TBI – Survivors, Caregivers, Family, and Friends

Archive for May, 2016

Another Fork in the Road Behavioral and Emotional Changes After Brain Injury

Fork in the Road copy“Another Fork in the Road”

This category is an extension of my radio show, “Another Fork in the Road,” which airs at 5:30 pm (Pacific Time) on the 1st and 3rd Sundays of each month on the Brain Injury Radio Network. (See the “On The Air Show Menu” category for a list – with links – of all my shows, which are archived and thus always available.)

On the 1st Sunday of each month, I host a panel of brain injury survivors, caregivers, and/or professionals in the field. On these shows, my panelists and I examine topics pertaining to brain injury.

On the 3rd Sunday of each month, I host guests – brain-injury survivors, caregivers, or professionals in the field.

Since I spend countless hours in preparation for each show, I decided to share the knowledge that I gather with my readers.


Behavioral and Emotional Changes After Brain Injury


Donna O’Donnell Figurski


BrainAs many of us know, all brain injuries are different. When an injury has happened to any part of the brain, there is going to be a change. The part of the brain that was damaged will determine the kind of symptoms that will be experienced. Because the brain is a complex organ in which different areas communicate, some damage may cause unexpected behaviors or emotional changes.

There are several sections of the brain, and each is responsible for many different aspects of daily life. Here I will discuss some of the behavioral and emotional changes that can result from damage to the cerebellum and to the cerebrum, which consists of the temporal lobe, the occipital lobe, the parietal lobe, and the frontal lobe, a major part of which is the prefrontal cortex.

The cerebellum, which is at the base of the skull, controls coordination, balance, equilibrium, and motor-skill memory. Some of the problems that result from damage to this area are compromised balance or the inability to walk, problems with fine-motor skills, and slurring of speech.

Damage to the temporal lobe can cause problems with hearing, memory, and motor-skill memory. Injury in the temporal lobe may also result in aggressive behavior.

The occipital lobe has to do with vision and vision-related activities. Reading and writing will be affected by damage to this area of the brain. Vision impairment can occur, which includes blurry, tilted, and double vision.

The parietal lobe is responsible for touch perception and the interpretation of visual information. Problems that may occur with damage to this lobe include difficulty in naming objects, difficulty with reading and/or writing, and spatial perception problems that can affect coordination.

Emotional responses and expressive language are housed in the frontal lobe. Emotions and the skills for problem-solving are dealt with there. The frontal lobe helps folks make sense of the world around them. It’s needed to understand others and be empathetic to them. Essentially, the frontal lobe is the emotional and social control area. It also determines and steers personality.

The prefrontal cortex of the frontal lobe controls analytical thinking, thought analysis, and behavior regulation. Executive functions are controlled here too. The prefrontal cortex is the gateway for making good decisions. When this area is injured, the thinking process is affected in such a way that inappropriate behavior is often the result.


I asked the following three questions of brain-injury survivors on the brain-injury support-group sites on Facebook to which I belong:

How have your emotions or your behaviors changed after your brain injury?

How do you cope with the change?

How do family members and/or friends cope with the change in your personality?

Several site members answered. The answers below are typical of the comments I received. (I used first names to protect the privacy of the contributors.)


Sherrie (survivor)

Happy SadIt’s been a long time since my brain injury. My emotions can be extreme or opposite to what they should be. Change is hard, and I don’t like change. Friends left, and family has never accepted my brain injury.

I have been known to laugh when someone gets hurt, like mashing a finger, and my emotions can be so overwhelming that I cry no matter the feeling. Happy, sad, proud, mad, love. It doesn’t matter.


Toby (survivor)

Toby told me that it’s hard to cope with his migraines with brain injury because a lot of meds don’t work very well.

He has been put on many meds for depression and anxiety disorder.

MemoryHe also says his memory is damaged, and he can’t remember a lot of things.

Toby’s family has a hard time with him and his brain injury because it changes many things in their lives too. A lot of people don’t know what to say, so they hold back, or they do not talk with Toby anymore.

Toby tries to cope by getting his head in a better place, but when the anxiety kicks in hard, he has no idea what to do. He tries to get some things set up in advance, so he can take the Migraineright meds before another migraine comes on. (He usually experiences over twenty migraines a month.)

When I asked Toby how his family and friends cope with him and his brain injury, he said, “They stay away from me. If I make a mistake on the computer or the Internet, they will call my wife and give her a heads-up on my condition. I don’t really have any friends after what happened to me.”


Jason (survivor)

k0184684In a nutshell, Jason said, “Lack of love.”



I thought an article by Janet Cromer in “Psychology Today” was very informative, especially for caregivers, who often struggle with emotional and/or behavioral changes in the survivor. The article can be found online (see below).

Janet Cromer, who is a Registered Nurse, has written the “Dark Side of Personality Change.” She tells of how her husband’s personality changed after his brain injury. Before his brain injury, Janet recalls her husband (Alan) as being kind and loving with a keen sense of curiosity and humor. Calm ManAfter his injury, Alan experienced intense anger and confusion. His bizarre behavior and sudden change from calm to fiery led Janet to believe her post-injury husband had two personalities. She likened Alan’s behavior to that of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which she found very frightening. (I’m sure Janet is not alone in her fears. I have heard comments such as these in my brain-injury support-groups too many times to count.)

As I mentioned above, injuries to the frontal lobe, especially to the prefrontal cortex, often result in emotional and behavioral changes in survivors. Survivors of any brain injury may find themselves in states of agitation and in unstable emotional chaos. These states can cause outbursts of unintended verbal aggression and raging attacks on family or friends, which can be very hurtful. Though family and friends may try to understand and to be empathetic and helpful, dealing with an unexpected outburst can be an overwhelming task because it is so hard to comprehend.

Violent outbursts and aggression by the survivor can result in the lack of trust and possibly fear of personal injury by the caregiver, family, or friends. But I think it’s the lack of trust – knowing that the survivor can become volatile at any time – that is the scariest and most hurtful. That loss of the sense of security is likely to be the most devastating.


How can caregivers, family, and friends help? I guess understanding would be at the top of the list. I know that’s not easy, especially if one feels that he or she has been unjustly attacked. Even knowing that the survivor is not responsible, would not act this way pre-brain injury, and will probably feel really bad after the incident, it will still be difficult to accept the aberrant behavior. It’s human nature.

empathyThe caregiver, family, and friends need to understand that the survivor’s outburst may occur because of his or her frustration with the reality of the new life – lacking the ability to do the things he or she once did easily and/or experiencing loss of independence and/or the realization of a futile situation. Also, an outburst might be triggered by uncontrolled pain, depression, or any number of ailments. So, showing compassion or empathy, providing comfort, support, and encouragement will go a long way to helping your survivor.


What can one do when faced with irrational behavior by the survivor? It often helps to leave the area when an outburst begins. Don’t try to reason with the survivor – your efforts will probably not be fruitful. Remember, the survivor’s brain is injured, and he or she can’t help the aberrant behavior. It might help to talk about the behavior in a calm manner after the incident has subsided, or … maybe let it go.

Try to determine if there is a specific trigger for the outburst. If one is identified, try to avoid those situations that provide it. At the very least, knowing the trigger can help the caregiver, family member, or friend understand a little more. As time goes by, the caregiver and the survivor may each recognize the triggers and be able to eliminate them or lessen their impact.gg60887323


Identify the survivor’s actions immediately prior to an outburst. Does the survivor show signs of agitation, tense his or her muscles, or become distracted? If so, take note and maybe remove the survivor from the area. Large groups of people (as in malls, family gatherings, or parties) can often cause agitation in a survivor, which in turn may cause an outburst.

Any overwhelming situation can bring about an outburst. Having to be ready to leave the house at a certain time can cause stress. So allow more time. Don’t rush.

Give plenty of notice for planned events. Make sure there are no surprises. If a survivor knows in advance that there is a family gathering to go to on Friday night, then he or she can plan for it. Surprises and unexpected events often cause anxiety and confusion, which can easily bring on an outburst. So plan ahead.


ClipArt-AfterTheFire7Get counseling. Counseling for both the survivor and the caregiver (or family member) can be helpful. Visiting a neuropsychologist or a behavioral therapist can help (see below). They are able to teach compensatory tactics to avoid or lessen the effects of an angry outburst. The survivor may employ deep breathing, alter thoughts to a more pleasant topic, leave the area to regroup in a quiet place, let friends know the trigger points, and ask for help. Periodic reminders can help those who struggle with memory. These are all simple and effective ways to compensate.

There are a lot of little tricks that can be incorporated into the lives of survivors and their caregivers, family, or friends that can make life easier for all.


Helpful Links

What Does a Neuropsychologist Do, Exactly?

Who Are the Rehab Specialists?


Frontal Lobes

Parietal Lobes

Temporal Lobes

Occipital Lobes

What Are the Functions of the Prefrontal Cortex?

After Brain Injury: The Dark Side of Personality Change Part I by Janet M. Cromer RN, LMHC


Click here to listen to my show

“Behavioral and Emotional Changes After Brain Injury” on “Another Fork in the Road,” on the Brain Injury Radio Network.”


(Clip Art compliments of Bing.)

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SPEAK OUT! Guest Blogger . . . GeorgeAnna Bell . . . . . . . . . . . . . How My Brain Injury Affected My Life

How My Brain Injury Affected My Life


GeorgeAnna L. Bell



Donna O’Donnell Figurski


Girl Blogger cartoon_picture_of_girl_writingI was diagnosed as being moody at nine years old. I still have that diagnosis to this very day: “mood disorder due to brain injury.” I also have anxiety and panic attacks. I still have today most of the same problems I had back then, just in an expanded manner.

GeorgeAnna Bell - Survivor

GeorgeAnna Bell – Survivor

I remember one thing that always frustrated me – Before my head injury, I was able to read, comprehend, and retain what I was reading. I remember having A to A+ grades and never getting into trouble. But, as soon as I had my head injury, I remember being hit a lot with a ruler by the nuns, being called “demon child,” not being able to read out loud, and having issue after issue trying to remember what we just learned or read five minutes ago and being told that I was lazy. (Oh, that one always got my goat.) I could not keep quiet or shut my mouth for more than five seconds, and I would speak out of turn. I could not sit still in my seat, and I was constantly moving around and around. These are some of the things I personally remember.

Kids_smiling_girl_cartwheelI know my parents wondered why I acted out, and they took me to multiple specialists during my youth. I was diagnosed with optic nerve damage, but no other problems resulting from my head injury were identified. Each doctor gave my parents the same answer: “There is no logical explanation as to why she is doing this now when she did not do it before the head injury.

I was extremely impulsive and still am to this day. In addition to the moodiness, this has been one of the hardest things for me to overcome. I experience emotions very quickly and intensely. As a child and into my teen years, I was very moody and got aggravated very quickly over the littlest things. I always felt anxious without exactly knowing why most of the time. It still happens to me to this very day. I will have an anxiety/panic attack, and I cannot explain why it happened. Recently, I went to a friend’s house, and I had to leave soon after I got there because I started to have an anxiety attack. I get anxious easily still today because I am so afraid people are going to make fun of me and tease me because I am different. I do not tend to keep friends very long because they tend to find something that is strange or I say something weird and they run from me.

I have absolutely no tolerance for change. I have no patience when it comes to waiting – I have to have everything NOW, NOW, NOW. I am always told I have indiscreet ways for making my feelings known to others. So many people take my statements out of context. I feel that I am acting appropriately, but others do not see me that way. When I change my way of saying something or going about something, I am told I am coming off as hostile or aggressive. I do not see it that way, nor do I mean it in that way either. I try to explain my head injury to others, but they tell me to shut up and act normal and stop giving excuses. Yet, it is not an excuse; it is the truth.gg66852714

As a child, as a teenager, and even in my adult years, I lacked awareness of my own personal deficits. It was only about five years ago that I started to realize the things I do that cause these issues, and I personally have tried to change them.

I would verbally lash out, cry, become depressed, and literally throw temper tantrums. This went on into my early 30s. I realized that, if I do not change, I will never have anyone in my life because all I do is find a way to push everyone out of my life. It wasn’t until maybe a year ago that I started to try to change things on my own.

I have also tried to seek professional help, even going as far as intentionally getting myself diagnosed as being “severely mentally ill” just to get the help. But, nothing worked. Actually, getting that diagnosis set me back years.

I had NO assistance from the mental health system. They were actually making my problems worse. Now I try to address the fact that there is an issue, and I doggedly try to understand what the physical, emotional, and psychological effects are upon my daily day. I try to rectify those effects that I deem as a hindrance to my social well-being by forcing myself to change the way I interact with others. I started by intentionally going to bars, not to drink, but to interact with others so I could watch how people reacted to certain behaviors. Honestly, this was hard and long. I lost people from my life, but those people were not the people I truly wanted in my life anyway.family-clip-art

I have a problem keeping people in my life as a result of my inability to function properly in certain social situations. The majority of family and/or friends that choose to maintain their relationship with me either ignore or downplay any behaviors that I portray. Only a select few recognize and respond well when my behaviors are considered outside social normality. When people start to see the social abnormalities in my personality, most either ask what is wrong with me, why I am acting like a crazy person, or just never speak to me again by cutting me out of their lives. (Almost always, they cut me out little by little.)

sad-teenage-girl-clipart-teen_girlDuring my teenage years and into my 20s and even 30s, I had depression on and off. It got better after I had a hysterectomy. When my behaviors started to level out a lot, I was able to control myself better and move past other issues by actually learning not to do this or that.

Amber GeorgeAnna Bell's Service Dog

GeorgeAnna Bell’s Service Dog, Amber

Within the last year, I have found one of the best outlets to cope with the changes in my behavior. I now fall back on crocheting. I make things for others who are in need of certain things more than I. For years, I would fall back a lot on my dogs and my boyfriend. Honestly, one of the dogs – my service dog, Amber – helped me break free from my isolation. The attention that people placed on her made me break free of the isolation I had restricted myself to. I interacted with people just by talking. I learned how to cope with my anxiety and my expression around other people.


Thank you, GeorgeAnna Bell.

Any views and opinions of the Guest Blogger are purely his/her own.

(Clip Art compliments of Bing.)

(Photos compliments of GeorgeAnna Bell.)

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On The Air: . . . . . . . . . . . . . “Another Fork in the Road:” . . . . Substitute Hosts, Lisa Dryer & Cam Compton – M.S. Meets Stroke

On The Air: “Another Fork in the Road:” with substitute hosts, Lisa Dryer & Cam Compton “M.S. Meets Stroke”



Donna O’Donnell Figurski



Brain Injury Radio Network (BIRN) hosts, Lisa Dryer of “Mess with M.S.” (Multiple Sclerosis) and Cam Compton of “Cam’s Corner” step up to the mic on “Another Fork in the Road” while I, (Donna O’Donnell Figurski) traveled to Michigan for my nephew’s wedding. Party Time!

Lisa and Cam discussed the similarities and differences of each of their brain injuries and how they approach life from slightly different angles. Both hosts emphasized how each brain injury is different and how each survivor responds to the difficulties presented to him or her.

18 Lisa Dryer copy

Lisa Dryer – Survivor – Host of “Mess with M.S.”

03 Cam Compton Photo for Banner copy

Cam Compton – Survivor – Host of “Cam’s Corner”



See you “On the Air!”

On The Air: “Another Fork in the Road:” with substitute hosts, Lisa Dryer & Cam Compton “M.S. Meets Stroke”


(Clip Art compliments of Bing.)

As I say after each post: Please leave a comment by clicking the blue words “Leave a Commentanim0014-1_e0-1 below this post.

Feel free to follow my blog. Click on “Follow” on the upper right sidebar.

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On The Air: . . . . . . . . . . . . . “Another Fork in the Road:” . . . . Panel: Behavioral & Emotional Problems After Brain Injury

On The Air: Brain Injury Radio “Another Fork in the Road”

Panel: Behavioral & Emotional Problems After Brain Injury with

Lisa Dryer and GeorgeAnna Bell



Donna O’Donnell Figurski

images-1One of the most difficult aftereffects of brain injury is losing oneself. Depending on the injury and which part of the brain is impacted determines the type of emotional and behavioral change in one’s personality. A person who was agreeable, complacent, reasonable, and calm before the injury may change drastically to one who is violent, depressive, or struggles with anger management. These effects are not easy for others to understand – BUT, have you thought about how difficult it must be for the survivor?

Dryer, Lisa Survivor

Lisa Dryer – Survivor & BIRN Host


My panel, M.S. (Multiple Sclerosis) survivor, Lisa Dryer, and brain injury survivor, GeorgeAnna Bell, will join me to discuss this sensitive topic.

03 Bell, GeorgeAnna, Bell copy

GeorgeAnna Bell – Survivor

See you “On the Air!”

On The Air: Brain Injury Radio “Another Fork in the Road” Panel: Behavioral & Emotional Problems After Brain Injury

(Clip Art compliments of Bing.)

As I say after each post: Please leave a comment by clicking the blue words “Leave a Commentanim0014-1_e0-1 below this post.

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SPEAK OUT! . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Faces of Brain Injury – Evonia with her Mom, Amber Baxley

SPEAK OUT! Faces of Brain Injury –

Amber Baxley (caregiver for her two-year-old daughter, Evonia)



Donna O’Donnell Figurski

 Brain Injury is NOT Discriminating!

bigstock-cartoon-face-vector-people-25671746-e1348136261718It can happen to anyone, anytime, . . . and anywhere.

The Brain Trauma Foundation states that there are 5.3 million people in the United States living with some form of brain injury.

On “Faces of Brain Injury,” you will meet survivors living with brain injury. I hope that their stories will help you to understand the serious implications and complications of brain injury.

The stories on SPEAK OUT! Faces of Brain Injury are published with the permission of the survivor or designated caregiver.

If you would like your story to be published, please send a short account and two photos to me at neelyf@aol.com. I’d love to publish your story and raise awareness for Brain Injury.




Evonia – Brain Injury Survivor

(Note: Today, May 19th, 2016 marks Evonia’s first anniversary of her brain injury. She has a long road ahead, but she has a very loving and supportive mother who will help her through)

Baxley, Amber 2 Caregiver of Evonia

Amber Baxley – Mother of Evonia – Survivor

I’m feeling emotional. Today is the one-year anniversary of my daughter’s brain injury. (My daughter, Evonia, will be three next month.) Evonia’s life was forever changed a year ago today. At 3:00 pm on May 19th, 2015, my now two-year-old daughter was shaken and got her traumatic brain injury (TBI). There is not a day that goes by that I don’t wish I could go back to that day and stop it from happening. I made a huge mistake that day. I chose to leave my daughter and her big brother with a man I thought I could trust – a man I thought loved his family, especially his children, more than anything in the world. Man, was I wrong! I wish I had taken my children with me. That day, not only did my daughter’s life forever change, but also I learned that you cannot always trust those who are supposed to be the ones you can trust.

Baxley, Amber 2 Caregiver of Evonia 3

Evonia – Brain Injury Survivor

Evonia spent three weeks in a coma fighting for her life because of him. She spent three months in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit trying to recover some. My daughter had bleeding of the brain caused by her having been shaken. The blood tried to clot and caused a stroke. As of now, my little girl has had a total of five brain surgeries. She’s also had surgery to place a feeding tube into her stomach and another to remove it. Evonia will likely need to have other surgeries as she gets older. Before everything happened, Evonia was a bright, bubbly little girl – full of life. Because she was always exploring, she was always getting into things. Evonia was perfectly healthy. Now she has to fight to regain every milestone she had already surpassed.

Baxley, Amber Caregiver of Evonia 1

Evonia – Brain Injury Survivor

I so wish I could go back and do that day over again. She would have never had to go through this. If I could, I would do it in a heart beat.


(Clip Art compliments of Bing.)

(Photos compliments of contributor.)

As I say after each post: Please leave a comment by clicking the blue words “Leave a Commentanim0014-1_e0-1 below this post.

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SPEAK OUT! . . . . . . . . . . . . . Itty-Bitty GIANT Steps

SPEAK OUT! Itty-Bitty GIANT Steps

presented by

Donna O’Donnell Figurski

Itty-Bitty GIant Steps for BlogSPEAK OUT! Itty-Bitty Giant Steps will provide a venue for brain-injury survivors and caregivers to shout out their accomplishments of the week.

If you have an Itty-Bitty Giant Step and you would like to share it, just send an email to me at neelyf@aol.com.

If you are on Facebook, you can simply send a Private Message to me. It need only be a sentence or two. I’ll gather the accomplishments and post them with your name on my blog approximately once a week. (If you do not want your last name to be posted, please tell me in your email or Private Message.)

I hope we have millions of Itty-Bitty Giant Steps.


Here is this week’s Itty-Bitty GIANT Steps

#2 Shaw, Jenny Niday Survivor 050116

Jenny Niday Shaw – Survivor

Jenny Niday Shaw (survivor)…I am happy after three years this April. SmilesI finally smiled again – I mean a real smile. It is the simple things, folks … the simple things.


Viera, Meg Survivor 051716

Meg Viera – Survivor



Meg Viera (survivor)…I just got my grades back from my last college semester. I’m usually on the Dean’s List, but I took a harder class this time. Dean's List


My mom said I probably wouldn’t get on the Dean’s List this semester. But, I got an A in the harder class (!) and a B+ in my other one. Here I come, Dean’s List – TBI and all!

YOU did it!

Congratulations to contributors!

As I say after each post:anim0014-1_e0-1

Please leave a comment by clicking the blue words “Leave a Comment” below this post.

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If you like my blog, share it intact with your friends. It’s easy! Click the “Share” buttons below.

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(Clip Art compliments of Bing.)

(Photo compliments of contributor.)

SPEAK OUT! . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Faces of Brain Injury Beth Kidd Koziol (survivor)

SPEAK OUT! Faces of Brain Injury Beth Kidd Koziol



Donna O’Donnell Figurski



Beth Kidd Koziol

Beth Kidd Koziol – Survivor

My brain injury happened in 2005 from being a passenger on the back of a motorcycle. I had a traumatic brain injury (TBI)/closed-head brain bleed, a fractured clavicle, five fractured ribs, a lung contusion, many fractures in my left hand, including a fractured scaphoid bone. (I was told that, if the blood supply could not get to it, I would lose the use of my hand. Thank God, it healed!) I also had a badly fractured pelvis and several torn ligaments in my left shoulder. I was airlifted to a trauma unit, where I stayed for three days. I was then transferred to a rehab hospital for about two months. There I got extensive occupational, physical, and speech therapies. I had a neuropsychologist, a neurologist, an orthopedic specialist, and a pain-control specialist. After I left the rehab hospital (in a wheelchair), I visited three times a week for an additional three to six months. I had to learn how to eat, swallow, talk, and walk. I had taste and smell issues with food, plus I couldn’t swallow normal foods. I got dizzy when I moved my head. It was determined that I had shattered microscopic bones in my left ear (the side of all my injuries). After about three weeks of physical therapy, I had a treatment that corrected that problem and reset those little microscopic bones.

I left the rehab hospital in a wheelchair. It took me another three to four months before I could walk with a walker and then with a cane. Now I use nothing. After six to nine months of continued outpatient sessions of physical therapy and occupational therapy, I was called “Wonder Woman” and “Miracle Child” because no one knew how determined I was in my recovery. I was my own caregiver because I was 3,000 miles away from family. Rather than alarm them, I did not tell them of my accident until I was well enough to travel back to the East Coast and tell them in person, so they could see that I was OK on the outside. My family still doesn’t understand the damage and changes on the inside that I endure daily. I have short-term memory problems, I can no longer multitask, and I have to talk in detail as if I were writing a book or describing a picture. I’m told I talk too much; that hurts. If I am doing anything, including talking, and I am interrupted, I cannot remember what it was that I was going to say or do. This is commonly the new normal for many brain injury survivors.

Beth Kidd Koziol 2 survivor 051616

Beth Kidd Koziol – Survivor

The best thing I can suggest is to find materials – books to read to get informed or educated and websites that help you understand what a TBI-person goes through. It helps the survivor when you understand and are patient with him or her. After ten years for me, I still find areas in which I am still healing.
My motto is “Never Give Up!” [smile emoticon]


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