TBI – Survivors, Caregivers, Family, and Friends

Survivors SPEAK OUT! . . . . . Joshua Puckett


Donna O’Donnell Figurski


Joshua Puckett TBI Survivor - 2013

Joshua Puckett
TBI Survivor – 2013

1. What is your name? (last name optional)

Joshua Puckett

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

Los Angeles, California, USA

3. When did you have your TBI? At what age?

April 1, 2013     I was 31 years old.

4. How did your TBI occur?

At 2:00 am, I went outside to have a cigarette to calm a Tourette’s attack. Apparently I offended a random drunk person because he then beat what should have been the last drop of life out of me.

5. When did you (or someone) first realize you had a problem?

My wife got up wondering where I was. I was face down in the grass with the sprinklers on.

6. What kind of emergency treatment, if any, did you have?

I was in an induced coma for a few days; I had my periorbita (the area around the eye socket) replaced; and I spent a lot of time at Rancho Los Amigos, a rehab center here.

7. Were you in a coma? If so, how long?

I was in a medically induced coma for three days.

8. Did you do rehab? What kind of rehab (i.e., inpatient or outpatient and occupational and/or physical and/or speech and/or other)? How long were you in rehab?

I had physical therapy and speech therapy.

9. What problems or disabilities, if any, resulted from your TBI
(e.g., balance, perception, personality, etc.)?

Artwork by Joshua Puckett TBI Survivor - 2013

Artwork by Joshua Puckett
TBI Survivor – 2013

My balance is bad – I use a cane now for that. I can’t seem to eat no matter how hungry I am. I can exhibit confusion or anger. I have the memory of a fish!

10. How has your life changed? Is it better? Is it worse?

I changed every aspect of my life. Only very recently have I started seeing the gifts that came with my TBI. I have become so much more understanding to the struggles of all people. At the same time, I also feel more isolated and alone than ever.

11. What do you miss the most from your pre-TBI life?

I miss everything and, simultaneously, nothing. I was and am now an even more complex person. But, eating without my TBI would be like getting a tooth pulled.

12. What do you enjoy most in your post-TBI life?

Artwork by Joshua Pucket TBI Survivor - 2013

Artwork by Joshua Puckett
TBI Survivor – 2013

I love that my TBI gave me the clarity to know what is actually important in life.

13. What do you like least about your TBI?

Food is still the biggest culprit.

14. Has anything helped you to accept your TBI?

I did a lot of talking in the mirror. Also I became an alcoholic. Once I stopped that stupid show, things really started to open up for me.

15. Has your injury affected your home life and relationships and, if so, how?

At first, it was very tough. Two of my sons are severely autistic, and I was their full-time caregiver and nurse. Raising them was no longer in my hands. But recently, I have gotten insight about them that I wouldn’t have had before, and we are closer than ever. My marriage is trying. We are getting to a place where we are ready to part ways. Too much is different now – as much as we do not want it to be.

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

I was as social a butterfly as you could be. Now people and crowds terrify me. I was a night owl, which sucks now because I am afraid of the night too. PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) simply sucks.

17. Who is your main caregiver? Do you understand what it takes to be a caregiver?

I am able to care for myself, but I require some help – specifically with memory, eating, emotional swings, and childcare.

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

Honestly? I would like to change the world, helping everyone who wants or needs it.

19. Are you able to provide a helpful hint that may have taken you a long time to learn, but which you wished you had known earlier? If so, please state what it is to potentially help other TBI survivors with your specific kind of TBI.

Best hint? Be honest with yourself. Other people are important, but the one you have to spend your life talking to all the time is you. I also choose not to judge myself anymore.

I judged and hated myself for so long because of my TBI. But at the same time, I wanted to be there and to understand myself. Other people can’t. And that is good. I don’t want others to feel like this. But I can be honest with myself.

20. What advice would you offer to other TBI survivors? Do you have any other comments that you would like to add?

TBI sucks. But lets be honest, was your brain a well oiled machine before? This is a hurdle, but it can also be an opportunity to become the strongest, the happiest, and the most potential-fulfilling self you can – in ways that you can only do now with this wisdom, albeit possibly with a cane and some other assistance. :)

To learn more about Joshua Puckett, a very talented musician and artist, check out his You Tube videos. Here are some to get you started.

Viary: TBI

Viary: TBI and I (my “accident”)

TBI and I: The documentary

Joshua Puckett TBI Survivor - 2013

Joshua Puckett
TBI Survivor – 2013

Thank you, Joshua, for taking part in this interview. I hope that your experience will offer some hope, comfort, and inspiration to my readers.

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

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

(Photos compliments of Joshua.)



Global Head Shots Unique


Timothy Guetling

(presented by Donna O’Donnell Figurski)


Timothy Guetling  TBI Survivor

Timothy Guetling
TBI Survivor

My TBI occurred in 1972. At that time, neurologists were known as “neurosurgeons.” The only test that was available for testing at that time was an X-ray. The neurosurgeon told my mother, “I won’t give a dime for his recovery!”

After being unconscious for nineteen days, which included thirteen days of right-side paralysis, and forty-six days in the hospital, including twice-a-day intensive physical therapy, I came home to a new world. After about one year, I was deemed “100% recovered.” I knew better, but each time I tried to speak of it, I was shut down with “You are using that as an excuse.”

I missed a semester of my junior year in high school, but I graduated with my class in 1974. I then entered the world of work and college. I was successful. I worked many positions, and I graduated college. There was always the knowledge that something inside was not right, but I kept up in the world.

In 1998, due to recurring accidents at my place of employment, I was sent to be checked by a neurologist. X-rays, an EEG (electroencephalogram), an EKG (electrocardiogram), a CT scan (computerized tomography), and an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) revealed “pressed plates” in my neck at vertebrae C4-C5, C5-C6, and C6-C7. These vertebrae deal with hand-eye coordination and balance/dizziness. My vision, my cognitive reflex/response from my brain to spinal cord, and my equilibrium were deemed 85% on a good day.

My work and recreation patterns changed. In 2011, due to recurring repercussions from my injury, I stopped working. SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance) was approved in 2013. Now my equilibrium is at best 75%. My success is right here on this site and other sites related to TBI, brain injury, addiction/abuse, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), etc. I offer my knowledge from my experience of over 42 years of “recovery evolution.” It is with a smile on my face and tears in my eyes that I can say, with no sadness or fear, that you and I are Global Head Shots Unique. We know more than anyone about us. Lets talk!


(Disclaimer: The views or opinions in this post are solely that of the author.)

If you have a story to share and would like to be a part of the SPEAK OUT! project, please submit your TBI Tale to me at donnaodonnellfigurski@gmail.com. I will publish as many stories as I can.


As I say after each post:

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(Clip Art compliments of Bing.)

SPEAK OUT! Itty-Bitty GIANT Steps

Itty-Bitty GIant Steps for Blog

SPEAK 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 donnaodonnellfigurski@gmail.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.

Dan Gregory  (caregiver)…I want to share some wonderful news. My wife, Nichole Gregory, after suffering a TBI due to a motorcycle accident in 2010, has just finished an accelerated course in drug and alcohol counseling and behavioral science. She was able to make the Dean’s List and graduate after only eighteen months of school. huge.61.305531She now has her Bachelor’s Degree, and she is getting a job with the State of Nebraska. She will be working with high-risk, troubled youth in a crossover youth position. (The program is designed to keep young people from “crossing over” into the judicial system.) I am so very proud of her. She does what she can in spite of her TBI. She is an amazing woman and an inspiration, not just to me, but also to everyone around her. Unfortunately, long hours at school leave her emotionally and physically drained, but I am proud of her for not giving up the fight.

Timothy Guetling (survivor)…I want to tell you about my greatest TBI survival success. I had my TBI at 16. Next was acceptance; the fog lifted at 25. I adopted the vegan/vegetarian lifestyle at that time, and I was receptive to what that did to keep me healthy and to be alert to compassion for myself and all life. At 32, I was given the opportunity to realize the Master/Soul/God/Self-Inside through daily meditation of the Light/Sound principle. Since my acceptance, receptivity, and realization, though I have the repercussive effects of my TBI and always will, my life has been nothing but blissful “recovery evolution,” and it continues.

Sophia Hill Kusderci  (caregiver)…I have an incredible, happy moment I want to share. Anyone who knows us 11954302561011212002liftarn_Pillows.svg.hiunderstands that pillow-arranging was a huge thing in our marriage. It was our nightly ritual. My husband, Ahmet, did it to show me that he cared, even when he was angry. For twelve years, he did it. It stopped after the accident, and I just accepted it as another change about Ahmet. I simply thought that it was something I couldn’t have anymore. But…in the past couple of weeks, he’s been randomly doing it. It’s become a habit again – arranging my pillows only for ME to show me HIS love. I’m blessed by life’s small gifts. This, I believe, is a huge part of the lesson from his accident. Thank you.

YOU did it!

Congratulations to all contributors!

(Clip Art compliments of Bing.)



On the Air: Brain Injury Radio Interview –

Another Fork in the Road


 Rosemary Rawlins, Author & Caregiver


When I closed down the studio last night after spending 90 minutes talking to Rosemary Rawlins about her life as a caregiver, I popped into my husband’s office. He had listened to the interview on his computer. He smiled and said, “Great interview! I wish it wasn’t over. I could have listened for another hour.” I knew exactly what he meant. I could have talked with Rosemary forever. Our stories, though different, run parallel to each other.


David Figurski 3 weeks before his TBI

Both of our husbands were in the prime of their careers – doing what they loved best in their office/lab and after hours too. Hugh loved to ride his bicycle. David loved to run and exercise. Both Hugh and David exercised to relieve their daily stress. It was that exercise that caused their brain injuries.

Hugh Rawlins - racing

Hugh Rawlins – racing

Talking with Rosemary was refreshing. She really KNOWS what I went through, and I REALLY know what she went through. We GET IT!

Anyone who has “lost” a spouse to brain injury will totally understand and completely relate to Rosemary’s and my conversation. Please, go ahead! Eavesdrop on our tête-à-tête. We’d love you to.


Thank you, Rosemary, for sharing your story with me and my listeners on “Another Fork in the Road” on the Brain Injury Radio Network.

Rosemary & Hugh Rawlins 2

Rosemary & Hugh Rawlins – after TBI



Click the link below to listen to caregiver, Rosemary Rawlins (author of “Learning by Accident: A Caregiver’s True Story of Fear, Family, and Hope”), share her story of how she and Hugh pulled the pieces of their lives together.


See you “On the Air!”

 Rosemary Rawlins, Author & Caregiver


putthis_on_calendar_clip_artIt only takes a split second for lives to change forever. Rosemary and Hugh Rawlins lives were turned upside down when Hugh was struck by a car during an afternoon bike ride. Rosemary was immediately thrust into caregiver mode as Hugh was reduced to helplessness. Rosemary’s book, “Learning by Accident: A Caregiver’s True Story of Fear, Family, and Hope,” details, in an easy-to-read story, how she and Hugh, with their two daughters, picked up the broken pieces of their lives and glued them back together.

          Come One! Come ALL!

What:        Interview with Rosemary Rawlins, caregiver of her husband, Hugh Rawlins, and Author of “Learning by Accident: A Caregiver’s True Story of Fear, Family, and Hope”

Rosemary & Hugh Rawlins after TBI

Rosemary & Hugh Rawlins after TBI

Why:        Rosemary will talk about how her life and those of her family changed forever and how they are picking up the pieces and rebuilding new lives after TBI.

Where:     Brain Injury Radio Network

When:       Sunday, January 18th, 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 US


Learning by Accident: A Caregiver’s True Story of Fear, Family, and Hope

Learning by Accident: A Caregiver’s True Story of Fear, Family, and Hope



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.)

(Photos compliments of Rosemary Rawlins.)

SPEAK OUT! Itty-Bitty GIANT Steps

Itty-Bitty GIant Steps for Blog

SPEAK 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 donnaodonnellfigurski@gmail.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.

Anonymous (survivor)…I have an Itty-Bitty Giant Step for you. My husband and I were traveling on the freeway, so the bathroom stops were infrequent. I had to make a restroom stop really bad, and I was able to hold it for about twenty minutes until we could stop at a Rest Area. It is HUGE for me – a “Huge-er,” HUGE step!

Jimi Cunning (survivor)…I joined some MeetUp groups and a church I really like. It was very hard for me to climb out of my cocoon and get back into socializing in a healthy manner.

Grays Harbor Brain Injury Support Group…Our town is in a real crisis. Flooding and mudslides have taken homes and messed up lives. While hundreds hrow of 10 cartoon kids holding handsave been displaced, NO lives have been lost. Our brain-injury support-group has pulled together – doing laundry, taking household items, cooking meals, and shopping for our neighbors. Just because we have an injury does not mean that we are not able to help. In this endeavor, our friendships have grown.

Barry Hughes (survivor)…Yay! Hi, Donna!! Yesterday my best friend in life became my girlfriend! This joyous event brought me to the momentous conclusion that my injury is the best thing that ever happened to me in my life!! Finding my dream woman and my life-partner after forty-four years was only made possible because we are both survivors!

Barry Hughes (survivor)…I was thinking that I wish every survivor could know such great joy as mine. It suddenly struck me that I needed to make it my goal and focus in life to create a Facebook friendship and dating group for survivors. It is desperately needed, since so many survivors are in utter despair, as I was until yesterday. I could find no such group, so I created https://www.facebook.com/groups/BrainInjuryConfidential/, so survivors all across the Facebook world can meet in one group and find friendships, relationships, and possibly dates. It will meet our basic human need and end the loneliness almost every survivor experiences when he or she is alone.

Jodi Jizmejian (survivor)…Hi, Donna! Here’s an Itty-Bitty Giant Step: Today I drove. It was just a wee little bit, but I did it! When my husband and I returned from visiting my folks, I asked him to let me drive into the parking lot of where we live. He let me, and then he – yes, he, not me – told me to drive out onto the road, through the parking lot of a nearby mall, and back to “our” parking lot. Boy, do I feel “mature”!

YOU did it!

Congratulations to all contributors!

(Clip Art compliments of Bing.)


Stages of Forgiveness


Melissa Cronin


Girl Blogger cartoon_picture_of_girl_writingMore than eleven years ago, eighty-six-year-old George Russell Weller confused the gas pedal for the brake and sped through the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market. He struck seventy-three pedestrians. Ten people died.

I sustained life-threatening injuries, including a ruptured spleen and multiple fractures. Due to the nature of my traumatic brain injury, it wouldn’t be until three years after the accident when a neuropsychiatrist diagnosed me with a TBI.

During the early days and weeks of my recovery, weighed down by pain and the unthinkable – that others died while I survived – my brain lacked space for anything heady like the notion of forgiveness. Years later, when I possessed enough emotional fortitude to unearth the new articles I had collected about the accident, I decided I needed to find a way to forgive Russell Weller. I’ve been told that forgiveness is overrated, that you don’t have to forgive to heal. While that might very well be true, my want to forgive others for any wrong committed is part of my constitution. So I had to at least make an attempt to forgive Russell Weller. Otherwise, I’d be infected with a case of chronic bitterness and cynicism and worried I’d be contagious. Who wants to hang out with someone with a transmittable illness she has the capacity to heal?

To forgive, one must first assign blame. But, as in Russell Weller’s case, if there is no act of intentional harm, where do you place blame and, therefore, how do you forgive? To add an additional elusive layer, how do you forgive someone you’ve never met? Is it even possible to forgive someone you don’t know? I reached out to Russell Weller’s family years after the accident, but they refused my request to visit him. In 2010 he died.

The following year, I enrolled in an MFA program. During my third semester, still befuddled as to how to forgive Russell Weller, I wrote my critical thesis on the topic: The Face of Forgiveness. I examined how a particular writer, who had sustained life-threatening injuries after a car struck him, navigated the indeterminate nature of forgiveness on the page. Because each circumstance varies, forgiveness cannot be defined in absolute terms. *Since forgiveness is a process, I arrived at the conclusion that it can be charted in stages:

1) Understanding of the accident/incident

2) Transference of anger and other emotions

3) Self-pity

4) Awareness of others’ suffering

5) Avoidance

6) Surrender

Melissa Cronin leaves

Melissa Cronin

These stages don’t necessarily occur sequentially. Like Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ stages of grief – denial/isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance – the stages of forgiveness may overlap, or one may become stuck in a particular stage. For me, I became stuck in one or two and skipped another one or two altogether. It’s also worth noting that the stages of forgiveness may not occur in a defined timeframe.

Stage 1: Understanding of the accident/incident

I dedicated months to reading news articles and investigative reports, parsing out the details of the accident: What Russell Weller was doing in the moments before he sped through the market, his medical history, his driving history, what bystanders witnessed at the scene of the crash. Somehow, I believed by reading those articles I would get to know Russell Weller and, therefore, be able to forgive him, or not. But written words weren’t enough – they seemed static on the page. Even though some articles included his apology – “I’m deeply sorry for any pain that everyone went through” – I could not hear his voice, hear his remorse, anger, or fear. And with all the contradicting statements about Russell Weller’s character and what people saw or didn’t see, I only became more confused. I felt like a pendulum – swaying dizzily between sadness and anger.

Stage 2: Transference of anger

As I read articles about the role the local entities had to play in running the market, any anger I harbored for Russell Weller quickly transferred to city officials who were responsible for ensuring the safety of pedestrians. I wondered why they didn’t have sturdy barriers in place, rather than wooden sawhorses. But, similar to my confusion regarding how to feel about Russell Weller, my feelings and emotions swayed – from judgment to understanding, from contempt to submission.

Stages 3 and 5: Self-pity and Avoidance

I did not become victim to self-pity – perhaps the perpetual warring dialogue in my head thrust self-pity aside. For the same reason, I skipped avoidance.

Stage 4: Awareness of others’ suffering

As I continued my dogged search to find meaning within the chaos, I could not help but be lured into an awareness of others’ suffering.  I imagined the physical and emotional pain the other injured pedestrians endured and the rage and anguish that tore into the families of the deceased. I viewed Russell Weller as injured, too – emotionally, mentally, psychically. I imagined Russell Weller’s grief: plagued by nightmares, isolated behind drawn window shades, sallow from regret.

The judge who presided over Russell Weller’s trial said he “lacked remorse” Because he didn’t cry? Why is it that we have a tendency to forgive others only if they exhibit unequivocal remorse: falling to their knees, drooping, sobbing? But a display, or physical showing, of remorse is not necessarily what matters to those harmed. Of course, a sincere apology does not negate the harm done, but sincerely spoken words of remorse are what matter. The quality of the voice matters: is it harsh, tense, creaky?

Melissa Cronin desert

Melissa Cronin

In 2011, I finally obtained and viewed a copy of the videotape of Russell Weller speaking with police officers soon after the accident. I slid the video into the CD player, inched close to the television screen, so close I felt as if he and I were together in the same room. Though he did not cry, his full-toned voice quivered as he said, “I’m in trouble with my heart and soul.” His voice then quieted to a whisper, as if he were in church mourning over the dead: “God almighty, those poor, poor people.”

That’s when I forgave Russell Weller. That’s when I surrendered – to Russell Weller’s remorse.

*Stages of forgiveness conceived by Melissa Cronin


9781611592399_p0_v3_s260x420Melissa is the author of “Invisible Bruise,” published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Recovering from Traumatic Brain Injuries



Melissa also penned the essay, “Silencing the Boom,” which is published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Forgiveness


To learn more about Melissa, please visit her website/blog at Melissa Cronin.

Thank you, Melissa Cronin.

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

(Clip Art compliments of Bing.)

(Photos compliments of Melissa Cronin)

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