and Casey. He then phoned Ross. He could not recall a more emotional moment. “I did it for me, my kids. I always say to them, ‘Life throws you a lot of curveballs,”” he said. “It’s how you manage the curveballs and how you adapt.” Casey flew in from Atlanta to surprise her dad and to witness how the man who was too addled to pump the pain medication device in the hospital was so triumphant. In fact, the two are now training for a marathon — to David, just a 26.2-mile run. David wasn’t supposed to return to work until 2016, but he made it back the second week in September 2015. With Julie’s help, he worked three hours every other day, and she served as the “concussion police,” making sure he wasn’t making calls to outside clients, overworking himself or showing other signs of struggle. “Work is a huge part of my life,” Musicant said. It aided in his recovery, he said. “My desire to come back and be the same person — or hopefully a better husband, father and business person — drove me every day, through every rehabilitation appointment, day in the office and training session,” he said.

     The Musicant Family Brain Trust was created to aid research and fund direct services for people impacted by brain injuries. The family is donating proceeds from a successful lawsuit against the trucking company and their own personal funds to match any donation up to $500,000. Musicant’s care cost well over $400,000 and much of the physical therapy and extensive outpatient care was not covered by insurance. Many plans today have high deductibles and limits on the amount of physical therapy covered, even though patients often need months of care. They either pay privately or go without. The beneficiaries of the Musicant family fund are the Brain Injury Alliance of New Jersey, a statewide non-profit with chapters in every county that provides direct services and support research at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Traumatic Brain Injury Clinic, one of the largest in the nation. Casey graduated from Vanderbilt, and Ross is an underclassmen there. Foundation Vice President Wendy Berk said the Musicant family’s efforts will help fund case-management services to aide families in navigating the complex network of care. It also will fund a program known as Camp TREK, in which adults spend a week at a camp in Gloucester County in the summer — giving family members a week off, she said. “Our organization is very heavily dependent on grant contracts, so it’s a tough climate to survive in,” Berk said. Funding for the camp from a government contract was lost two years ago, she said. “It’s absolutely a lifeline for us to provide these critical services,” she said, referring to the funding from the family’s trust. “Stories like David’s help to increase the public awareness for these types of services. You don’t think about it until you’re faced with it.” Walking home from a dinner at a neighbor’s recently, Musicant said he told his wife: “I’ve never felt so much peace in my life as now. I actually do think the accident is a blessing. I don’t wish it on anyone, but I don’t think I would ever have the appreciation of what a life we lead, what great kids we have, what a great marriage we have. “It just made me appreciate everything a lot more.” © 2017 The Record (Hackensack, N.J.)