In February, Paul van Dyk fell from the stage during a performance at the State Of Trance festival in Utrecht. The veteran DJ sustained serious damage to his spine along with a severe brain injury. “The first prognosis that was given to my mom and my fiancé the day after the accident was that we can be really happy if the organs that are necessary to be alive will keep functioning,” Van Dyk explained in an interview with Billboard Dance about his ordeal.
On May 24, a statement appeared on the DJ’s Facebook page. “Although there is a long way ahead for me to completely recover, I am positive, optimistic and doing absolutely everything I can to get back to my passion and share with you my love for music,” he wrote. He finished the letter by hinting at his comeback: “In mid-June, I’m returning to do what I love doing the most and am looking forward to seeing you all again!” Not long after, he announced that his first performance since the fall will take place at EDC Las Vegas.
Van Dyk spoke with Billboard Dance recently about the nature of his injuries and the long road back to health.
Do you remember the fall?
I don’t remember the fall itself any more. That’s what luckily enough the brain does — it protects you from those traumatic memories. I stepped on something that wasn’t solid. It was just like black fabric, and it wasn’t marked as being not solid. Then I fell doing something that’s part of any DJ’s performance: interacting with your audience. My other memories slowly started afterwards.
I had many talks with the doctors: I had a traumatic brain injury, I broke my spine twice, I had a lot of bruising, and an open wound at the back of my head. The brain injury was and continues to be the biggest struggle of it. If you imagine that you break your spine and that’s the easy thing, then you can imagine what the last three months have been like. And what the future months to full recovery will be like.
What have been the steps in the recovery process?
The first four or five weeks I was actually still in the wheelchair. Because of the brain injury, I had to learn to walk again. I’m still a bit slurry with speaking. I had to learn how to speak; I had to learn how to eat. I can do a lot of things that I was able to do before, but it’s still a long way until I’m at the point where I want to be — and the point that I came from.
If you have a neurological issue, no case is like the other. In one or two years, I may be back to 100%, or should I say, the new 100%. The doctors say I won’t be able to do as much as I used to do. It’s a long way; it’s a very hard way.
The first prognosis that was given to my mom and my fiancée the day after the accident was that we can be really happy if the organs that are necessary to be alive will keep functioning. Most likely I won’t know who I am, or what my surrounding is. I was slipping in and out of consciousness for three days. It was bad. There are three states of traumatic brain injury – mild, moderate, and severe – and I was in the severe part.
It was very heavy, but I think lucky is not the right word. The fact that I’m still alive is a miracle. The doctor even said I’m a miracle wonder – my self-healing capacity is something he’s never seen before, that’s what he told me. I couldn’t have done it without my fiancée. She was with me the whole time. She gave me the reason to stay alive. She was the reason to stay alive. Without her, I couldn’t have done any of it. I owe her my life. And I’m forever grateful to all the doctors and the therapists.
I would have never thought how much love there is out there for me and my music. I can only say thank you to all the people who took the time just for a second to write a little note on Facebook or Twitter, to send me a card. Those little things gave me the energy to move on. I want to express my sincere gratitude to anyone that took a moment to think about me.
You left the hospital recently, what was it like to go home?
It was amazing. I hadn’t been home for three months. First I was a bit insecure – in the protected environment of a hospital, you know you can’t do this, you can’t do that. When you’re at home, you almost run into the fact that you overdo it. I make myself a coffee, which is a challenge. The everyday things become tough and have been tough. I’m still in the process.
What are your plans moving forward?
I had a lot of music ready and we were planning on releasing a new album this year. Because I lost all the time and the focus on it, that’s not going to happen. So we’re planning on this to be finished for 2017. I start touring – we’re doing EDC, which I’m really looking forward to. We’re doing the Ibiza season and festivals in Europe.
We’re doing substantially less to make sure that every single time I play I give the 100% that people are used to. The last thing I want is being on stage and not feeling able to do it. When I play, I will be there 100%. I have to play less shows simply because I’m in the process of recovering.
Do you feel nervous about returning to the stage?
Not really. From a health point of view, my body still hurts. But the thought of playing my music again in front of my audience keeps me excited and drives me. I can’t wait for it to happen. I think it’s going to be a very intense experience. But the positive feel — to be back with the people that supported me throughout these heavy times and give them the best I can musically — I’m really looking forward to it.
Have you been listening to music?
I was listening when I could — that helped me as well to stay in the real world. One or two weeks ago I started listening to promos and all that stuff. It excites me like before. Nothing on that end has changed. I’m still the music loving freak I was before.