Beating the Odds is Only Half of It

By Zachary Block '99 / March / April 2003
June 22nd, 2007
The bus struck computer-science professor Peter Wegner just as he was nearing Lon-don’s Trafalgar Square. The impact crushed his elbow and broke a few ribs. Wegner, who was on the verge of retirement, lay in a coma for four weeks with a serious brain injury. Doctors gave him a 5 percent chance of surviving and an equal chance of ever again leading a normal and productive life.

Wegner beat the odds. After a lengthy rehabilitation, which required him to relearn how to walk, read, and write, Wegner, now an emeritus professor, returned to work. Two papers he coauthored are scheduled for publication this year.

The story of Wegner’s recovery is the subject of a new video produced by Edward Beiser, associate dean of the Brown Medical School, and filmed by Luke Walden ’94. Peter Wegner Is Alive and Well and Living in Providence features lengthy interviews with Wegner, his family, and his neurologist.

In the film, Wegner talks nostalgically about life before his June 1999 accident and regrets that he can no longer engage in high-level research, a sentiment he also expressed in a January interview with the BAM: “I can’t possibly say, ‘Oh how wonderful my life is.’ It’s not as good as it was when I was a well-known professor invited everywhere to give lectures. I’m less good than I was, but I have to live with that.” He added that his regrets are at least partially offset by the strengthened relationships he now enjoys with his wife and children.

Beiser conceived the video as a tool for medical students dealing with ethical issues involving the treatment of patients with catastrophic injuries. But Beiser, who teaches a popular freshman course called Hard Choices, says the video also raises broader issues, including how one defines quality of life. “I hope,” he says, “that putting these questions in the context of real, flesh-and-blood human beings will make them come alive.”

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March / April 2003