SPEAK OUT! – Kyle Reynolds
Donna O’Donnell Figurski
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?
I suffered a stroke on January 21, 2003. I was 17 years old.
4. How did your TBI occur?
My stroke occurred during a varsity basketball game. (You can watch my stroke occur on my blog, FightStroke.com.)
5. When did you (or someone) first realize you had a problem?
They realized it almost immediately – while I was on the court. A teammate’s parent recognized the early signs of stroke by the facial droop cue.
6. What kind of emergency treatment, if any, did you have?
I was rushed to the Emergency Room, and tPA (tissue plasminogen activator) was introduced directly into an artery, a cutting-edge procedure.
7. Were you in a coma? If so, how long?
I was never in a coma, but I remained in the hospital for many weeks.
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 began inpatient rehab within 48 hours of my stroke. My rehab consisted of occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech therapy. Because of my age and being an athlete in top physical condition, I was fortunate to be able to bounce back relatively quickly. Physically, I progressed pretty well. My first steps were within a few days, but I have always struggled with occupational therapy, particularly with the use of my left hand, wrist, and fingers. Also, because of my age, I had to make a trade-off between focusing on my physical rehabilitation and focusing on my cognitive rehabilitation. After I lost all hope of still receiving a Division I college basketball scholarship, I neglected most parts of my physical rehabilitation and became depressed. Many of my friends and teammates went on to play Division I college basketball, and some went to the NBA (National Basketball Association), including my high school teammate and friend, Kris Humphries.
9. What problems or disabilities, if any, resulted from your TBI (e.g., balance, perception, personality, etc.)?
Many things changed as a result of the stroke. First, my left side was completely paralyzed. Therefore, I had to learn to do everything all over again. This included learning how to smile again so that my lips appeared symmetrical, learning how to walk again, learning how to enunciate certain vowels and consonants, and learning how to put on my clothes and tie my shoes. Unlike the case for many stroke survivors, these tasks were relatively easy compared to other domains. One of the largest initial challenges that many brain injury patients complain about is the factor of fatigue. I was constantly tired. I could have maybe an hour of stimulation – tops – before needing a nap. Eventually I learned to push the limits of my fatigue. But the next challenges were impulsivity and trouble with attention. Needless to say, I struggled cognitively. I had problems with memory, planning, executive functioning, and left-sided neglect. For these reasons, I could not drive at that time.
10. How has your life changed? Is it better? Is it worse?
I think most people who have had a near-death experience try to find a reason for it. In my case, I have become a much happier person. Before, I was very narcissistic and self-centered. I was only concerned with my own goals. Having that taken away forces one to reevaluate Life from a different perspective. This calamity has forced me to look outside myself and hopefully be an inspiration to other people.
What I missed the most about my life prior to my TBI was the ability to play basketball. I was just about to receive a Division I scholarship. Had the TBI not occurred, I would be playing professional basketball in Europe. Since my stroke in 2003, nothing has been able to replace the pleasure I once received from playing basketball.
12. What do you enjoy most in your post-TBI life?
The greatest satisfaction I have received since my stroke was the day I graduated from college. I guess you could say I take pleasure in proving people wrong. The doctors said I would never be able to function at that high of a level. Socially, I was impulsive and had a hard time processing social cues, but eventually I adapted.
13. What do you like least about your TBI?
There isn’t one thing that I like least about having a TBI. It all sucks – from the cognitive problems to the physical and emotional ones. There’s no way around it – having a TBI sucks, but we all try to make the best of it.
14. Has anything helped you to accept your TBI?
The biggest factor that has helped my personal situation with my TBI was the fact that I was young (17) when it happened. I don’t believe I will ever accept the TBI because they never knew why my carotid artery tore. I was healthy and didn’t deserve it. However, time heals all wounds. I was lucky to have some very amazing people in my life. They helped me get through some tough times.
15. Has your injury affected your home life and relationships and, if so, how?
Socially, I was impulsive and had a hard time processing social cues, but eventually I adapted. At the time of my injury, I was 17, and all my friends were planning for college. My neurologists said that college wasn’t a feasible goal for someone with such significant brain damage. Thus, I became depressed and socially withdrawn.
16. Has your social life been altered or changed and, if so, how?
See question 15 for response.
17. Who is your main caregiver? Do you understand what it takes to be a caregiver?
I never had one. I had to learn to figure things out on my own.
18. What are your future plans? What do you expect/hope to be doing ten years from now?
I want to inspire others who have had a stroke or TBI to push the limits of their recovery. I want to raise awareness for stroke and TBI so more dollars will be allocated towards studies that facilitate recovery.
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 would say don’t trust the doctors. You ultimately decide your own fate.
20. What advice would you offer to other TBI survivors? Do you have any other comments that you would like to add?
The advice I would give to my fellow TBI survivors would be to try to find a balance between continuing your rehabilitation to improve the quality of your life and finding acceptance with your limitations. It is a fine line to walk, and your feelings may change daily.
(Disclaimer: The views or opinions in this post are solely that of the interviewee.)
(Photos compliments of Kyle.)
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.