TBI – Survivors, Caregivers, Family, and Friends

SPEAK OUT! Itty-Bitty GIANT Steps

presented by

Donna O’Donnell Figurski

Itty-Bitty GIant Steps for BlogSPEAK OUT! Itty-Bitty Giant Steps will provide a venue for brain-injury survivors and caregivers to shout out their accomplishments of the week.

If you have an Itty-Bitty Giant Step and you would like to share it, just send an email to me at neelyf@aol.com.

If you are on Facebook, you can simply send a Private Message to me. It need only be a sentence or two. I’ll gather the accomplishments and post them with your name on my blog approximately once a week. (If you do not want your last name to be posted, please tell me in your email or Private Message.)

I hope we have millions of Itty-Bitty Giant Steps.

Here are this week’s Itty-Bitty GIANT Steps

Robyn Hietala Bilyeu (survivor)…My Itty-Bitty Giant Step: I had a brain tumor removed Man & Woman Sleeping in BedMarch 17, 2015. I have been sleeping in our recliner since then because sleeping flat has resulted in severe head-pressure. I know my brain is still recovering, but I just wanted to sleep next to my husband again. Last night, I tried our bed. I slept through the night and didn’t have an ounce of pain when I woke up.

Krysta Harris GraduationKrysta Harris‎ (survivor)…Tonight, I graduated! I didn’t let my accident stop me. I told my family that my TBI counts as my honorary honor-tassel (Haha). My diploma wasn’t given to me – I worked for it! I’m lucky to have graduated with my class. I’m proud to have been able to strut across the field, knowing that I was in a hospital bed almost two years ago. Resilience is a great thing.

Man Planting seeds 3524898345_a5a3327405Stephen Mayfield, Jr. (survivor)…Hey. I got my garden. I finally finished sowing seeds. Now, let’s see what pops up.

Shelly Travis Owens (caregiver)…My husband and I went to dinner tonight with some friends. It was our first social situation since his TBI – and it went well. The guy is a coworker, so my husband got to catch up on what he’sDinner with Friends food-and-drinks-restaurant-dining-055638 missing at work, job news, and gossip. He forgot a few names, etc., but no one made a big deal of it, and the conversation went right on. My husband filled them in on his injury and his progress in therapy. I’m very encouraged, and my husband is thrilled. Baby steps.

Ballet Class  dexters-lab-dee-dee-dance-116

Diane Rasch (survivor)…I am so excited! I made it through ballet class without any problems two weeks in a row. Tonight, I even twirled across the floor.

Al Stavole (survivor)…So, I started my Sunday feeling overwhelmed. I felt an anxiety attack cropping up. Someone from a Facebook forum rescued me. I was already in a conversation with the individual, and I decided to come clean and tell Man Looking in MIrror How-You-See-Yourselfhim that I was having an anxiety attack. He asked me what my trigger was. I briefed him. He gave me a few words of wisdom passed down to him. I looked in the mirror, made myself feel strong, and said to myself, “Dude, you got this” and “Anxiety, screw you!”
So, the outcome? Had a great Sunday. Thank you, whoever you are….

YOU did it!

Congratulations to all contributors!

(Clip Art compliments of Bing.

As I say after each post:

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The Dream of an Earthquake


Ermira Mitre

presented by

Donna O’Donnell Figurski

Girl Blogger cartoon_picture_of_girl_writingOne night, after I came home from a long day of work, I noticed that my friend Eileen had called me twice during the day. I love talking to Eileen. Although it was 9:30, I decided to call her back and chit-chat a little bit to update each other on our everyday lives.

During our conversation, Eileen said, “Mira, you know what? I dreamed about an earthquake last night. The shaking was so hard that I got up and went to the computer to see if any earthquake had happened nearby. I didn’t find anything. So, I realized that the earthquake was a dream. And what a dream!”

Her dream instantly brought up the experience of my having had a similar dream while I was living in Albania with my family. I said, “You know, Eileen, years ago, I had a dream of an earthquake too.” I continued, “I dreamed an earthquake was happening, and it threw me from the balcony of my third-floor apartment. I fell onto the ground – but standing up.”

Eileen’s dream was frightening, but I told her about my positive symbol of “standing up” after “falling down.” So, I said, “The dream is telling you that, whatever happens, you will be fine.” My own experiences have shown that this indeed can be true.

My earthquake dream first occurred in March 1991 – a time of turmoil in Albania. Many young people had Ermira Mitre 2left the country. Two days after I had the dream, I got a phone call from my uncle. He said that my brother (who lived with my parents and my stepbrother) got onto a ship and escaped to Italy. He left behind my paralyzed mom, my dad, who was still recovering from a stroke, and my stepbrother, who had been diagnosed with a severe disease.

The news was a total shock. I felt divided. One part of me cared about my immediate family, and another part worried about my parents and my brothers. Psychologically, I was struggling to find a solution to the situation, while in my heart, I remained calm and at peace. My heart didn’t allow me to hurt myself with feelings of anger, anguish, or bitterness toward the decision of my twenty-two-year-old brother.

Although I was still picking up the pieces of the shattered glass I had become after the accidental death of my almost three-year-old son and having two little kids, a paralyzed mom, a half-paralyzed dad, and a brother with an incurable disease and also working as a teacher, I didn’t think of myself. The positive symbol of my earthquake-dream supported my actions. I was “standing up” when I needed it most.

Situations like these made me grow as a person and reach the deeper core of myself as a human being. By acknowledging peace within terrible storms, I have been able to extend my heart and actions to those who needed me.

Ermira Mitre copyMy peace allowed me to place my thoughts into a higher level of understanding. I can accept life as it comes by using exuberant, and often hidden, strength, courage, love, care, generosity, kindness, gentleness, and loyalty.

After I got off the phone with Eileen, I went to sleep. The next morning I had this poem within myself. It is about our existence and our strength. I hope you enjoy it.


Opening the eyelids and waking up by touching the dawn,
While the eyeballs kissing the vastness of the light,
Waking and feeling the joy of being alive,
Living through the day and experience,
The joy of living, the thunders, the storms,
And earthquakes that bring shakiness,
And awakens as much as the labor of a new baby born,
Still standing up and building up being grabbed,
And infused by the strength that lies beneath and beyond,
Sleeping is falling in quietness and stillness,
And darkness of the other side of our existence,
Being born thus waking up,
Living through the experience,
And dying thus sleeping in stillness,
Are the matching pieces of a puzzle,
Named as “our known but unknown existence.

Thank you, Ermira Mitre.

Any views and opinions of the Guest Blogger are purely his/her own.

(Clip Art compliments of Bing.)

(Photos compliments of Ermira Mitre.)


As I say after each post:

Please leave a comment by clicking the blue words “Leave a Comment” below this post.

Feel free to follow my blog. Click on “Follow” on the lower right corner of your screen.

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Caregivers SPEAK OUT! – Jeannette Davidson-Mayer



Donna O’Donnell Figurski

jeannette davidson-Mayer 0417151. What is your name? (last name optional)

Jeannette Davidson-Mayer

2. Where do you live? (city and/or state and/or country) Email? (optional)

New Plymouth, Idaho, USA     2004djmjdm@gmail.com

3. What is the brain-injury survivor’s relationship to you? How old was the survivor when he/she had the brain injury? What caused your survivor’s brain injury?

My husband, DeWayne, has a traumatic brain injury (TBI). He was 38 when it happened. While serving in Iraq, DeWayne survived one Humvee rollover, two close-range IEDs (improvised explosive devices), one helicopter explosion (They were guarding a downed helicopter when the remains were blown-up for disposal), and lastly an IED that went off right under the command seat, where DeWayne was sitting. All this happened in 2005 between May 23rd and October 3rd.

4. On what date did you begin care for your brain-injury survivor?

At the end of October 2004, DeWayne was flown to Madigan Air Force Base in Washington State on the advance plane from Iraq. I made a few trips there to see him. He was allowed occasional trips home. By February 2006, DeWayne was home for good. We didn’t know DeWayne had a TBI until mid-2007. We just knew something wasn’t connecting right in his daily mental functions.

Were you the main caregiver?

Yes. Our daughter as well has learned to be a caregiver over the years.486770_10200560183360321_1086965832_n

Are you now?


How old were you when you began care?


5. Were you caring for anyone else at that time (e.g., children, parents, etc.)?


6. Were you employed at the time of your survivor’s brain injury? If so, were you able to continue working?

Yes, I was employed. My employer helped above the call of duty. In mid-October 2014, I did have to quit working because DeWayne’s medical needs had increased. Also, I had gone to one of our smaller companies, which is a 10-minute drive vs. a 5-minute walk. DeWayne couldn’t comprehend this change, which created hardships for our daughter and for DeWayne and me as a couple.

7. Did you have any help? If so, what kind and for how long?

I couldn’t make it without the love and support of our family, friends, and church family. Help is from driving DeWayne to assisting with happenings at home. Most of all, help is providing an ear to listen.

8. When did your support of the survivor begin (e.g., immediately – in the hospital; when the survivor returned home; etc.)?

My quality of care has grown over the years. It took a while because I didn’t know how to ask for help. I was embarrassed to ask, and I didn’t understand how to ask either. I felt that if I couldn’t do it myself, I was failing my family.

9. Was your survivor in a coma? If so, what did you do during that time?

No, but DeWayne was knocked out several times.

10. Did your survivor have rehab?


If so, what kind of rehab (i.e., inpatient and/or outpatient and occupational, physical, speech, and/or other)?

DeWayne had occupational, physical, speech, and recreational therapies as an outpatient. He also had behavioral health therapy.

How long was the rehab?

Rehab started out three days a week, eight hours a day, for three months at Idaho Elks Rehab. DeWayne was then moved to the Boise VA (Veterans Administration) facility, where he went several days a week. DeWayne still has recreational therapy, physical therapy, and occasionally occupational therapy. And, monthly behavioral health therapy.

Where were you when your survivor was getting therapy?

Idaho Elk’s Rehab, Boise VA Medical Center, Tri-Cities Physical Therapy, St. Luke’s Spinal Care

11. What problems or disabilities of your brain-injury survivor required your care, if any?

DeWayne has many difficulties. He has fixations. He’s easily lost, confused, and disoriented. He tires easily. His short-term memory is a problem. DeWayne doesn’t always understand what is happening around him or what is being said to him. Also we don’t always understand what he is trying to say to us. He suffers from migraines/headaches. He has silent seizures, bi-lateral hearing loss, tremors, and sensitivity to light.

12. How has your life changed since you became a caregiver? Is it better? Is it worse?

I can’t really say if life is better or worse because of the TBI. We are both different from the deployment alone. I am the lucky wife because he came home alive, which is a celebration in itself.

13. What do you miss the most from pre-brain-injury life?

There is a lot I miss (for example, long hiking trips and long conversations). But, the trade-off is worth it.

14. What do you enjoy most in post-brain-injury life?Jeannette Davidson-Mayer & DeWayne

We have learned to depend on each other completely – as spouses and as a family. We tend to stand up for what we believe in. We hold on tighter. We often show each other how important we are. We travel off-season, which is nice because the crowds are less. Nicer indeed!

15. What do you like least about brain injury?

We never know what to expect from day to day, yet it is also a positive, for we never have a dull moment.

16. Has anything helped you to accept your survivor’s brain injury?

Through many trials and errors, we have finally discovered our saving grace. Our kitchen has become our “Central Command Post.” Our lives center around our kitchen. We were able to set up an atmosphere that can adapt to DeWayne’s ever-changing daily new normal. Post-it Notes and whiteboard markers saved our family.

17. Has your survivor’s injury affected your home life and relationships and, if so, how?

Of course, DeWayne’s TBI has affected home life, relationships, and so on. We have lost.

18. Has your social life been altered or changed and, if so, how?

Our social life has been cut. We don’t go out as much. We avoid crowds, noisy situations, and places that make DeWayne uncomfortable. I also have become uneasy about the same things that make DeWayne uneasy.

19. What are your plans? What do you expect/hope to be doing ten years from now?

Our plans for the future are to continue to live in joy and love together, to share our lives with our children as they continue to grow, to travel the world in an RV, and to reach out to others to show them that they have the inner strength needed to move forward. (How they move forward is unique to each family.)

20. What advice would you offer other caregivers of brain-injury survivors?

Never give up. Give in from time to time. Let it out – cry or scream. Then look back on what is happening to find ways to make adjustments or to find solutions to the challenges. Know that you are not alone. You yourself, along with your family, have so much to offer.

Do you have any other comments that you would like to add?

Military families are not alone in living with TBIs and/or PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and in being caregivers. We didn’t sign up for this life, but we have it. Now let’s figure out how to keep moving forward, so we can reach higher, dream bigger, and hold on tighter.

To learn more about Jeannette Davidson-Mayer, you can listen to her interview with me on “Another Fork in the Road” on blogtalkradio.com or at R4 Alliance.


Jeannette Davidson-MayerThank you, Jeannette, for taking part in this interview. I hope that your experience will offer some hope, comfort, and inspiration to my readers.

If you would like to be a part of this project, please go to TBI Caregiver Interview Questionnaire for a copy of the questions and the release form.

(Photo compliments of Jeannette.)

Disclaimer: The views or opinions in this post are solely that of the interviewee.

As I say after each post: Please leave a comment by clicking the blue words “Leave a Comment” below this post.

Feel free to follow my blog. Click on “Follow” on the upper right sidebar.

If you like my blog, share it with your friends. It’s easy! Click the “Share” buttons below.

If you don’t like my blog, “Share” it with your enemies. I don’t care! Feel free to “Like” my post.

SPEAK OUT! Faces of Brain Injury – Jenn Von Hatten

presented by

Donna O’Donnell Figurski

 Brain Injury is NOT Discriminating!

bigstock-cartoon-face-vector-people-25671746-e1348136261718On Valentine’s Day 2011, I went to work only for a meeting. (I was a nurse at a long-term mental health facility.) Freezing rain struck during the meeting. The treacherous road condition was responsible for my car’s being T-boned at highway speed. That’s how I acquired my traumatic brain injury. The paramedics found me “clinically dead.” Obviously, I was alive. The pressure on my brain was monitored to see if I needed to have surgery. Also my liver was lacerated. Fortunately I did not need surgery for either. I was put into a medically induced coma because, in addition to my brain injury, I fractured a rib and three vertebrae. I was in a coma for over seven weeks. I managed to develop pneumonia and had to have a tracheotomy. I was discharged on July 14th. I Jenn Von Hatten Emma, & Hannasurvived to see my oldest children graduate from high school. Emma graduated in June 2013, and Liam, in 2014.

Spastic muscles affected my speeJenn Von Hatten & Liamch, so I went to physiotherapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy. My balance was severely affected. I used to be in a wheelchair, due to the fractured vertebrae. I since “graduated” to a walker, then to a quad cane, and eventually to a mini quad cane. Now I’m a fall risk. My life has definitely changed. I am no longer able to work as a nurse. I cannot say if my life is better or worse. All I can say with certainty is that my life is different.  I enjoy my time with Hanna, my 7-year-old daughter and youngest child. (I have joint custody. I remind myself that not many relationships survive a TBI.) I now have a cat, Spunkster, which I got from the local SPCA. When Hanna’s not with me, I hang out with Spunkster. I miss most my being able to work as a nurse. But as much as I would like to a work as a nurse, I know I would not be safe – physically (because I am a fall risk) as well as mentally Jenn Von Hatten & Hanna(in terms of remembering if I gave a client his or her medication or treatments). I had graduated as a nurse only seven months before my TBI. I had wanted to be a nurse for over fifteen years. At least I can say I turned that dream into reality! I sometimes miss being able to drive. My driver’s license has not been revoked, but my rehabilitation doctor says I still cannot drive, as my reflexes are not up to snuff. My plan is to help others that are TBI survivors or caregivers. I can provide info and support.

Disclaimer: Any views and opinions of the Contributor are purely his/her own.

(Clip Art compliments of Bing.)

(Photos compliments of contributor.)

As I say after each post: Please leave a comment by clicking the blue words “Leave a Comment” below this post.

Feel free to follow my blog. Click on “Follow” on the upper right sidebar.

If you like my blog, share it with your friends. It’s easy! Click the “Share” buttons below.

If you don’t like my blog, “Share” it with your enemies. I don’t care! Feel free to “Like” my post.

Outrageous: A Tackle Football League for Young Girls


David Figurski

presented by

Donna O’Donnell Figurski

So Whaddya Think Brain th-4There is growing public concern, backed by scientific evidence, about the violence of football and the possibility of a life-altering brain injury, especially in children. Former professional players have spoken out about the risks inherent to the game of football. Evidence now exists that a concussion can be dangerous (1, 2), especially to the developing brain of a young player. Even the repetitive sub-concussive hits can be harmful. Legendary quarterback Joe Namath, who had a recent scare with his cognitive functioning, said that if he knew then what is known now, he wouldn’t have played. A talented rookie linebacker on the San Francisco 49ers has quit the game after one season, saying “…I don’t want to have any neurological diseases or die younger than I would otherwise.”

Utah organizers are excited to establish the first tackle football league for girls. A video of a nine-year-old girl, Sam Gordon – now twelve, playing tackle football in a boys’ league confirms that she is talented and shows what many of us have always believed – that girls can be as skilled as boys. The Utah Girls Tackle Football League has teams of fifth- and sixth-grade girls. To enhance its visibility, the league advertises Sam Gordon as a marquee player.

This is dangerous and a step in the wrong direction. At a time when some adults are calling for the abolishment of children’s football leagues, Utah has established a tackle football league for girls. It’s one thing when players are old enough to understand the risks and decide to play, but it’s another thing when children trust that their parents will protect them. I’m sure that every parent who allows a child to play football is well-meaning, but those parents are likely to be unaware of the risks. We have a lot of work to do to spread awareness about football’s risk of brain injury.

There is no doubt that the games in this new league will be exciting. But, how many girls will have their lives dramatically changed by a brain injury?

So, Whaddya Think?

Let’s get a dialogue going. Post your comments in the Comment Section. Directions are below.

So . . . what do you think? Is there something you are passionate about in this Brain Injury (BI) world? Do you want to be heard? Your opinion matters! You can SPEAK OUT! on “So Whaddya Think?”

Simply send me your opinion, and I will format it for publication. Posts may be short, but please send no more than 500 words. Send to Neelyf@aol.com

I hope to HEAR from you soon.

As I say after each post:

Feel free to leave a comment by clicking the blue words “Leave a Comment” below this post.

Please follow my blog. Click on “Follow Me Via eMail” on the right sidebar of your screen.anim0014-1_e0-1

If you like my blog, click the “Like” button under this post.

If you REALLY like my blog, share it with your friends. It’s easy! Click the “Share” buttons below.

If you don’t like my blog, “Share” it with your enemies. That works for me too!

(Clip Art compliments of Bing.)

On The Air: Brain Injury Radio “Another Fork in the Road”


Juliet Madsen, TBI Survivor, US Troop, Quilter, Author

presented by

Donna O’Donnell Figurski

Juliet Madsen UniformJuliet Madsen has served in the US Army since she was 17-years old. She was involved in Operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield. While serving her country, Juliet suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury, at least one stroke, and numerous other medical issues, which changed her life #7 10610754_10203491518354714_4796635925244510505_nforever. On “Another Fork in the Road,” Juliet talked about how she copes with her new life and how she and her family make this new life work for them. I hope you won’t miss her show.

You can learn more about Juliet and read her book at Veterans Book Project. Scroll down the page to find Juliet’s book.

You can also see her collections of more than 50 quilts at Stroke of Luck Quilting.

Here are two of my favorites.


If you missed her interview on “Another Fork in the Road” on May 17th, you are in luck. You can listen to the archived show here.

Click the link below to listen to Juliet Madsen and me.

See you “On the Air!”

On the Air: Brain Injury Radio – Another Fork in the Road”

with Juliet Madsen – TBI Survivor, US Troop, Quilter, Author

 You Are Invited

Juliet Madsen – US Troop, TBI Survivor, Quilter, and Author


Juliet Madsen has served in the US Army since she was 17-years old. She was involved in Operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield. While serving her country, Juliet suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury and at least one stroke, which changed her life forever.

Come One! Come ALL! 

What:        Interview with Juliet Madsen, US Troop, TBI Survivor, Wife, Mother, Quilter, and Author

Why:        Juliet will share her story of living with brain injury and how she is helping the brain-injured community.

#3 1454864_10200875275550279_968652467_n

Where:     Brain Injury Radio Network

When:       Sunday, May  17th, 2015

Time:         5:00p PT (6:00p MT, 7:00p CT, and 8:00p ET) 90 minute show

How:         Click: Brain Injury Radio Network

Call In:    424-243-9540

Call In:     855-473-3711 toll free in USA

Call In:    202-559-7907 free outside USA


If you miss the show, but would like to still hear the interview, you can access the archive on On Demand listening. The archived show will be available after the show both on the Brain Injury Radio Network site and on my blog in “On the Air.”

(Clip Art compliments of Bing.)

(Photo compliments of Juliet Madsen.)

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