RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- Jerry Nadeau returned to the hospital where he spent more than three tense weeks in May, this time to thank the people who put him "back together" after a crash.
Nadeau was injured May 2 when he hit the wall during a practice session at Richmond International Raceway. He was semiconscious for much of his 24-day stay at Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center.
On Friday, he made the rounds with Dr. Kathryn Holloway, a neurosurgeon who was his attending physician, visited people who took part in his care and met with patients in the brain injury rehabilitation unit.
"It was emotional," the 32-year-old said of his return visit. "Obviously you wanted to cry, but I was trying to be macho about it and hold it in.
"I think it was more emotional for them. Half the people I didn't even remember. I think it was more emotional for them considering that they haven't seen me in three months and I was almost dead when they saw me.
"It was more inspirational just to go there and say hello to all the doctors that basically put me back together.
Doctors were gratified to see how much Nadeau has progressed, and they were even more stunned when his visit had a profound impact on Tommy Bradshaw, who has been in the brain injury unit for about three weeks.
"How are you, buddy?" Nadeau asked Bradshaw.
"Pretty good," Bradshaw replied, marking what hospital officials said were the first words Bradshaw has spoken since he got to the hospital.
The moment "blew us all away," said clinical neuropsychologist Dr. Jan Niemeier. "Jerry will never know how much his visit meant to Tommy."
The way Nadeau figures, he's been there, too.
The crash in turns one and two left him with three lesions on his brain, a fractured shoulder blade and lung and rib injuries. Tests done by NASCAR showed the accident was the most violent the sport had seen since installing black box-style data recorders in cars two years ago.
Nadeau still has lingering deficiencies in his left side caused by the last brain lesion, but said an MRI exam Friday showed the wound is shrinking.
He also limps less noticeably than he did after learning to walk again, and still sometimes finds himself searching for lost words.
"I've got to give my brain more time to heal," he said.
Nadeau remembers what happened at the track before the crash, but not the accident itself. His limited memory from the hospital includes him wheeling down the hall to the lunchroom or to a physical therapy session.
He also has heard stories about what it was like for his wife, Jada, and others to wait while he remained unable to speak in the hospital.
"I can't imagine what she went through," he said of his wife, who had given birth to the couple's first child in February. "I know some of the things that she did and I was like, 'What?' She had diapers and stuff and was telling me some stories about that and I was like, 'My God."'
Jada Nadeau was attending her grandfather's funeral when the accident happened and had trouble getting to Richmond because of severe weather.
"She's one tough lady. That's all I can say," he said.
And one who appreciates his desire to race again.
"She understands that this is all I like to do. I love racing. I've raced since I was four years old, so this is all I know how to do," he said. "I mean, I could go back to roofing, but I'm not really interested."
Nadeau spends time at a go-cart track near the team's shop in Concord, N.C., racing with team members, and plans to drive a Legends car soon.
"I can't wait to get back in the car," he said.
In Nadeau's absence, his team has used a series of drivers, with Mike Skinner taking the wheel for Saturday night's Chevrolet 400.
At NASCAR's request, the track also has undergone changes since the accident, installing Steel and Foam Energy Reduction (SAFER) barriers to soften the concrete walls at both ends of the three-quarter-mile oval.
It is the first short track in NASCAR to have the barriers.
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