Road to recovery
by Peter Burke
May 24, 2013 | 1253 views | 0 0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Day by day, Matthew Abraham is recovering from a severe head injury he sustained in March that rendered him confused and caused him to leave his home without letting anyone know. The 21-year-old Scotts Valley resident’s disappearance launched an interstate search effort before he eventually realized that he might be missed and his traveling companion contacted authorities in Salt Lake City, Utah, three days after he left home.

What happened

Abraham, a healthy and active then-20-year-old, decided on Friday, March 8 to ride from his home in Scotts Valley to the hills around University of California, Santa Cruz. Along the way – he doesn’t remember -- he apparently fell off his bike from a train trestle, tumbling more than 30 feet to the ground in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park.

Another cyclist found him more than an hour later.

“A guy saw my bike on top of the trestle,” Abraham said during an interview last week. “I had tried to climb up the hill, but I couldn’t.”

The man called 911 and Abraham was airlifted to Santa Clara Valley Medical Center where he underwent MRI and CT scan tests. He had no broken bones, but had torn muscles in his shoulder. Although he had no recollection of it, it appeared he had landed on his side and his head. In addition, Abraham had a major concussion causing memory loss. He couldn’t remember what had happened to him.

A three-day journey

Over the next few days, Abraham remained at home where he recovered from his injuries. He made a YouTube video telling his friends he was OK. Many contacted him after hearing of the accident.

“Friends called me,” he said. “I don’t remember who they were.”

Then on March 13 he disappeared.

“I don’t remember leaving,” he said. “My dad said I was fixated on my backpack and said I had been talking about Timber Trails near Arnold.”

Timber Trails was a family vacation spot in Calaveras County.

Abraham said his first stop was San Francisco.

“I have no idea how I got from here to San Francisco,” he said. “I remember being in the city and walking around in the sand and being confused.”

No one helped him and he eventually boarded a bus. He paid $10 and “after a while” he got off the bus in Reno, Nev.

“I have hazy memories. I remember wandering around and wandering into a casino,” Abraham said. “I went in and sang karaoke. It was ‘Sweet Home Alabama.’ I guess that’s what I wanted to do. At the time, nothing felt out of the ordinary.”

Oddly, Abraham did not remember his real name.

“People were concerned and nice to me,” he said.

Someone gave him a sleeping bag, and another person put a jacket on his shoulders as the weather was chilly in Reno. “I had a lot of stuff that wasn’t mine.”

At some point, still disoriented, Abraham took off running four miles down the road to Sparks, Nev.

“In Sparks I met up with another guy traveling east,” he said.

The two hitchhiked to the middle of Nevada and spent the night sleeping in the snow in Elko. The next day they continued the trek and hitchhiked to Salt Lake City where they visited a public library looking for bus routes.

“I was trying to get to Pittsburgh,” Abraham said. “I have been to Pittsburgh and I really like it. And I had Steelers stickers in my backpack, so that might have helped.”

It was in Salt Lake City that Abraham began to realize that something was off.

“I didn’t know what my name was,” Abraham said. “My friend Chris and I were debating if I was a heroin addict. I told him my name was Jackson.”

Abraham said he had four or five names floating around in his head – including his own and the names of several of his closest friends.

In the library in Salt Lake City, Abraham searched for missing people. One Google search even turned up his picture along with an article in the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

“I didn’t even recognize my face,” he said.

After beginning to read the article, he saw photos of his house and Henry Cowell, triggering his memory.

“Something just clicked and I instantly remembered who I was and everything that had happened,” Abraham said.

He said he became flushed and sweaty and went to the bathroom where he threw up several times. He discussed with Chris what to do, and they decided that Chris should call the authorities on behalf of Abraham. It was March 15. Authorities picked up Abraham and contacted his family who flew to Utah to take him home.

The recovery

This week, Abraham said he’s about 90 percent back to normal. Following his injury, he suffered from a rare form of dissociative amnesia caused by his fall. In the month following the injury Abraham was confined to his home as his parents cared for him. He turned 21 on March 21 and for several weeks he was unable to read or write and was sleeping 12 to 15 hours per day while his brain recovered.

Both slowly came back – he said he could read one word at a time and then sentences. Last month, he began reading books again. He was forced to drop a choir class he was taking at Cabrillo College, but he had already earned a degree and is on track to transfer to California State University, Long Beach next year.

Abraham said he has received neurological testing and cognitive training from Dr. Richard Alloy of Aptos. Exercises include math -- like counting objects -- reading and writing.

“I seem totally normal, but I can still tell that I’m not back to where I used to be,” he said.

Abraham did return to work as a busser at Crow’s Nest in Santa Cruz in mid-April and went on his first bike ride several weekends ago – a 20-mile trek in Calaveras County with his brother.

“It felt like nothing had changed. It was a lot of fun,” he said.

Abraham also went running with a group of former cross country teammates from Scotts Valley High. They ran to the trestle which he fell from.

“It doesn’t bother or scare me,” he said.

Abraham said he is thankful for the search effort and the support he and his family have received since the accident. He was amazed by all the search and rescue efforts

“It was just a crazy experience,” he said. “The love that shows is pretty special. My whole family wanted to say ‘thank you,’ for sure. The help and meals took a burden off their shoulders.”

To comment, e-mail editor Peter Burke at, call 438-2500 or post a comment at


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