Kinesiology student overcomes staggering odds, excels in classroom

August 26, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following story was developed through a series of emails with Matt Beth, a senior in Exercise Science. Matt suffered a life-threatening traumatic brain injury (TBI) in a fall, and as a result experienced multiple physical impairments, including the ability to talk. His remarkable recovery and focus is detailed below. The irony is this: Since coming to Auburn, Matt has been on the Dean’s List every semester taking a tough academic course. But Auburn requires graduates to have taken their final 60 hours at Auburn to graduate with honors, as Matt’s GPA would otherwise allow him to do. But since he will be just shy of those 60 hours, he will not receive his well-deserved recognition. But we are pleased to be able to share his story here.

head shot of Matt BethIn 2016, Matt Beth was living the dream. He was an excellent student at Iowa State, close to his family home in the suburbs of Chicago. He had a girlfriend and was the president of his fraternity. He was on the Dean’s List every semester. Then, in the blink of an eye, it all came crashing down.

“I fell off the roof of a three-story building and suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) in my brain stem,” Beth explained. “Unlike almost all TBIs, I have no cognitive deficiencies but I do have a plethora of physical ailments.”

The self-described “physical ailments” include using a wheelchair, and having a full-time personal assistant to help with activities of daily living. He cannot walk, talk, or move his left arm or his left leg. He can type with one finger, which is how this interview was conducted. But in spite of this, Beth looks on the positive side.

“While that all may seem terrible, I am very fortunate. Like I said, it’s very uncommon to have a TBI without a mental deficit but anyone who knows me, knows that I’m sharp as a tack. For example, during my rehabilitation, I lived with a lot of people with brain injuries. A lot of people had trouble controlling their emotions. I specifically remember a man who could walk and talk but was digging through the couch cushions in a common living room, looking for his guitar. It was so sad to see him in that state, and there was really nothing anyone could do to help him.”

Beth’s rehabilitation has taken him all over the country. It started at Mercy Hospital in Des Moines, Iowa where he spent a month before being transferred to the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago for a month. He then spent nine months at what he termed “an amazing facility” in Omaha, Nebraska called QLI. From there he was discharged and came to live with his father, who had subsequently moved to Auburn, and started back to school. He receives treatment here from RehabWorks in Opelika.

“When I was originally thinking about where to go to college I was actually deciding between coming here to Auburn and Iowa State. I ultimately chose Iowa State because at the time both of my parents lived nearby. But when my dad moved here that set things in motion for me, although I did not know it at the time.”

Beth is grateful as well for his Auburn experience.

“Since coming here, I have been on the Dean’s List every semester, including one semester with a perfect 4.0 GPA. I have the grades to graduate in August 2020 Suma Cum Laude but Auburn has the policy that your final 60 credits must come from Auburn. And since I had to bring in so many credits because of my accident, I won’t be able to achieve that. Graduating college with academic honors for anyone would be a huge accomplishment, let alone for a person with a brain injury. Before I learned that it was impossible for me, I had made it my goal to graduate with academic honors since the doctors told me that I would never even be able to return to college. But gosh, I am still glad the way things turned out.”

Beth loves his studies, and has found a particularly warm home in the School of Kinesiology as an Exercise Science major.

“What I like best about Auburn is you get both a sense of community and a sense of history here,” he stated. “No matter their age, if someone says ‘War Eagle!’ to you, it means everything! And you can just feel it in almost everything you see that this isn’t Auburn’s first rodeo.”

“Similarly, I really enjoy the community within the College of Education and the School of Kinesiology. In fact, I made a friend right away in SOS which isn’t easy when you have my range of disabilities. Ultimately I’d like to go to graduate school. Auburn has really prepared me and built a solid foundation of knowledge to prepare me to tackle graduate school and achieve my dream of becoming a physician’s assistant in the field of neurology.”

Matt’s academic advisor in Kinesiology, Tina Gottesman, is one of many professionals there who enjoy working with him.

“I have very much enjoyed working with Matt,” she said. “He has always been very proactive in initiating contact with me either through email or in person. He asks good questions, and we’ve had meaningful discussions about his future graduate school options. I’ve been able to help him get connected with faculty for undergraduate research opportunities. We are both hoping that he will be able to ‘walk’ across the stage at graduation, with assistance. It has been a joy to help him make decisions about classes and to see him succeed. He is an inspiration and encouragement!”

Matt Beth has achieved much more than anyone, including his doctors, ever thought he could. In spite of his setbacks, he continues to move ahead with a positive and vibrant spirit. His remarkable story just cements his legacy as a forever member of the Auburn Family.

Congratulations Matt!