Kaj Smit is a 19 year-old guy from the Netherlands. This is the story of how he went from a fit young man to a vegetable in mere hours. He shares his incredible story and the lessons he learned along the way.
Connect with Kaj:
On his website
🎶 Podcast Intro: Welcome to the pursuing uncomfortable podcast, where we give you the encouragement you need to lean into the uncomfortable stuff life puts in front of you, so you can love your life. If you are ready to overcome all the yuck that keeps you up at night, you're in the right place. I am your host, Melissa Ebken let's get going. 🎶
🎶 Episode Intro: 🎶
Melissa Ebken 0:01
Hello Kai Smit. Welcome to the Pursuing Uncomfortable Podcast. How are you today?
Kaj Smit 0:06
I'm doing great. And you?
Melissa Ebken 0:09
I'm doing well, thank you for asking. You are coming from all across all the way across the world. Tell us where you are.
Kaj Smit 0:15
I am in Friesland Netherlands. So the most northern part of the Netherlands,
Melissa Ebken 0:22
The northern part of the Netherlands. You're the first guest I've had from the Netherlands, I can't wait for people to hear how much you have overcome in your life. So before we get into the story, why don't you tell us a little bit about what you're doing these days.
Kaj Smit 0:36
I am pursuing a public speaking career. Because I want to motivate and inspire people with the upcoming story that you're that you're going to hear and going to listen to. And I want to help people realize how precious life is and how mentally you can change everything. If you just really want it and really dare to take the next step.
Melissa Ebken 1:05
Well, Kaj I have no doubt at all that you're going to inspire so many people with your story. So tell us, when did all of this start for you?
Kaj Smit 1:14
It started on 12th of May, the evening of the 12th of May, that we actually have security cameras around my house, on which you can see me walk to the garage, fully enjoying life, flailing my arms around, swimming out, swinging around. Like there's nothing no care in the world. And then a half an hour later, you see me walking back with my hands on my head with my hand in front of my body. Because I was scared to bump into stuff. You can see me avoid the the fireplace. And that's when I knew okay, this isn't right. So
Melissa Ebken 1:51
what year was that Kaj?
Kaj Smit 1:53
Melissa Ebken 1:55
Okay, so just a year ago,
Kaj Smit 1:57
Just a year ago.
Melissa Ebken 1:59
And what happened next?
Kaj Smit 2:00
What happened next was I went inside. I knew something wasn't was wrong, because I had I've had a headache before. But this one was huge. It was killing. So and I couldn't see stuff. So I thought okay, this isn't normal. And but I thought it was over exerting my body because I was studying from 8am to 8pm for my exams to get into university. So I thought, okay, I'm just overdoing it. I'm just exhausted. Just need to take some rest. And it'll be fine. So I went inside, I sat on the couch. I told my parents because they were both home. God, thank God. And I told them, okay, I have a huge headache. It's not better. It's not getting better anymore. It's already getting worse. And mom if you stand to the right of me, I can't see you. If you stand the left me. I can see you. So I'm losing vision in my right eye. They knew something wasn't
Melissa Ebken 3:04
I can't imagine as a mom hearing my son tell me something like that.
Kaj Smit 3:07
Yeah, it was. It was horrible. But my parents didn't panic. My neighbor is a doctor. So they called him. He went, came over did some tests. Did every test for every possible scenario there was and his conclusion was migraine. I had a migraine, according to his tests. Be it that's perfectly normal because, well, I've had two cerebral hemorrhages. And that that was the cause for headache. And he did even did the test for cerebral hemorrhages. But it didn't came out as cerebral hemorrhage it came out from okay, you don't have paralysis in your face or in your muscles. You don't have a speaking disorder. And you can think properly. Those were in that, you don't have a tingling sensation in your limbs. Tingling sensations, face paralysis and speaking, speaking disorder; those are three things you look for when you have brain hemorrhage. But I didn't have any of those.
Melissa Ebken 4:10
Say those again. I want people to have those very clearly. So tingling sensations in your limbs, face paralysis, and in what was the third one?
Kaj Smit 4:21
Speech. Impaired speech.
Melissa Ebken 4:23
Impaired speech, facial paralysis and tingling sensations. Okay, those are three really important things to look for.
Kaj Smit 4:30
It's not only a face paralysis, probably paralysis in your limbs so you can't move your ha your left arm or right arm; you can't move your leg anymore. But you mostly see it also in the face where your left side of your face or your right side of your face is hanging down as if it's paralyzed. So that's something you should look for. And what most people tell me and I've heard this before, is that when someone has a brain hemorrhage they tend to have a huge headache. So one, one that's incomparable to anything you've felt before. It's killing, you want to scream it out from agony. And that's what I did. Because the doctor came and said, Okay, you have a migraine. Go upstairs gets rest, it's gonna get better. If I had done that, I would have been dead. Because it was everywhere. It was everywhere. So what did you do? I lay down on the floor, because I had fever symptoms, so I was very warm because my head was pounding and pounding. So my mother tried to close the curtains and we have those rattling curtains with balls. So metal balls, and it makes rattling sound, I was screaming in agony. When she pulled down those curtains, I said, stop, please stop. Because it was hurting so much. Eventually, then it went, he suddenly went black. For me, at least, my parents told me I had an epileptic attack. They called the emergency services, they came, I was rushed to the hospital, the surgeon was flown in by helicopter. And I was performed in emergency surgery on my head. At that time, I was told, my parents were told I had a 5% chance of surviving the night, another 95% chance of being brain dead.
Melissa Ebken 6:27
5% chance of surviving the night, those aren't good odds.
Kaj Smit 6:30
Those aren't good odds, no. And then the if I did survive the get the 5% chance and survived the night, I would have to beat another 95% chance of being brain dead. So let's put some math into this, it would be 0.25% chance that I would even survive and be able to think properly.
Melissa Ebken 6:56
So what's the next thing you remember?
Kaj Smit 7:00
The 16th of June, July. So from the 12th of May to the 16th of July. I can't remember anything.
Melissa Ebken 7:06
Oh, my goodness, that's two months.
Kaj Smit 7:11
That's two months indeed. And for me, it was mere seconds. So everything went black. I woke up, I couldn't speak, couldn't walk and didn't know anything and didn't know where I was going. And I I could see. That was also one of the things the doctors told, me he's going to be brain dead and he's going to be blind.
Melissa Ebken 7:34
But you woke up? You could see. But you couldn't move.
Kaj Smit 7:38
I could see. I couldn't move couldn't speak. I was what you call in medical terms, I was locked in. So because I was that is a little hazy for me because those first six weeks were, everything is mushed together from the Tuesday to because my memory was very hazy and very bad. Because well, I had severe brain damage. And when I woke up I thought this was all a dream. That when I could speak again, and they told me I had a brain hemorrhage. I didn't believe them. I thought okay, you are surely joking. I am an 18 year old kid. This only happens to very elderly people who are in poor health. I was in perfect health. I worked out four to six times a week. Didn't smoke. Didn't drink. Didn't do drugs. Why am I here? So I thought okay, only solution. i This is a dream.
Melissa Ebken 8:33
But the dream didn't stop.
Kaj Smit 8:38
The dream didn't stop, no. Have you ever seen the movie, Inception?
Melissa Ebken 8:42
I have not.
Kaj Smit 8:44
You have not? Okay, you should put that definitely on your bucket list. Especially after this story because it's very relatable to the story. For any listeners who haven't watched the Inception yet it's a movie about Leonardo DiCaprio went in through somebody else's dream. And he has a spinning stir, wooden spinner. I don't call it, I only know the Dutch word, but it's not, A top. That's what its called. So and that's how he knows that he's in a dream or when he isn't. If the if the top keep spinning, he's in a dream. If its fallen over, he's out of a dream. But he has a wife in movie. His wife also has such a safety device. But she doesn't believe in anymore. She thinks he's still in the dream when she's left her dream. Her only solution and the one she eventually decided to take is to take her own life. And that would work for my solution as well. After I'd done some, I read some tests. Of course, I didn't go straight away to suicide. I was very optimistic and I thought okay, let's think of this logically. We are an 18 year old kid. We and this was to myself. So we are an 18 year old kid, worked out four to six times a week. We're very healthy, didn't do drugs didn't smoke, didn't drink alcohol. How is it possible? Let's let's can we remember, can we remember a full week? No, we can't. Okay, let's remember a full week. Okay? Let's remember what kind of therapy we did. This week, I remembered everything, nothing changed. Let's remember every name of every nurse, I did that nothing changed. I was actually looking forward to sleeping, I slept, let's say 16 hours in a day. Something like that, because I my hope I hoped that when I woke up after dreaming, that I would wake up in my normal bed, that's behind me, and just be able to walk again, speak again and be able to do everything again. But it didn't happen. So that's when I that at that moment, I could speak again. And the first one of the first things I asked my mother was, Mom, can you get me a gun because I don't want to continue anymore. After she had just gotten her son back, because I defied all the odds of even being able to see not being brain dead and not being dead. And one of the first things I asked her was to get me a gun.
Melissa Ebken 11:09
And I'm sure she said no.
Kaj Smit 11:12
She said, give me three months. If you still want to continue after three months, I'll get you a gun. Because I was happy go lucky guy. I was on to brink, the doorstep of a new life. I was about to enter university. I would have passed my high school exams with flying colors in my school system as well. And then it all changed. All my friends went to university, every. Some to to, some went to other countries some, they made a world tour some went travelling everywhere. Some took a gap year and went to went to work everywhere. And I was there in a heavy duty wheelchair with headrest with a with a kind of, what was it called?
Melissa Ebken 12:02
Was it a halo that would hold your head?
Kaj Smit 12:05
So it's something I would hold my head up because I tended to collapse in front. Because I couldn't move. I couldn't hold my head up, it was too heavy.
Melissa Ebken 12:16
So then what happened?
Kaj Smit 12:19
What had helped me was because I used to speak to a psychologist five times a week, or Yeah, five times a week, every day that rehabilitation that was open, I would speak to a psychologist. Nothing worked. Everything she said I was just like, Yeah, yeah, I'm in a dream. Everything you say is not really what this is my unconscious speaking. Because I suffered from short term memory loss. Maybe you've heard this sentence before from the Finding Nemo movies with Dory. That well, I suffered from the same because when I put my phone to the right of me, I close my eyes, it was suddenly on the stand on the nightstand or it was to the left of me. And I couldn't remember why it went there or how it got there. So I thought okay, it teleported because I didn't remember doing it myself. And while I was asleep, so someone else would should have done it. But I didn't think of that possibility. Sure. So I thought, okay, it's teleporting. This has to be a dream. I read some tests. I thought, Okay, I'm healthy. And one of the main things was I could predict everything the nurses did. If I'd asked them, can you get me some water? They say, yeah, in five minutes, I'm busy. So every time I asked him, they said, Yeah, yeah, I'm busy. Five minutes. So I thought, Okay, this has to be fake, this has to be real. Until three things actually, first medication that I got. Don't remember the name. But it's Amantadine, that's where it's gone in Dutch. So it's probably Amantadine or something in English, but it's it's a medication that makes you conscience that that boosts your consciousness. So when somebody is in sort of a trance, or coma, coma state that I was in, the medication helps them to wake up and to realize this is real. So that's one of the things. The other thing was talking to my friends again, because I could predict everything my parents said my the nurses said my therapist said, I could predict everything. Because it was all so standard it was all so normal. If I asked them, okay, what are we going to do today? Here wer'e going to try to walk again. Okay, what are we going to do today? Are we going to play rain words? That was a game in Netherlands. And I thought okay, yeah, well, same old shit every day. Sorry, for my language. And when I when I could move my right arm again. I texted my friends and I texted them, Hey guys, how you doing? I expected an answer like, hey guy, how are you doing? But I got an answer like, Holy shit Kaj. How are you still alive? Yeah. How are you? Where have you been? Can you move anything? That was reaction I got. I thought, Okay, whoa. I didn't expect this. This is real. I thought okay, that's not something my subconscious could predict or could think of. So I texted with them more often and more often. And they all came with responses I didn't predict and I couldn't have predicted in my wildest dreams. So I thought okay, maybe this is real. But the deciding factor was when a friend of the family came by he hear, he heard from my, he heard of my situation. And let's call him Bob. Bob had an accident. He told me he had a stroke when he was 14 in Canada.
Melissa Ebken 16:00
Okay, that's not a thing you could have come up with on your own?
Kaj Smit 16:05
No, not something I could have come up with even if, especially when I saw him. But he told me okay, I had the exact same thing I thought you had, I thought this was all a dream as well. And he told me that when he got back to the Netherlands, that he knew, Okay, I'm now in a familiar place where I am now back to where I was. This has to be real. So and when I saw him, I thought, I'll, be damn. How is he so normal? Because he was normal. He spoke normal. He moved normal. Nothing was weird about him. So I thought, Okay, this has to be a miracle. Then he told me okay, I, you know, this is real, right? I said, I'm not sure yet. Okay, I'm gonna send you a card. I said yeah. Could you send on the card? Could you put in the card? Kaj, this isn't a dream, this is real. X Bob. So, week later, I received a card. And I thought, okay, that has to be real. Then I, he told me, he told me that I had to
Melissa Ebken 17:01
That kind of changed things for you. You went from not even really sure. If you were experiencing reality, or a dream to okay, this is real. And then imagine that a ton of feelings would come along with that, that this is real. You see this guy who experienced the same thing, and he's standing there and walking and talking. And there had to be so many emotions, you're experiencing all at once.
Kaj Smit 17:30
Disbelief, and I thought he was lying. So I, the first first its mostly the second thing that made me realize that it wasn't a dream. And that's I was in a rehabilitation center in the northern part of the Netherlands, which was a normal rehabilitation center with a youth department and an elderly department. I was on in the youth department. But it wasn't specialized in brain damage. And my parents wanted me to go to Daan Theeuwes Centrum. Daan Theeuwes Centrum is the name of a patient, which was named the center, their rehabilitation was named after him, because it was founded by his dad, and is specialized in brain and not born with brain damage. So my parents wanted me to go there. And I heard this name come by come around a few times in the past week, in last week. So I thought, Okay, this has to be fake. I'm not seeing anything, I'm not going anywhere. It has to be fake. So eventually, I did go to the Daan Theeuwes Centrum. And I remembered, okay, I can't predict what my friends said, I couldn't predict that Lars would come by. I'm going someplace else. Just like Lars said, just like Bob said, this has to be real. So I got two things from Bob, one method to know if this was a dream or not and two, motivation to keep going because I knew it was possible. He was very optimistic at the moment, because as I came to realize, and I've come to realize right now, every brain damage is different. Nothing is the same. That even though he had a stroke, and he, he he was very young. He could walk again in two weeks. It took me six months to walk again. So I was far worse off place than he was, I just didn't think of it. I thought okay, he did I could do the same.
Melissa Ebken 19:24
Sure. I would imagine that youthful optimism would have been was helpful at that point in time too
Kaj Smit 19:33
He was very helpful. Yeah.
Melissa Ebken 19:36
So here we are, a year and a month later from when this happened. You said it happened May 12, in 2021. And we're recording this on June 1 in 2022. And I look at you and I see a young man that yeah, I wouldn't suspect had any kind of issue, let alone one that he had 5% chance odds of surviving and that had you paralyzed in a vegetative state for that period of time. I mean, that's truly amazing. You're a miracle Kaj!
Kaj Smit 20:09
I know. It may sound selfish, but I know I'm a walking miracle at this moment.
Melissa Ebken 20:15
Yeah, and that you would choose to share that with people, that's really brave. Because you could be someone's Bob, you could be the one that would walk into someone's room and give them a lifeline to know what is real and to give them hope again.
Kaj Smit 20:32
Yeah. But it could also help people who do help those in need, understand what it feels like to be in need. And to give them a clear perspective on why you need to help them or why you need to show compassion or why you need to treat them like a normal person. Because that's something that nurses and therapists and people around you stop doing. That's treating you like a normal person. They treat you like you're an infant, and some may be an infant. But some aren't, and some are very capable of thinking on their own. And that's very frustrating to be treated like an infant.
Melissa Ebken 21:13
Sure. That's a great insight. What other plans do you have?
Kaj Smit 21:22
Well, I'm planning on continuing my speaking career. Because I want to motivate people and inspire people with the lessons I've learned with my method. And just to give them an insight on what it's like to be at the end of your life, just to an end it just to want to end it all. And what it takes for you to come back and the mental power that it had, that it had cost me to be able to get back.
Melissa Ebken 21:52
I would imagine that was immense.
Kaj Smit 21:55
It was immense. Yeah.
Melissa Ebken 21:58
Well, Kaj, we're sitting here, across the world talking to each other. You're 19 years old, you're speaking to me in a foreign language, a language that is not native to you. After having such a severe brain trauma to the point where they didn't even know if you would live through the night and here you are, you're not just getting by, but you are thriving, you are living, you're doing an interview a year later in a different language than what you know. I mean, that's wonderful, that's inspiring. And to go from the depths of where you were, wanting to take your life to where you are now. I just want to stand and give you a standing ovation. I mean, you're tremendous.
Kaj Smit 22:43
Melissa Ebken 22:45
What would you say to someone who's in that dark place?
Kaj Smit 22:49
Well, I've, I have actually a very, that someone in my rehabilitation center is I don't know if she's still in the dark place. But I tried my best to get her out of it. I tried to be someone's Bob, and I tried to be everyone's Bob at my rehabilitation center, because I I know, I didn't improve for six months. I it was a miracle that I can even move my left arm again, because my therapists were were telling me Okay, Kaj, you're not improving much, this isn't going to work. Just give up. I didn't give up
Melissa Ebken 22:49
Good for you.
Kaj Smit 23:31
But some people do want to give up because they're in the situation for too long. Or they don't see the light at the end of the tunnel. And they just want to give up. So I've spoken to let's call her, Carla. I've spoken to Carla. And she thought this was all a dream. And she tells me she still thinks its a dream but it's less often than she used to. And that's because I talked her. I gave her my insight. And she took it because she was already in my rehabilitation center for not born with brain damage. So she couldn't move from one rehabilitation to the other. And she was already in her kind of bubble. So I gave her my cell phone method, which was contacting people. Because I said to her, you can predict everything that's happening, right? She said Yeah, I can. Okay, go talk to your friend. They'll surprise you, I'll assure you, I'll assure you, so she did that. And but she knew oh wait, let's get to the situation. Okay. 20 therapists 20, rebuilt in rehabilitation. At 20 patients, 20 nurses 60 people in total. I was not clinical anymore. So I was rehabilitating from my apartment and going to the rehabilitation center during the day and going back to my apartment in the night. She was still in, in, in hospital. So she was in a real bubble. You don't have contact with the outside world. You only talk to really, to patients and to nurses and to therapists. But so I gave her the advice for okay, go talk to people. So that's what she did. And her mother came came by and came to me. And she said, Thank you Kaj. I don't know what you did. But thank you. Carla has changed immensely. I see the old Carla again. I am so happy. That just broke me. It just it made me feel so good. That I know. And that I knew, okay, I'm improving someone, I'm helping someone. And they made tremendous steps out there. They made a tremendous improvement because they were positive again, they saw, okay, I'll be able to make it. They didn't think in a dark palce and didn't stay in a dark place anymore. So being able to help someone that's very close to me be able to improve so much. I just made my day. Made my year.
Melissa Ebken 26:08
It's amazing. And you're only getting started.
Kaj Smit 26:10
Yeah. And but the the truly heartbreaking stuff was that she invited me to cook with her because she was still under the you need food through a nostril. And that you have it pumped into your stomach. So, and she was actually getting started with eating again. Because after you have brain damage and need to start learning how to eat again, you need to start learning how to swallow again. Otherwise, you're going to it's not gonna be good. It's not gonna go well. You're gonna suffocate. So she was improving on that. And she invited me Okay, Kaj, for for therapy that's every basic and need that you're ever going to need. I need to cook. I need to make myself dinner. Do you want to cook dinner with me? I said, Yeah, let's go, Carla. I'm all in. So that's, so she and I talked. And I thought I asked her because I was staying in my apartment and I wasn't in the hospital anymore. I thought, Hey, how's the hospital? Is it fun there? And I said, are you getting along with people? She told me no. I said why not? I did I don't talk to anyone. Why don't you? Talk to me. Yeah but you're the only one I talk to. Out of 60 people, I was the only one that she talked to and I only talk to her through DM's on Instagram. Because she and I saw each other in hallways like twice. And we talked for five minutes. So if she at the time, she didn't go home. So she stayed in the hospital seven days a week. She didn't talk to anyone except for me. That broke me.
Melissa Ebken 27:49
So Kaj, have you written a book yet?
Kaj Smit 27:53
I am thinking about it. Yeah, yeah.
Melissa Ebken 27:56
Yeah. Put me down on the list. As soon as you get that written. I want a copy.
Kaj Smit 28:02
Melissa Ebken 28:03
Have you talked to anyone about your movie yet? Or maybe that will come after your book.
Kaj Smit 28:09
About my movie yet? Yeah. It could be it could be. I want to be played by Leonardo DiCaprio. So the young version of Leonardo DiCaprio.
Melissa Ebken 28:17
I'm sure that can happen. If he hears your story, I would imagine he'd make it happen. Well, Kaj, you've inspired me. And I know you're gonna inspire so many people. And anyone that wants to connect with you, they can find you on LinkedIn, and at your website. Tell us what those are. And I'm gonna have those in the show notes so people can just click on those and find you.
Kaj Smit 28:40
My website is kajsmit.com. So Kajsmit.com. And my LinkedIn is Kaj Smit.
Melissa Ebken 28:53
Perfect, so folks, make sure you connect with this young man. He's inspiring. And maybe there's some way you can be a part of helping him get his story out to others and inspire so many people, too. So Kaj, I want to thank you again, for being a guest on the Pursuing Uncomfortable Podcast. And hopefully, we'll have you back again someday and catch up with you and see what you're up to.
Kaj Smit 29:16
Melissa Ebken 29:16
Yeah. You have any last words of inspiration?
Kaj Smit 29:22
Yeah, that's one of the lessons I want to teach that, if you have an end goal, don't look at the end goal. Look at where you started. That way you can see the improvement you've made. Otherwise, it's an endless goal.
Melissa Ebken 29:35
Wise words, mark your progress. Alright. Thank you, Kaj.
Kaj Smit 29:42
🎶 Episode Outro: Thank you so much for tuning into today's episode. If this encouraged you, please consider subscribing to our show and leaving a rating and review so we can encourage even more people just like yourself. We drop a new episode every Wednesday so I hope you continue to drop in and be encouraged to lean into and overcome all the uncomfortable stuff life brings your way. 🎶