Survivors SPEAK OUT! Michael Lee Savage
Donna O’Donnell Figurski
Michael Lee Savage
2. Where do you live? (city and/or state and/or country) Email (optional)
Spokane, Washington, USA
3. On what date did you have your brain injury? At what age?
I was 43.
4. How did your brain injury occur?
It started with double vision on February 26, 2003. I went to Urgent Care, and they immediately took me for an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan, which showed a bleed in my brainstem called a cavernous hemangioma (a type of blood vessel malformation, where a collection of dilated blood vessels form a tumor). They sent me home to watch it. It bled three short weeks later. They wanted to operate, as the bleed had presented itself outwardly. My neurologist said I could wait. It didn’t bleed again until January 25, 2009, almost six years later. I was sent to Seattle, Washington, to have the surgery.
5. When did you (or someone) first realize you had a problem?
The morning I went to Urgent Care.
6. What kind of emergency treatment, if any, did you have?
I had a CT (computed tomography) scan and an MRI scan.
7. Were you in a coma? If so, how long?
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)?
I was in the ICU (intensive care unit) for twenty-one days and in an acute care center for another four weeks. I then had inpatient rehab for three weeks.
How long were you in rehab?
9. What problems or disabilities, if any, resulted from your brain injury (e.g., balance, perception, personality, etc.)?
I couldn’t walk, talk, see, or swallow for over four months. Nystagmus (rapid involuntary movements of the eyes) and secondary dystonia (a disorder characterized by involuntary muscle contractions) came on while I was in rehab.
10. How has your life changed? Is it better? Is it worse?
My brain injury took away all of my independence, like driving and walking unassisted. I have a feeding tube. My speech is slurred. The right side of my face droops, and my entire left side below the neck is numb.
11. What do you miss the most from your pre-brain-injury life?
Both independence and friendship have run away.
12. What do you enjoy most in your post-brain-injury life?
13. What do you like least about your brain injury?
I dislike not being able to see or to walk without loosing my balance. Lockjaw prohibits me from eating my favorite foods. Also, my voice is gone.
14. Has anything helped you to accept your brain injury?
Physical therapists and riding my bike with my “guide-bride,” Patty, have helped me. They constantly stay on me to improve my quality of life, and they challenge me when I want to quit.
15. Has your injury affected your home life and relationships and, if so, how?
Yes. I am not able to contribute to daily rituals. Most of my relationships have suffered, including my romantic relationship with my wife.
16. Has your social life been altered or changed and, if so, how?
Yes. It is hard to eat with others. Most of my friends can’t deal with my appearance and my stressed voice.
17. Who is your main caregiver? Do you understand what it takes to be a caregiver?
My wife is my main caregiver. Yes, I do understand how difficult it is, and it is very hard, considering our age and how much I still can’t do without her.
18. What are your plans? What do you expect/hope to be doing ten years from now?
I hope to enjoy life more than I am now. I hope to be living life as normally as I can.
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 survivors with your specific kind of brain injury.
Keep fighting to move – do the exercises, no matter how silly they may seem. They all have a purpose, and there are some that I wish I would have done and stuck with.
20. What advice would you offer to other brain-injury survivors? Do you have any other comments that you would like to add?
Never quit moving. Never give up hope. I immediately got a trike so I could feel human again. And now, six years later, I’m walking around town with a cane. I’m walking on flat surfaces without any cane. Fight for your independence. It’ll be the biggest battle you’ve ever faced, but eventually you’ll inspire others. They will say, “If you can do it, I can too.”
Thank you, Lee, 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 Michael Lee Savage.)
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