Los Angeles Man Celebrates Becoming New Dad After Severe Brain Bleeding Accident

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Chinna Balachandran’s life changed irreversibly five years ago after a boxing workout left him with a severe brain bleed, nearly costing him his life and leading to significant physical and psychological challenges.

“For a while I thought this is what my [new] life is going to be: in pain, on a bed, taking pills while waiting to die,” Balachandran, 35, told PEOPLE in an exclusive interview. “But having kids, going back to work, none of that seemed possible.”

His journey of recovery was arduous but not insurmountable. Balachandran spent years rebuilding his physical and emotional health, relearning essential skills such as walking and controlling his eye movements.

Chinna Balachandran in the hospital after his surgery.
Chinna Balachandran in the hospital after his surgery. PHOTO: Chinna Balachandran and Erica Wendel

“Just because I’m not the person I was before, it doesn’t mean that I’m necessarily worse off. It’s just different,” Balachandran said. “And that’s the same message I hope to convey to other survivors.”

Today, Balachandran celebrates being a proud father to twin girls, Maya and Anjali, born in December. He married Erica Wendel, 36, in September 2021 and resumed his career as a psychologist at a Los Angeles psychiatric hospital for teens.

“The version of me before the injury is just dead. But who I am now is still living shades of that old me’s life,” Balachandran reflected, documenting his journey on Instagram. “I’m going to be figuring out my new normal for the rest of my life.”

Wendel, a psychiatry professor at the University of Southern California, spoke about the strain on their relationship during Balachandran’s recovery. “In addition to the physical aspects of recovery, there were challenges around emotional regulation. He was really quick to get sad or angry, and it took a while to navigate that,” she said.


However, Wendel emphasized that Balachandran now approaches life with a newfound appreciation. “He’s overwhelmed with gratitude to be alive and has a new lease on life that the previous one didn’t,” she said.

Becoming parents was a healing experience despite their challenges. The couple, who met at the University of Texas at Austin, struggled through multiple miscarriages before Wendel’s successful pregnancy with their twins last year.

“I think the time that passed between the injury and us having the babies allowed Chin to heal in important ways,” Wendel said.

Chinna Balachandran, center, on the set of American Ninja Warrior.
Chinna Balachandran, center, on the set of American Ninja Warrior. PHOTO: COURTESY OF CHINNA BALACHANDRAN AND ERICA WENDEL

Balachandran’s ordeal began in 2019 during a routine workout when he suffered a significant blow to the head. Initially, he felt no immediate effects and managed to drive home. It was only later that symptoms emerged.

“I’m seeing dark circles out of both my eyes, losing the ability to move the left side of my body, losing the ability to speak,” Balachandran recalled. “I collapsed, but managed to signal Erica who called 911.”

Rushed to UCLA Medical Center, doctors performed emergency surgery to relieve the pressure on his brain by removing the entire right side of his skull.


“If you come in with a brain bleed like this, you have a 30-40% chance of either dying or ending up in a persistent vegetative state,” said Dr. Isaac Yang, Balachandran’s neurosurgeon.

Balachandran not only survived but embarked on an intensive recovery journey, including physical therapy and a determination to compete on “American Ninja Warrior” to honor his progress.

“I was able to do something that honored the broken version of me in a hospital bed wondering if I would even be able to bathe myself anymore,” he said.

Yang described Balachandran’s recovery as exceptional, noting that many patients with similar injuries do not regain full function. “I think [Balachandran] is one of the most remarkable recoveries I’ve seen in 20 years,” he said.

For Balachandran, the birth of his daughters marked the pinnacle of his recovery journey and newfound appreciation for life.

“I’m remembering how close we were to having missed all of this, and I have this newfound appreciation for life that makes fatherhood feel so much more special,” he said. “It takes my breath away thinking about raising them. It’s the ultimate blessing.”

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