How One Brain Came Back From Unconsciousness

A car accident left 19-year-old Dylan Rizzo in a coma. This is the story of the long, perilous crawl to recovery. Dylan Rizzo, April 2015. Photo: Dylan Coulter for New York Magazine Day Zero Despite its encircling fortress of bone, the human brain is especially vulnerable to physical insult. There are approximately 1.7 million traumatic brain injuries in the United States each year, and although most of them are mild or moderate, thousands result in severe brain damage. Those injuries always happen on the same day: day zero, a day that marks the start of a fateful and often flawed prognostic calendar. For 19-year-old Dylan Rizzo, day zero was December 28, 2010. Tall and slender, with dark hair and a sly sense of humor, Dylan possessed bright eyes and a wry arch to his smile, like a younger James Franco. In word and deed, he was a sports nut. He played hockey and high-jumped at his high school in Lynnfield, Massachusetts, just north of Boston, and rooted passionately for the Bruins. During the normal part of day zero, Dylan and his father, Steve, watched a local hockey tournament, then went to a family dinner at his grandmother’s house. Around 8:30 p.m., Dylan left in his car, stopping to drop his sister off at home. Before heading to play video games at his friend Ryan’s house, he called his mother to complain. He couldn’t find his Xbox controller. “You always move my stuff!” he said. “No, I don’t,” Tracy Rizzo replied firmly. After hanging up, Tracy found the controller in the backseat of her car. “I called Dylan,” she recalled....