Survivors SPEAK OUT! Ann Boriskie
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)
Alpharetta, Georgia, USA (a suburb of Atlanta, Georgia) firstname.lastname@example.org
3. On what date did you have your brain injury? At what age?
November 12, 1998, at age 48
4. How did your brain injury occur?
My brain injury occurred in a car wreck less than five miles from home. I was headed to a regular dental checkup.
A woman was talking on her phone while driving, and she obviously missed her turn. She stopped suddenly, but I was able to stop my car and not hit her at all. She just sat there at the bottom of a hill on the two-lane road. She did not move. A young student (16 years old) came down the hill. He said he was messing with his radio and just did not see us. He hit my car going 50 mph and pushed my car into the woman’s car.
5. When did you (or someone) first realize you had a problem?
About 48 hours after my wreck, I started having concussion symptoms. I experienced dizziness and mental “fogginess.” I could not walk. There was bruising under my eyes. The toes on my right foot went numb. My left eye was out of focus.
6. What kind of emergency treatment, if any, did you have?
None. I walked away from the wreck thinking I was just fine. After 48 hours, I went to a 24-hour clinic, but they just sent me home. They told me I had no real problems and I would be fine. I also went to an eye doctor right away, but again, I was told there that nothing was wrong physically with my eye. Several months after my wreck, one neurologist told me that I had “post-concussion syndrome” and to go home – that I would be just fine. No one else mentioned my having a brain injury for one year. Then a dental TMJ specialist told me that I had a brain injury. That was what was causing my mental symptoms. (TMJ = temporomandibular joint)
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)? How long were you in rehab?
My brain injury went undiagnosed for over a year. The physical therapy that I received was in relation to each of my physical injuries (see #9), especially to help after the surgeries that I had to have to repair the parts of my body that were injured.
9. What problems or disabilities, if any, resulted from your brain injury (e.g., balance, perception, personality, etc.)?
a. My brain injury caused depression, anxiety, and anger (more so in the first several years). I had lots of memory issues. (I could not remember friends or faces. I got lost. I could not write. Then once I could write, I couldn’t write in cursive – I still can’t.) Some memory issues remain today. I permanently lost many of my past memories. (I can’t remember family events or experiences or places where we had lived. I lost memory of cities and our time there.) I lost a lot of my math skills (I was an A+ math student, and I was in advanced math classes), but I have regained many of these math skills.
b. My neck was injured. (The C4, C5, C6, and C7 vertebrae were knocked out of line.) I had to have neck surgery (for fusion and a metal plate holding these four levels together). My neck is in CONSTANT PAIN.
c. I had an injury to the L5 and S1 levels of my spine. (The last two vertebrae are not attached now to my spinal cord). Surgery was recommended, but my neck did not fuse properly, so I decided not to have back surgery. I am in CONSTANT PAIN in my lower back. The pain often radiates to my hips and legs.
d. I popped a tendon from its bone in my right elbow. (I braced my body on the steering wheel in the wreck.) It required surgery. The doctor said it was one of the worst tears he had ever seen.
e. Permanent nerve damage was created in various body areas.
f. The left part of my jaw was knocked out of line. It literally took years of appliance therapy to get the bone back into its correct place.
g. A valve was torn on the left side of my heart. This caused irregular heartbeats for a while. It repaired itself.
h. My left side remains weaker than my right side.
i. Numbness remains in my hands (which makes it harder to use my hands). I also have numbness in my feet, down my arms, and down my legs.
j. Sometimes my left eye will not focus or work well with my right eye.
k. I have a shorter attention span.
l. All of these physical injuries caused me to have fibromyalgia and constant body pains.
10. How has your life changed? Is it better? Is it worse?
In the long run, I have to say my life is truly better. All three of our children are in the medical field. (My husband and I have raised one daughter, now a neonatologist who takes care of premature babies and helps the moms; raised a son, now a doctor of internal medicine who works as a hospitalist; and raised another daughter, now a Registered Nurse in a mental-illness hospital unit.)
My priorities changed in my life. I went from being a “work-oholic” and a person who was very competitive to a person who lives to help other people, including my family and friends.
I slowed down my life’s pace. I had to learn that I could no longer work at a full-time outside-the-home job. (For years, I could not work at all.) I also had to learn to take care of myself – due to all of the physical and mental problems that the wreck created.
I was at home, and thus I was “there” more for my children and husband. I was able to give them more help and more attention.
11. What do you miss the most from your pre-brain-injury life?
I miss my higher energy level. I miss many of my memories. I miss all of the physical sports and activities that I can no longer do (water skiing, snow skiing, kayaking, swimming, playing golf, etc.).
12. What do you enjoy most in your post-brain-injury life?
I enjoy running the Brain Injury Peer Visitor Association and being able to help thousands of brain-injury and stroke survivors throughout the United States and the world. I’ve done this each year since 2006.
13. What do you like least about your brain injury?
I dislike being in constant pain (which also affects my brain). I also dislike having to push myself more and having to work much harder to accomplish my goals and to do my work than I did prior to my wreck.
14. Has anything helped you to accept your brain injury?
- Helping other people helps me also.
- Sharing my experiences with others and listening to each brain-injury survivor’s problems (This helps me to better understand my own brain injury.)
- Attending support-groups (and being very open to sharing my own problems, experiences, successes, and methodologies)
- In the past, gaining the help of neuropsychologists
- Going to medical doctors who treat brain injury (e.g., a psychiatrist)
15. Has your injury affected your home life and relationships and, if so, how?
Yes. I am much more dedicated to my husband and three children. I treasure our relationships. I also treasure my friendships more. You really better understand that life is way too short and can change in a second.
16. Has your social life been altered or changed and, if so, how?
Yes. I no longer like to be in big crowds or in a noisy environment. Going to a party is now a struggle and sometimes a chore. I just avoid noisy places and huge crowds. This requirement definitely limits the activities in which I can participate.
17. Who is your main caregiver? Do you understand what it takes to be a caregiver?
My wonderful husband is my main caregiver. I am blessed that he “stuck it out” with me and helped me go through all of my physical and mental recoveries. He is also one of my biggest supporters – even financially supporting my association and approving of all of the volunteer hours that I dedicate to the Brain Injury Peer Visitor Association.
18. What are your plans? What do you expect/hope to be doing ten years from now?
I plan to continue running the Brain Injury Peer Visitor Association as long as I possibly can. My dream is to continue to grow the association throughout the United States and even internationally.
I also plan to continue to enjoy and spend time with my immediate family and their families.
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.
Accept your limitations, but continue to “push yourself” to improve. Realize that, even though you are different from the pre-TBI you, you are still a valuable person in the world. Let your “old self” go. Realize that person won’t be back. Embrace the “new you,” and learn to love yourself for who you now are. Remember that YOU CAN. Don’t defeat yourself by focusing on all of the things you can no longer do.
20. What advice would you offer to other brain-injury survivors? Do you have any other comments that you would like to add?
Help others. Get involved. Volunteer. By helping others with a brain injury, you truly help yourself in so many ways. You will help yourself get better, and you will gain confidence.
You can hear Ann Boriskie on my radio show, “Another Fork in the Road” at 5:30pm PT (6:30MT, 7:30CT, 8:30ET) on Sunday, January 17th on the Brain Injury Radio Network (BIRN)
Click here on Sunday 5:30pm Pacific Time. Another Fork in the Road: Ann Boriskie – Director of Brain Injury Peer Visitor
You can call in to listen to the show or talk to the host by dialing this number. 424-243-9540
(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.
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