TBI – Survivors, Caregivers, Family, and Friends

SPEAK OUT! – Richard Johnson


Donna O’Donnell Figurski


RJohnson-Portrait1. What is your name? (last name optional)

Richard Johnson

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

Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA

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

My TBI happened October 2003. I was 53 years old.

 4. How did your TBI occur?

While cleaning the gutters on my house, I took a step from the roof onto the ladder. The ladder slipped, and down I went – hitting my head on the cement slab in my driveway.

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

 My daughter – 13 years old – saw me fall and ran over. When she saw that I was unconscious and bleeding, she called 9-1-1.

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

I was admitted into Hennepin County Medical Center (Minneapolis) in the Brain Injury ICU. I was placed into a medically induced coma. I had a craniotomy and a tracheotomy. A feeding tube was put in, and a cast was put on my left arm, as I broke my wrist in the fall.

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

Yes, a medically induced coma for 3½ weeks.

8. Did you do rehab? What kind of rehab (i.e., Inpatient or Outpatient and Occupational, Physical, Speech, Other)?

After being weaned from my coma, I was fitted with a protective helmet and transferred from HCMC into Bethesda Hospital in St. Paul for my second post-injury month. I began with inpatient cognitive, physical, speech, and occupational therapies. The trach was removed, but not the feeding tube. After Bethesda, I was transferred to Regions Hospital (St. Paul) for my third post-injury month. In Regions Hospital, I continued with inpatient physical, speech, and occupation therapies. The feeding tube and cast were removed. In January 2004, I was released from the hospital, and I went back home. I then began speech and occupational therapies as an outpatient at Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute (Golden Valley) until October 2004.

How long were you in rehab?

I had rehab a full year from the date of injury until I was able go back to my “pre-injury” job.

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

Aphasia is my main problem. Talking is an ongoing issue, and, in my humble opinion, that issue will never go away. Most of the time it’s not a problem, but my aphasia comes and goes. Background noises are problematic – another side effect. It’s really hard (if not impossible) to filter out background noises, especially in “loud” or “busy” situations. I also have minor balance problems, so I’m very careful when walking.

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

My “new” life is just slower than it was before. It’s not worse – only different. I look carefully at everything that I am going to do. I question if I will need help, and, if so, I make sure to ask for help. Fatigue is a problem. I get tired more easily.

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

I am unable to ride my bike anymore. I don’t think I have the balance to do it, and I refuse to find out. One brain injury is enough for me.

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

I enjoy being a co-facilitator for the Brain Injury Support Group at the rehab institute that I used during my outpatient therapy. I also became a member of the Minnesota Brain Injury Alliance Speaker Bureau.

13. What do you like least about your TBI?

I cannot multitask. It’s way too hard to be focused on the task at hand.

14. Has anything helped you to accept your TBI?

My family has helped me more than anything else. They understand me.

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

Home life – Not much is different, except I need more help to finish tasks/projects.

Relationships – Old friends are harder to find or meet up with, but I think a lot of that is because their lives haven’t changed.

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

With aphasia, I do not often go to parties or events, especially if they’re loud. It can be almost impossible to filter out background noises, unless I’m with people who understand my limits.

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

My wife is my main caregiver. I remember what my injury did to my wife and kids. So I just try to make sure their lives are getting better as well.

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

My future plan is to retire in 6 years. In 10 years, I hope that my recovery is still going well.

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.

I wish I had known about support groups. Not just for me, but for my family as well. It would have given them (and me) a better understanding of the recovery process. TBI affects the entire family, and a local support group lets us know we are not alone.

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

Don’t look for a book to tell you what to expect. There is no such thing. You can Google all day long, but there is no easy answer for a traumatic brain injury. But Google will help you find online support groups, where you can post questions or vent issues that you’re fighting with.


Thank you, Richard, 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.)

(Photos compliments of Richard.)

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.

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