Survivors SPEAK OUT! Jen Swartz
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)
Castleton, New York, USA Passionate4Christ29@yahoo.com
3. On what date did you have your brain injury? At what age?
My brain injury happened on June 8, 2000. I was 18.
4. How did your brain injury occur?
I was in a car accident. I was following a close friend to her boyfriend’s house. My car was T-boned by another car going 55-60 mph. My small car, a 1987 Toyota Corolla, was thrown across the street. Jen (the person I was following) said that my body was hanging out the door. She thought I was dead because there was blood coming out of my mouth. (To top it off, I also have congenital scoliosis and had to have a major operation when I was nine years old – a bone fusion in my neck to prevent the curve from progressing further. I had to wear a halo to restrict neck movement so the bone fusion could heal.)
5. When did you (or someone) first realize you had a problem?
I think it was probably when I was in a coma that people realized that I would have some cognitive problems.
6. What kind of emergency treatment, if any, did you have?
I required a tracheotomy and a food tube. Also, my head was shaved for a reason. At the beginning, my brain was swelling, but, praise the Lord, the swelling went down. So, it was not necessary to take a piece of my skull off to allow room for the swelling.
7. Were you in a coma? If so, how long?
Yes. I was in a coma for six 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)?
Yes. I did inpatient rehabilitation at Sunnyview Rehabilitation Hospital. This included speech, occupational, physical, and recreational therapies.
How long were you in rehab?
I was in rehabilitation for seven months.
9. What problems or disabilities, if any, resulted from your brain injury (e.g., balance, perception, personality, etc.)?
I have memory issues for certain! I have problems with concentration, focusing, emotions, and balance.
10. How has your life changed? Is it better? Is it worse?
My life is MUCH better! I don’t remember eighteen years of my life, but from what I am told, I was very unhappy. Now I have God. He is my purpose! I am also blessed to say that I am engaged to an incredible man, who has an acquired brain injury (ABI). It is so great! We have known each other for three years, and we see eye-to-eye on practically everything.
11. What do you miss the most from your pre-brain-injury life?
12. What do you enjoy most in your post-brain-injury life?
I like that I don’t take anything for granted and that I am content with the way things are. God blessed me with a second chance at living, so I am trying to make the most out of everything in life.
13. What do you like least about your brain injury?
I dislike the anxiety issues, the memory problems (which seem to happen quite frequently), and the migraines.
14. Has anything helped you to accept your brain injury?
Yes! I was helped by Living Resources, where I participated in a group for people with traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). I was also helped by the Cognitive Group, which consisted of survivors working on different goals/strategies for different areas of life. The belief is that each individual can improve his or her life after a TBI. The group is run by neuropsychologists and counselors.
15. Has your injury affected your home life and relationships and, if so, how?
Yes. My mother and sister are very distant mentally from me, since they don’t seem to have the desire to want to accept the change that this injury made. I feel it may be caused by a little pride with them, considering the fact that I believe that I was quite an intelligent woman before my injury. Before my accident, I was accepted into Ithaca College, since I wanted to delve into the medical field in some way. My mother and sister do not work well with the cognitive change in me that the injury has caused, such as my not desiring to be with large groups of people or my forgetting things.
16. Has your social life been altered or changed and, if so, how?
I believe my life has changed immensely. I used to have many, many friends and loved to be in large groups of people. Now, however, I don’t enjoy being in large crowds or in large groups of people. I get overwhelmed. I enjoy spending much more alone-time now, as well. I have even been taught how to crochet. I love doing crochet, especially when the winter months roll in.
17. Who is your main caregiver? Do you understand what it takes to be a caregiver?
I haven’t needed a caregiver, but I understand what it takes to be a caregiver, since I have had staff work with me on and off throughout the years.
18. What are your plans? What do you expect/hope to be doing ten years from now?
My future plans consist of buying a home with my fiancé through the Section 8 program. My fiancé will be my husband on May 27, 2017. I plan to continue working with Living Resources in the years to come, and my fiancé does as well.
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.
My helpful hint is to be patient. Remember: Slow and steady wins the race! Slow progress is key to amazing growth. Also, be open-minded to hearing from staff-members assisting to help you. If you listen to any suggestions, which may guide you to improve, you are being very wise in opening up your mind for possible progress.
20. What advice would you offer to other brain-injury survivors? Do you have any other comments that you would like to add?
Keep at it! Don’t give up! Also, you will grow if you listen to what “staff” suggest you do in order to improve! You can and will do it!
(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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(Photos compliments of contributor.)
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