As a 19-year survivor of severe traumatic brain injury I have wondered on a number of occasions why I am still here. While I was in rehab, I did not understand my purpose for survival, but now that I have survived almost 20 years I am very sure of the reason God gave me another chance… First, I want to explain that I am NOT 100% recovered. I actually have a lot of things that I should be working on to get better physically and mentally. I guess my excuse for not addressing all of my issues is that there are too many to rehab. In my opinion, addressing all of my issues would be like taking on a full-time job called the ‘Rehabilitation of Rodrick’. If you saw what I looked like in 2003 and how I look today, one could argue that I’m doing pretty well. But if you asked my ultra-competitive side how I am doing, it would admit that I am in a much better place than I was, but there is still work to do!
Some people have told me that I am being too hard on myself considering what I had to endure immediately after my accident. But if you knew about my first hospital stay (there were 3 total) and what I endured on my way to the rehab hospital, you could say that I was blessed and I was being restored for later! I say that with a huge grin on my face because even though I believe I am watching the game from the ‘bench’ right now, I know I am being prepared to go into the game next!
Why would I say that? Well, after running into a mailbox with my new motorcycle in 2003, records state that I had an initial Glasgow Coma Scale of 4, that lasted 4 weeks. I also had a seizure during transport to the hospital and my initial brain imaging was negative for abnormalities, but I was diagnosed with diffuse axonal injury. My recovery was complicated by pneumonia, severe bleeding from my tracheostomy site, and pancreatitis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2001): Traumatic brain injury with or without skull fracture is an insult to the brain caused by an external physical force that may produce a diminished or altered state of consciousness. Every year, over 1.5 million Americans sustains a traumatic brain injury. Among those who survive, 80,000 people per year must learn to cope with lifelong loss of function.
I’m sure you understand that my life must take on a different focus. My life is no longer about doing what I want to accomplish in life. But more about doing what I can do to help fellow survivors and anyone connected to them. This means that I will do whatever I can to help survivors navigate life post-injury. I’ve reached out to my local brain injury support group to help deliver topics important to survivors, such as walking through the steps I took to go back to college for my MBA and going back to work full-time. Neither of these experiences were easy, but I believe they were not as draining as rehabbing your body and mind.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2001): Traumatic brain injury with or without skull fracture is an insult to the brain caused by an external physical force that may produce a diminished or altered state of consciousness. Every year, over 1.5 million Americans sustains a traumatic brain injury. Among those who survive, 80,000 people per year must learn to cope with lifelong loss of function.
What’s next? I launched a website in early 2021 to promote the book I released in July 2021 (Like A Snowflake: My experience and recovery from TBI) and developing blog articles that tell some of the stories and challenges faced due to brain injury. In December 2021 I had the opportunity to talk to a class of graduate speech pathologists’ students about the book and my experiences navigating life as a brain injury survivor. This was an awesome experience that reminded me that everyone’s perspective of you as a survivor can and will be different.
Going back to work has been an ongoing challenge for me. When I think I have found the right employer, something else comes up that makes me think twice about the opportunity. I am grateful for every opportunity given post-injury. They have been instrumental in providing additional knowledge required to get other jobs or to secure other employment opportunities.
It is funny to think how fast life has gone by since my accident. I have had the experience to work with a lot of great organizations that are focused on brain injury. I am a Brand Ambassador Spokesperson for the Alzheimer’s Association, and most recently, I was added to the Speakers Bureau for the Brain Injury Association of America, so I am available to speak to other survivors, clinicians, or even doctors regarding my experiences with brain injury. I did not ever see myself doing what I am doing today for other survivors, nor did I believe I would write a book on the events that followed my TBI that permanently changed my life. This is why I am still here today! I believe I am here to be a point of reference for other survivors and to influence them along the way!
I think next week, I will post some ideas I know are safe to try for survivors to get outside for the summertime.
Keep pushing survivors! I challenge you to find your purpose and ENGAGE if you can!!