Alumnus Jonah Wagner sees miraculous healing after traumatic brain injury

Jan 26, 2023
Jonah Wagner

Jonah Wagner ‘19, ‘20 experienced a life-changing event in July 2021. An automobile accident left him with a severe traumatic brain injury.

However, as Jonah continues to recover more than a year after his accident, he is enrolled in the Newman University Doctorate of Business Administration (DBA) program with big goals in mind.

He earned his undergraduate degree in accounting and then a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from Newman. He’s excited to see what this next stage of education can do for him.

He started as an intern at Adams Brown Certified Public Accounting in Wichita, Kansas, the summer after his undergraduate year. When his internship ended, he was hired as a student worker while he completed his MBA. Now he works there full time as a software support specialist and data analyst.

Jonah chose Newman because his mom, Kim, graduated from the university when it was still known as Kansas Newman College. He liked the idea of attending a smaller university and, once enrolled, was very happy with the student-to-faculty ratio within the classrooms.

(left to right) Kim, Jonah and Marlie Wagner

His sister, Marlie, also attended Newman. She entered as a freshman triathlon recruit when Jonah was a senior on the team. She completed a degree in nursing and now works at Wesley Medical Center in Wichita.

Jonah said his interest in business began in high school. During his time at Newman, he focused on data analytics for his undergraduate degree and found a passion for the information technology world.

Even though his education was tragically put on hold, Jonah persevered and has overcome multiple obstacles while healing more and more every day.

Healing and miracles

Following Jonah’s accident on July 19, 2021, he was placed in a medically induced coma while brain swelling and massive infections throughout his body prevented him from the surgeries he needed.

Yet the Wagner family has been blessed with miracles throughout Jonah’s healing process.

Today, doctors say Jonah has defied the odds.

“The medical professionals didn’t think I’d be where I am,” said Jonah. “They say I’m exceeding what they expected. The exciting thing for me was when I had my neuropsychological evaluation, I was testing average functionality except for processing speed. I still have to be patient with myself if things take a little longer. But I was excited to tell people, ‘Hey, I’m average!’”

Jonah in the hospital weeks after his accident.

Jonah said he has no memories of the accident or the two months after. His first post-accident memory is of his recovery time at Madonna Hospital in Lincoln, Nebraska, where he was moved for rehabilitation care in mid-August 2021.

After 60 days at Madonna, he was sent home and began outpatient therapy provided by Our Lady of Lourdes twice each week with additional exercises to do on his own.

“I try to do as much at home as I can motivate myself to do,” said Jonah. “It’s never as much as I probably should be doing. I was blessed with getting a recumbent tryke from the AMBUCS (an organization helping individuals overcome mobility challenges and gain more independence). It really helped motivate me to exercise and strengthen my leg. And helped me get back walking again.”

It wasn’t easy at first and Jonah experienced many struggles. He had to re-learn how to breathe, eat and swallow. He said he had to work very hard to be able to chew food again instead of eating blended meals.

Marlie said, “You take it for granted. I feel like you don’t realize how much you’re able to do until you can’t. It’s so surprising when you sit back and look and think about it.”

She said being in nursing school at the time of Jonah’s accident helped her to understand his situation with a little more clarity.

Jonah is reunited with his dog, Ollie, after returning home in October 2021.

Kim said she realized simply being an observer in the world really caused her to be blind to certain things, to the things humans naturally take for granted, until she had to see Jonah going through his recovery.

“Time management has been a big adjustment,” said Kim. “Before the accident, when we decided to leave the house, we just got up and left. Now it’s a more than five-minute process. And earlier in his recovery, when he first came home, we had to figure about 30 minutes.”

Jonah added, “The world in general is not handicap accessible. Even now, I’m doing so well compared to what I was, I still have a significant amount of problems on the left side with what I can do physically. I’m always having to find adaptations. I took it for granted how much I used my non-dominant hand to do things. Carrying things and using a railing at the same time.”

I feel like you don’t realize how much you’re able to do until you can’t. It’s so surprising when you sit back and look and think about it.

Marlie Wagner ’22

Relying on faith

Prayer played a huge part in the family’s life. From the time he was taken to the hospital to today — the family relies heavily on their faith and trust in God.

“I felt so strongly about God getting us through, that I don’t remember ever being angry about the situation,” said Kim. “I got frustrated not knowing or not getting answers because I didn’t know if things were happening the way they were supposed to happen. But I didn’t feel like the anger came.

“We were constantly surrounded in prayer. It’s been interesting through this whole journey how things present themselves to you. One day in the hospital, one of my sisters texted me about their Bible verse being about hope and my necklace said ‘hope’ and another sister saw a sign literally that said ‘hope’. God was trying to tell us to have hope and it’s going to be OK.”

Jonah gains strength while walking during a rehab session in October 2021.

Jonah said his faith has always been a staple in his recovery.

“Pretty early on in my journey, I accepted that I was still alive because God had a purpose for me and that I would recover. I also knew it wasn’t going to be on my timeline, but on God’s timeline. That was beneficial in helping me to have the patience to keep working on my recovery.

“It has been an extremely long journey and it is nowhere near over. It’s going to be a long while until I’m able to function the way I was accustomed to. I would say I find myself praying and leaning on God nearly every day.”

Long term goals

Jonah said one of his big goals is to train for and participate in an Ironman triathlon. He attributes much of his successful recovery thus far to time spent in athletics and the discipline that came with being a triathlete.

“I am finally walking on my own without a cane, for a couple months now, so that’s pretty new,” he said. “My end goal is to be able to get back to racing and triathlons. I signed up to do an Ironman in 2020 that was canceled due to COVID and then the accident happened. But I’d like to get to the point where I can do that.”

Jonah at Newman University in November 2022.

Johah is also excited about what his future career will look like. He is set to graduate with his Doctorate in Business Administration in 2026. He is hoping that sets him up for a more pronounced leadership role in his career.

“I would like to lead the charge in building a data-driven culture at the firm I currently work at,” he said. “I decided that is going to be the main topic for my dissertation — building a data-driven culture at a small to a mid-sized accounting firm.”

Jonah also looks forward to the day he can gain his independence by living on his own again and even becoming a homeowner.

I want to be inspirational to people and inspire them to make themselves better. I really enjoy pushing myself and I hope that inspires others, too.

Jonah Wagner ’19, ’20

And holistically, Jonah wants his experience and recovery to help others.

“I want to be inspirational to people and inspire them to make themselves better. I loved helping coach the triathlon team at Newman, partially because I’ve always liked taking on leadership roles. But I really enjoy pushing myself. And I hope that inspires others, too.”

Doctor of Business Administration – DBA Degree

The Newman DBA degree program provides experienced professionals and academics with advanced skills and credentials in business beyond the MBA.