Relearning to walk, talk at 34: Florida man inspires others while documenting recovery after brain surgery

Matt Friend’s ‘brainsurgerysurvivor’ social media accounts are followed by thousands

Relearning to walk, talk: Florida man documents recovery after brain surgery

BOCA RATON, Fla. – From paralyzed to walking — a Florida man is documenting his recovery after brain surgery on social media.

Matt Friend, 34, is showing others that the social media app TikTok isn’t just about dancing and fun edits — it’s also a platform that can bring people together and provide information about health and fitness with a twist of humor. Because laughter is the best medicine after all, right?

This is his story.

Friend was diagnosed with hydrocephalus in April 2021. Hydrocephalus is an abnormal buildup of fluid in the ventricles (cavities) deep within the brain. This excess fluid causes the ventricles to widen, putting pressure on the brain’s tissues. Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) is the clear, colorless fluid that protects and cushions the brain and spine.

Hydrocephalus occurs in children and adults and can develop later in life. It could happen to anyone at any time — and this is when Friend enters the chat.

After his brain surgery, Matt took to TikTok and Instagram — using the platforms almost as a daily/weekly video diary — documenting himself regaining strength, and relearning how to walk, talk and live his life again.

@brainsurgerysurvivor

This was about a month or so after surgery. In a rehab hospital.

♬ original sound - BrainSurgerySurvivor

“I went from having a normal ordinary life to needing immediate brain surgery,” Friend said. “Since then, I’ve devoted my time to getting better and healthy. Helping others that may be going through similar struggles has been an integral part of my emotional recovery. In the past year, I’ve had to re-learn how to walk, talk, and do most ordinary things that people take for granted.”

We asked Friend, who currently lives in Boca Raton with his family, if he had any symptoms beforehand that led to the discovery of his brain condition.

“A year before my surgery my vision began declining,” Friend said. “I did not think it was related to the growths, and I just figured my vision was going bad. I went to the eye doctor and a double vision specialist and no one said it could have been related to the growths. I didn’t think it was related to anything neurological and low and behold — it was.”

He also said he was having really bad neck and back pain, which is one of the symptoms that pushed him into the hospital.

The brain surgery left Matt with double vision, which is why his glasses may appear “foggy” in some of his videos. It’s actually an eye patch.

Friend said he still needs help doing the basics — cooking, clipping his nails, and other things he used to do on his own — which is one of the things he documents on TikTok.

“I pretty much just need help cutting my nails and cooking my meals,” he said. “Other than that I am able to do most things because I don’t love asking for help, as much as my parents might disagree with that. It bothers me and I wish I could do a lot more than I am now but it is a long, drawn-out journey and I have to be along for the ride.”

If we are being honest, the videos that feature Matt’s mom may be our favorite. The duo makes us laugh so hard that we cry.

One of his most viewed videos — with 2.5 million views — shows Matt being pushed into a pool by his father, while his mom screams, “that’s enough horsing around!” You really just have to see it to appreciate how great, and hilarious, this family truly is.

Friend’s surgery left him with multiple things to overcome: re-learning to walk, cognitive symptoms, body pain, fatigue, balance, headaches, double vision, slowing or loss of developmental progress and more.

He is now an open book — sharing his journey with millions of strangers on the internet. As of Oct. 25, Matt had 26,900 followers on his brainsurgerysurvivor” TikTok page and 417,000 likes on his videos.

His message is clear: Keep grinding, keep smiling, be kind to yourself, and never give up.

Friend credits most of his success — the drive to keep going and to keep smiling — to the incredible people he has in his life. His friends and especially his family members who have been by his side since day one.

“Having the support from my friends and family is amazing,” Friend said. “I don’t think I would be able to do what I am doing if I didn’t have that support. I mean, what I am going through is very frustrating, but being able to pick up the phone and talk to my friends that understand what I am going through is, I can’t even put it into words. It’s amazing. Having that support is so helpful in this whole journey.”

Throughout his videos, you can tell the love he has for his family and the love they reciprocate right back. In many videos, friends and family members make guest appearances — helping Matt, laughing with Matt, and supporting him through his multiple doctor and PT visits.

"Having the support from my friends and family is amazing," Friend said.

Did we mention he also has local ties?

During his recovery, Matt said he went to Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville because of the staff and its reputation.

“They have the best doctors in the world,” Friend said. “The place is nicer than the hotel was. It is a very nice facility and the doctors are very knowledgeable and it was a great situation.”

One of the things Friend documents is regaining his strength — working with physical trainers and at gyms, and even doing arts and crafts to improve hand-eye coordination and cognitive function.

Among others, he is working with Gilbert Burns, a Brazilian professional mixed martial artist and submission grappler, and UFC fighter, doing jiu-jitsu and training at Barwis Methods Training Center. Jiu-jitsu is helping him get stronger, work on his coordination, and other benefits essential for healing and personal growth.

Friend is now making friends all over the world and would love to help more people tackle their own struggles — even if they aren’t the same as his.

“I hope to inspire others to just keep working,” he said.

And inspire others he has. Comments prove that his journey is having positive impacts on others, and some relate to exactly what he is going through.

“You are awesome, amazing, and truly a hero!” Tracy Ball wrote on TikTok.

“You got this Matt. so proud of you. Coming from where you been its not easy but you got to remain positive,” Ebrahim said on TikTok.

“I do my exercises every day after my brain tumor surgery. Never give up! You are awesome!” Imstacyg said.

There are hundreds of other comments just like those — thanking him for being open and honest, and for connecting with people who may need an extra push to make it through the day. Because in the eyes of many, Matt Friend is Superman.

You can follow Matt’s journey on Instagram and TikTok | Keep up the great work, Matt!


About the Author:

Carianne Luter is a social media producer for News4Jax and has worked at Channel 4 since December 2015. She graduated from the University of North Florida with a communication degree.