TBI – Survivors, Caregivers, Family, and Friends

Survivors SPEAK OUT! Jennifer Stokley

presented

by

Donna O’Donnell Figurski

 

Jennifer Stokely Survivor 0526151. What is your name? (last name optional)

Jennifer Stokley

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

Kutztown, Pennsylvania, USA

3. On what date did you have your brain injury? At what age?

May 10, 2007, was the day of my traumatic brain injury (TBI). I was 42.

4. How did your brain injury occur?

I fell out of a second story window of my home to the sidewalk below. I did what I now call my “Amazing, Exotic Jeni Bounce.” I was home alone. Please don’t ask me how the fall occurred. I have no clue, other than I know that back then I was a hard-core alcoholic. My TBI cured me of that completely! No withdrawal. I just never desired alcohol again. Odd, but wonderful!

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

My ex found me on the sidewalk. He thought I had fallen outside (no external injuries, strange). I used to have a seizure disorder back then, so my ex and some friends carried me inside, up the stairs, and put me on the bed. Then I started to have trouble breathing. My ex immediately called 9-1-1. The paramedics arrived, took me back downstairs, across the street at night, and worked on me under a streetlight in a public park. They understood something was terribly wrong then.

The thing I find funny about the whole thing, though, is that the emergency folks cut my clothes off right then and there – for the whole city block to see me naked – under lights! I showed my butt to the city! (LOL) Thank goodness I don’t live there anymore.

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

I had two cardiac arrests during the life-flight to the hospital. I had ruptured my bladder (which they had to stitch back together like a patchwork blanket). I punctured my lung, due to one of my five broken ribs. I had broken my pelvis in three places. I also had broken my neck.

The only things I remember for sure are a breathing tube down my throat, the surgery on my belly to put my bladder back together, and the two times they restarted my heart. The rest is unknown to me. I haven’t asked; they haven’t told. That is my past. I survived. I do not wish to relive the past while I’m so busy living my present and focusing on my future.

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

I was in a full coma for three weeks. My coma was a 3 on the Glasgow Scale. It’s the lowest score before death. (A score of 3 indicates a severe brain injury.) After all my surgeries and the use of all the professional skills to save my life, the surgeon actually came out to my Momma and said, “We’ve done all that we can. Now it’s in God’s hands.” It literally was. One day prior to their disconnecting my life-support, I took my first breath on my own! They were able to take me off of life-support, knowing I was going to survive. To what extent, they still had no clue, but at least I was no longer in a coma on life-support.

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)?

First, I went to inpatient therapy from the Intensive Care Unit for two and a half months. I was taken to a rehab room (by wheelchair with my “fun-catheter” along for the ride) to exercise a bit and then attempt to stand. (They said my standing would never really happen because of my broken neck, but I showed them. I stand just fine now, and when I leave the house, I walk with only a cane.) Later, when I was discharged, I was in outpatient therapy for … I don’t know how long. There, I did physical therapy, speech therapy, and cognitive therapy. (Speech therapy was a hoot. The therapist would hand me things to read out loud. The problem was I couldn’t see! I’m legally blind now. “Come on. Read the medical records already.” LOL Cognitive therapy was just as much fun – pegs in holes I was unable to see. LOL That didn’t last too long.)

How long were you in rehab?

Inpatient, two and a half months; outpatient, more than six months, I think

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

I have a severe anxiety disorder, cerebellar ataxia, aphasia (not much now, but it used to be severe), bladder/bowel control issues, and taste bud issues. I’m legally blind. Memory issues are HUGE. My ability to smell has been affected. I have issues with concentration and making decisions. My personality did a 180 on me, and for that, I am actually grateful. I was not a very nice person prior to my TBI.

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

My life is harder than it was prior, but it is also so much better than it’s ever been. I will gladly take the difficulties to have such a wonderful life. I had no difficulties prior, and I had such a horrible life. Go figure. I gladly take the trade I’ve been handed.

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

I miss the memories. I lost 42 years of my life. All my memories are gone – my childhood, my college, my graduation, everything – poof, gone in a second. When I woke from my coma, I was a stranger even to myself. I was literally reborn. I was no longer “Jennifer.” I was “Jeni,” a child. I didn’t know anyone or anything. I had to be taught how to eat, how to walk, how to talk – like an infant. I was told things about Jennifer, but they were all foreign to me – even to this day. (But I sure don’t miss memories of three ex-hubbies, so I guess it’s cool with me anyway! LOL)

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

I enjoy that I am building my life from scratch. I am building it in a way that brings me joy and peace. I have reconnected with my family, which never would have happened if not for my TBI. That I guess is the best part of this all! I have my Momma and my big sister in my life now, and they never were before. Now they love me, look out for me, and help me just because they want to. I love them with all my heart!

13. What do you like least about your brain injury?Stokley, Jennifer Survivor 112815

I dislike my loss of independence and being legally blind. I will never be able to drive again, and, with my anxiety disorder, I can’t go anywhere without my family’s support anyway. So I can’t just get up and go, even if I feel like it. I have accepted it. But it doesn’t mean I always have to like it.

14. Has anything helped you to accept your brain injury?

Time and God have helped. Please let me explain a bit. It took me nearly five years to find my way through my “brain fog” to the light of awareness, where I could even look around and understand what the heck is even going on. When I mention “God,” please know I am not a believer of any formal religion of any kind. I sure wouldn’t understand any of it anyway. Sorry. I am fully a spiritual gal. I know God saved my life. I speak and pray directly to him privately. I believe in angels. I also feel that I am a part of all things of this earth, sky, and everything in-between. I do not, have never, and never will step inside any church. That is not something that my heart desires. My connection is full and complete. I need nothing more and nothing less.

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

I had a “love of my life” prior to my TBI. He tried – truly he did – post TBI. He stuck it out for three years, but I myself never emotionally reconnected with him. I do know he loved me. He used to come home from the hospital, walk half way up the stairs, and collapse in tears. He became my full-time caregiver and friend, but emotionally I was unable to love him back. So I personally set him free to find love again, and he has – with a baby on the way. YAY!

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

My social life changed big time, but it improved big time. My social life had been with drunk folks at the bar and such. I never drink at all post TBI. I never miss drinking for some strange reason. So that circle of folks is no longer in my life. At first, my social life consisted of “my dad,” a neighbor who just cared so much that he would spend about an hour every day with me. Sometimes he would take me places. He always made sure I was safe. My social life now consists of wonderful, caring neighbors who accept me knowing my limitations. They help when needed and spend time with me “just because.” My biggest social life consists of my family, who, for 30+ years, really weren’t much of a part of my life at all.

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

I am and have been my main caregiver for six years now. I had no one after my ex-boyfriend/caregiver left. I was completely alone. I do, however, understand in many ways what it takes. Many of my dear friends who I know so well on the Internet are caregivers of survivors. They fill me in totally and honestly. I also help them to maybe know what their loved one is thinking when a reaction occurs, things that may stimulate the survivor, things that the survivor may enjoy, etc.

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

My life will be pretty much what I do now – “pay my life forward” to other survivors and caregivers by helping them – sometimes with info or sometimes with laughter, music, inspiration, joy, etc. I am permanently and totally disabled, so I truly believe that “work” is out of my future. That’s okay with me, truly. I love what I do now, and, as my father used to always say, “If it works, don’t fix 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 survivors with your specific kind of brain injury.

Realize it is what it is!

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

Please never rush it. You’ll get there when you’re ready to get there – not a second sooner. It may take years and years, but when YOU are ready, you’ll know it.

Tell folks to get over themselves and their ignorance if they ever say, “Just get over it.” It takes a lifetime!

If you’re unable to do something right now, always say, “I can’t do it AS OF YET!” It leaves room for possibility and hope for your future!

 

(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.

(Clip Art compliments of Bing.)

(Photos compliments of contributor.)

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Comments on: "Survivors SPEAK OUT! Jennifer Stokley" (13)

  1. Cindy Starner said:

    Powerful. Thanks for sharing. You are a Strong TBI survivor.

    Like

  2. lee staniland said:

    Jen I haven’t talk to you in a long time, but just want you to know ,that was a great interview. I’m so glad this last move was so positive for you. You go girl!!!!
    just another survivor, Lee

    Like

  3. I loved your honest, Jennifer. Before my own injury, I never “understood” how people could say that their lives were better after they’d lost something near and dear to them – whether that was their health, a loved one or anything really big – but I get it now. While I’m still working through issues, I have these moments of just being content and happy with life that I couldn’t really have imagined before. It’s a powerful feeling and I just had shivers reading how much good came out of so much “loss” in your life. You’ve got a really inspiring attitude!

    Like

    • WOW! Jennifer!

      What a wonderful response to Jennifer Stokley’s interview. I’m sure she will be so pleased to know that her words resounded with you. Like you, I was also inspired by Jennifer S.

      Have you thought about doing an interview on my blog. I would love to share your story too.

      Here’s the link to the Survivors SPEAK OUT! questionnaire. Let me know if this interests you.

      Thanks so much for reading and for commenting.

      Donna O’Donnell Figurski
      survivingtraumaticbraininjury.com
      donnaodonnellfigurski.com

      Like

  4. Thank you and Bless Ya’ll for your amazing and sweet comments! You have really filled this Survivor Gal’s Heart to Overflowing! Truly! This was a difficult Interview for me. I promise ya. See. for me, I live by “Yesterday is History, Tomorrow is a Mystery, Today is a Gift” philosophy. So taking time to look in my Rear View Mirror and really search and sift through the rubble of my past was a very painful and difficult thing for me to do. But it was necessary for me to do, in order to share the present and how I got to be Me Now, with my New Me life as a survivor. How I fought through the Mist and Became Me. So I did it anyway, in order to do this. So your comments & knowing that folks took the time to actually read what I took the time to sift through to write this, mean more to me than you could ever know. Bless You All!!! HUGS!

    Like

    • Jennifer, this was also a very enlightening post. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us. Sometimes it’s hard to dig into the past, but sometimes it helps to clear the pathways for the future. I am glad you found your interview helpful. Sorry if it dredged up painful memories.

      Thank you so much for sharing your life with us.

      Donna O’Donnell Figurski
      survivingtraumaticbraininjury.com
      donnaodonnellfigurski.com

      Like

  5. What an amazing story, Jennifer. Thank you for being so open about your life before and after your brain injury. When you can share your experiences like this with others, everyone benefits from it.

    Sadly, as I keep telling other victims of brain injury, it seems that the more we learn, the less we know! Every day brings some new enlightenment. And losing some friends – and family – along the way certainly seems like something each of us experiences along this journey. But hopefully, all the new friends we make will make up for it. Unfortunately, it’s those who are closest to us who can sense that something is different with us and can’t deal with it so sadly, they’re often the ones who are gone first.

    Keep at it, Life can only get better!

    Like

    • Hi robertinseattle,

      You are so right about your statement, “When you can share your experiences like this with others, everyone benefits from it.” That’s what prompted me to start this blog. I am grateful to all my contributors, like Jennifer, who are brave enough to tell their stories.

      If you are interested in doing the Survivors SPEAK OUT! Interview, please contact me at neelyf@aol.com

      Donna O’Donnell Figurski
      survivingtraumaticbraininjury.com
      donnaodonnellfigurski.com

      Like

  6. Bonnie Weikel said:

    Thank you Jei for this awesome interview. You did an excellent job. You have come so far in the few years I have known you. Keep on moving you are an inspiration to all survivors.. Love you bunches my TBI Friend.

    Like

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My name is Michelle Munt and this is my story about surviving a brain injury and what I continue to learn about it. This is for other survivors and their loved ones, but also to raise awareness of what can happen to those in an accident. This invisible injury too often goes undiagnosed and it can be difficult to find information about it. I will talk about things that have helped me as I continue to recover and invite others to see if it works for them too.

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