Even after a recovery that many see as miraculous from a severe traumatic brain injury, and even after earning a law degree and launching a successful attorney practice with personal injury clients, Cameron Fathauer still feels a darkness descend every so often.
To clear his head that sometimes fills with suicidal whispers, he finds the silence of a cemetery near his family’s New Albany home. And the former Christian seminarian drops to his knees and cries out to God.
At age 25, an often vigorous time in life when some may feel invincible, the Columbus native is making peace with trials and hardship and hurdles. Major depression and suicidal ideation is a natural spinoff of more severe traumatic brain injuries.
“So much of the Christian life is paradoxical,” Fathauer said during a recent visit to Columbus. “The centerpiece of the Christian faith is a cross and, historically speaking, a cross was a form of capital punishment. It was an ugly, horrendous image.
“And now we put it on our buildings, we put it on our tattoos, we wear necklaces. So how did that happen?”
“Only God could turn such a horrible symbol into something so marvelous that we see today. And it’s a juxtaposition between pain, suffering, trial, difficulty, testing, and then resurrection, life, hope, and eternity. It’s this combination.”
Therein lies a short summary of Fathauer’s life nearly eight years after a skateboarding accident nearly killed him in front of the home of parents Brett and Lora Fathauer on Marilyn Drive in Columbus. He sustained a serious head injury when he was struck by a vehicle Sept. 18, 2015, and was taken by Lifeline helicopter to Indianapolis for specialized care.
The medical diagnosis: a severe diffuse axonal brain injury, degree three, down to his brain stem.
Indianapolis IU Health Methodist Hospital doctors, well acquainted with serious head trauma from serious accidents at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, initially and repeatedly told Fathauer’s family that the then-17-year-old’s progress toward everyday living and functioning probably would require an 18-month timeline.
“They (once) said I’d have the mental capacity of a 9-year-old,” he recalled.
Yet he came home walking and talking five weeks after the accident.
Shortly after that, he spoke and taught at a Christian seminar he earlier had organized at YES Cinemas downtown as part of his school senior project. He still meets people with technical knowledge of such injuries who cannot fathom his life today not only as a polished professional in a highly technical field, but a husband and father of four, including nearly 3-year-old triplets with wife Chelsea.
A few weeks ago, he met a registered nurse who heard just a part of his story.
“I’m so glad your (brain ) injury wasn’t that bad,” she said, unaware of quite the opposite.
He looks back at the trauma and drama of 2015 with a view that God somehow found a way to use for good even the darkest, most horrific moments of his life.
“I’m not much of a cook or a chef,” he said. “But I understand how you know the basic process and procedures for making a good dish. And you take these individual ingredients, the spices and the meat and the flavoring, whatever it is, and you put them in a pot of some sort, you turn on the heat, and then out comes a delicious meal.
“And I’ve thought about that since the accident. That’s when I think the Lord started cooking in my life — when I was hit by that car. And that’s when he turned up the heat.”
Wife Chelsea has been alongside him for the whole process. At age 19, she accepted his marriage proposal a month before the accident. She has witnessed extreme highs and frightening lows.
“She has said to me ‘I feel like I am married to a roller coaster,’” Fathauer said. “I’m not afraid for you to write that down. Absolutely, I think she is.”
His boss, Matthew Schad, at Schad Law in New Albany, is well aware of everything in Fathauer’s struggle and success. Schad met Fathauer when he became his attorney through the aftermath of the 2015 accident. Schad’s friendship influenced Fathauer’s decision to pursue law.
The former Columbus resident saw how he could use the empathy, determination and faith learned from his tragedy to help others.
“I tell people that I became a personal injury attorney because of what happened to me,” Fathauer said. “And I became an estate planning attorney because of what could happen to you.”
The accident also has marked wife Chelsea’s new career plans. She is currently studying medicine at Indiana University to become a doctor.
“It definitely was inspired largely by his injury and all the wonderful care that he received,” Chelsea said.
She added that the extra care taken by surgeons, nurses, physical therapists to form real, longer-term relationships with them touched her deeply. She wants to do the same for families in whatever medical field she eventually chooses.
She, like her husband, remains astonished at his recovery, and brushes aside some of her spouse’s praise for her care and persistence during a restoration that stretched at least a couple years or more. It included relearning some proper social cues and behaviors that his brain had lost.
“His recovery obviously doesn’t make too much scientific sense,” said his wife. “I’d say it’s definitely a miracle. “But I think that a lot of it also was his personal strength and desires. When your loved one is injured, I think the natural human desire is to want to protect them and prevent their failure and their feeling self-conscious. But Cameron was never really like that.
“He always really wanted to know every area that he could improve. And I tried to foster his independence and let him dream and set goals.”
She recalled his biggest battle: cognitive function. She recalled his biggest dream: law school.
And she recalled her biggest immediate reaction: “OK. This is going to be really hard.”
Her husband who until then had dreamed of pastoring felt an abrupt change.
“It was like an Etch-a-Sketch where God shook the screen and erased everything else,” Fathauer said.
He acknowledged that law school was more than tough, especially amid the stress of starting a family. Yet, more than once in a conversation, he mentioned that a raw and real Christian life sometimes is one marked partly by suffering and setbacks, even after there have been apparent life-saving miracles.
“The response to affliction, the response to difficulty in trial, at least in regard to especially suicide and depression,” he said, “is just to hold on.”
And therein lies another paradox and a substantial spiritual twist. The man whom some see as a literal, walking miracle finds light in his darkest times and feels renewed life — at a cemetery.
The New Albany attorney and former Christian seminarian mixes his passions these days at churches and elsewhere with free presentations he calls “Receiving and Returning: A Practical Theology of Estate Planning.” The presentations cover everything from the theology of private property to wills and trusts. Plus, he intersperses elements of his personal story into the mix.
Information: 812-590-1727 or [email protected]
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