Greg Parks was riding his bicycle in Rancho Palos Verdes on a warm, mid-August afternoon. Parks had enjoyed a picturesque beach wedding and raced in the Ironman triathlon during his New Zealand honeymoon just within the last year.
He planned to finish up his afternoon bike ride on the Hill and return home to his new wife.
Instead, Parks lost consciousness near Hawthorne Boulevard and Silver Spur Road. Strangers found him lying in the road, still straddling his bicycle.
All Parks remembers is waking up in the hospital. His helmet probably saved his life. The accident he cannot recall, yet it may have changed his life forever.
His wife, Kathleen Pullen-Norris, received a phone call from the police telling her that Parks could move but was not responding to them and he was being transported to the nearest hospital.
Pullen-Norris, a neuro-trauma ICU nurse at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, arrived at the hospital and noticed something unusual in the way her husband was reacting to his surroundings.
“Greg was asleep and he needed to be encouraged to wake up and say his name,” she said. “He would follow some rudimentary commands, but he wasn’t by all means himself.”
Parks was diagnosed with a concussion, but Pullen-Norris decided to have Parks transferred to Ronald Reagan with the assistance of Dr. Paul Vespa, the attending physician in the Neuro-trauma ICU. At Ronald Reagan, Parks was diagnosed with having a traumatic brain injury. One of his first memories after the accident was celebrating his first wedding anniversary together with his wife over a plate of hospital food.
Over the next three weeks, Parks spent his time trying to regain some of the most basic tasks that had eluded him, including learning to walk, use the bathroom, and bath and dress himself.
“I had difficulty speaking and pronouncing words with more than three syllables in them,” Parks said. “Kathleen and I made a game of it with her thinking up multi-syllabic words and me trying to say them as fast and as clear as I could.”
Incredibly, just 13 weeks after the injury, Parks and Pullen-Norris ran a half-marathon together in Santa Barbara.
The day after the half-marathon, Parks returned to work in Valencia as a project engineer for Pacific Scientific Energetic Materials Company. At first, he worked only half days. His wife drove him. More than anything, fatigue caused him to struggle early on as he returned home and took three to four hour naps.
In January, Parks returned to work full time. Before the injury, he worked out after long workdays, in addition to three to six-hour workouts on Fridays. Now, he uses that time to spend with his two step-children.
“I appreciate life and the health that I have much more than before,” Parks said. “Also, even though I was not a person who typically let small, trivial things bother him very much, they bother me even less after the accident. I am much more present in every moment. I appreciate life so much more than I did before. I used to start a weekend day by cycling or running for three to six hours, and now I start it by spending time with my step kids, making them breakfast, and having fun with them at the start of their day.”
Said Kathleen, “I am just so grateful.”
Parks stills deals with chronic fatigue and his long term memory has suffered. He also said his cycling days may be over because he does not want to risk another injury to the head, even while wearing a helmet.
“Before the injury, a big part of my life was being a triathlete, and now that’s on hold,” Parks said. “When I get sad about my injury, Kathleen is always there to listen to me, to pick me up, and to tell me how incredible it is that I am where I am.”