Men’s novice rowing Coach Dustin Bingham, who recently woke up from a coma that lasted more than two weeks, is steadily recovering from head injuries sustained while skiing at Big Bear Mountain on Dec. 19. He has been moved out of the intensive care unit at Loma Linda University Hospital.
Bingham just graduated in Fall 2003 with a degree in statistics after a four-year career as a UCSB rower, and was beginning his role as a member of the coaching staff. Current senior rower Jim Moore was skiing with Bingham at the time and recalls that “he just missed a jump and went down on his head.”
After being stabilized with first aid by his brother Ryan, who was also skiing with him, Bingham was brought to Bear Valley Community Hospital. From there he was airlifted to Loma Linda where he has remained since.
“We were shocked when we heard about it. We’re still learning how to cope with it all,” said rowing Head Coach Mike Homes.
First year rowers were hit especially hard. Though Winter Quarter is considered their offseason, this is the time when beginners “turn into real rowers” in preparation for the busy spring, according to men’s varsity Head Coach Rick Brown.
“It’s tough, but I think they’re more driven now. It’s harder to give an excuse when you know what Dustin’s going through,” Brown said.
“Everyone’s been very supportive and positive. The novice and varsity [teams] have combined practices, with varsity rowers acting as coaches and helping out everywhere they can,” senior captain Dustin Gibbs said.
Gibbs, Moore and other UCSB rowers got their first chance to see Bingham this past weekend when the hospital finally allowed non-family members to visit. They had been communicating with Bingham’s family via e-mail up until that point.
“He was looking good. He was talking a lot, sitting up. His family told us he was even laughing. It seems like he’s making a speedy recovery,” Gibbs said.
It took Bingham 12 days to wake up for a period of three hours, during which he was disoriented and could only respond with slight head movements. It was not until 15 days after the accident that he fully woke up.
“He did have some sporadic memory loss, like not remembering he had just bought a car, but he was recognizing everyone,” Moore said.
“Right now he’s going through physical, occupational and speech therapy. He’s learning how to do every thing over again: speaking, walking, balancing. It’s almost like the process a baby goes through. He’s reconnecting his brain to his body,” Greg Bingham, Dustin’s father, said. “There’s no indication there won’t be anything but a full recovery.”
According to Bingham’s father he will undergo two to three more weeks of basic rehabilitative therapy. From there he will transfer to either a specialized rehabilitation center in the Los Angeles area or a similar hospital in Connecticut, where members of his family live. After that, it will be anywhere from six to eight months of more intensive rehabilitation.
“It’s going to be slow, but he’s definitely fighting to get back to the Dustin we know and love,” Gibbs said.
One of the surest signs of Bingham’s determination to recover involved an incident with singer Jimmy Buffet. When asked by his father about what should be done with tickets he had recently bought to an upcoming Jimmy Buffet concert, Bingham responded with an emphatic “Get as many as you can.”