Survivors SPEAK OUT! Justin Phillips
Donna O’Donnell Figurski
1. What is your name? (last name optional)
2. Where do you live? (city and/or state and/or country) Email (optional)
Annapolis, Maryland, USA
3. When did you have your TBI? At what age?
My TBI happened on November 11, 2010. I was 30 years old.
4. How did your TBI occur?
My TBI occurred because I was in a bad car accident on my way to work one morning.
5. When did you (or someone) first realize you had a problem?
6. What kind of emergency treatment, if any, did you have?
I was given a tracheotomy. I had a feeding tube. A DVT (deep vein thrombosis) filter was put into my vena cava.
7. Were you in a coma? If so, how long?
Yes. I was in a coma ten 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?
Yes. I was given five months of therapy as an inpatient and another five months as an outpatient. I had physical, occupational, and speech therapies.
9. What problems or disabilities, if any, resulted from your TBI (e.g., balance, perception, personality, etc.)?
My balance/equilibrium was thrown off for two to three years. My temper is worse. I lost my sense of smell. I also make poor decisions.
10. How has your life changed? Is it better? Is it worse?
My life is better than it was immediately post accident. I appreciate family and life much more. Small, insignificant issues don’t bother me or my family as much. What my family went through was awful. When something stressful is bothering us, we like to say, “We’ve been through worse.” Life is different now. I wouldn’t say “worse” because I’m still alive, but it’s definitely been changed.
11. What do you miss the most from your pre-TBI life?
Before my TBI, I felt young. I feel a lot older now. I miss not questioning EVERY activity I do to see if I can handle it.
12. What do you enjoy most in your post-TBI life?
I like how much more I appreciate everything.
13. What do you like least about your TBI?
I dislike questioning almost every activity I do to see if I can handle it or if it’s dangerous.
14. Has anything helped you to accept your TBI?
Time has helped me. It took almost two years before the injury wasn’t my first thought after waking up and wasn’t constantly in my thoughts until I went to bed. It’s nice not living in the past.
15. Has your injury affected your home life and relationships and, if so, how?
My son was only seven when the accident happened, so it was really tough on him. But, he handled it all like a champion. I’m married, and my wife had to be my caregiver after I moved home for five months, as I couldn’t drive and was still “off.” We pushed through it all and are still together.
16. Has your social life been altered or changed and, if so, how?
I still have friends, but I don’t go out much to visit or anything. I had social anxiety for about a year. I would rather just spend my time with my family.
17. Who is your main caregiver? Do you understand what it takes to be a caregiver?
I am my caregiver now, but I still need my wife for lots of things. For example, I make poor decisions. My wife was my caregiver for about five months after I moved home. It was hard on her. Rehab was two hours from home. She and my son would come up to visit every weekend. My accident was in November, so my wife spent all winter driving through snow to come visit.
18. What are your future plans? What do you expect/hope to be doing ten years from now?
I plan on opening a kitchen-remodeling company within the next few months. I would like for that to be successful, and in ten years, to be well established.
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.
Time is your friend. A lot of my issues took a long time to heal. Brain injuries are terrible to overcome. You might choose to apply the adjective “blessed,” “lucky,” or “fortunate.” I’m actually all of them.
20. What advice would you offer to other TBI survivors? Do you have any other comments that you would like to add?
TBI is the hardest thing I’ve ever been through. Having my son to focus on was a HUGE motivator for my recovery. Time was essential for me, as many of the issues took a long time to heal. I’m blessed, lucky, and fortunate that everything turned out so well. Positive thoughts are also a great help. Being down emotionally makes everything seem more difficult. Take breaks; get plenty of sleep; and eat well.
Thank you, Justin, 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 Justin.)