TBI – Survivors, Caregivers, Family, and Friends

Survivors SPEAK OUT! Gretchen



Donna O’Donnell Figurski

Gretchen - Brain Injury Survivor

Gretchen – Brain Injury Survivor

1. What is your name? (last name optional)


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

Louisiana, USA

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

I had just turned 20.

4. How did your brain injury occur?

My brain injury is from a car accident. My best friend was driving. I was sitting on the console and flew into the backseat. The driver was ejected, and she was killed instantly. Another friend with us, who was sitting in passenger’s seat, just had stitches.

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

I was medevacked to a hospital right away and stabilized. I was then flown to a larger hospital. I knew one of the emergency responders, and he said he recognized my brain injury from the way I was breathing. I was also erratic and trying to move and fight and get up, but I had a head injury. Another responder told me that he had to almost lie on me to keep me still.

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

I had a PEG (percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy) tube (to add nutrition directly into the stomach), a halo brace (a metal ring attached to the head and shoulders to immobilize the spine) because I had a broken neck (fracture of the C2 vertebra), a tracheotomy, and the usual IVs and ports.

Gretchen with Halo Brace

Gretchen with Halo Brace

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

Yes. I was in a coma for three and a half 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 had some physical therapy, but mostly I had cognitive therapy. I had both inpatient and outpatient rehab.

How long were you in rehab?

Inpatient rehab was about a week. Outpatient rehab was for several weeks (a couple of times a week).

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

I have no physical problems; they’re mostly cognitive. I have some personality changes. My family has voiced this to me. I have no control over it, but I do feel it, and I feel so uncomfortable with it. I’m not happy and confident and wonderful. That doesn’t come naturally to me anymore.

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

Worse. I am almost always anxious and uncomfortable.

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

I miss my friend and my carefree and happy self.

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

I guess I just have to enjoy living life. That’s all I have. I take it one day at a time.

13. What do you like least about your brain injury?

My brain injury took a part of me that I was happy with – my confidence and my peace. I hate that about it.

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

I just do. I have to accept it.

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

My relationships have definitely been affected – both romantic and friendship. I fought the change with my boyfriend at the time, but he recognized it. We ended up breaking up after several years. My friendships are also different. I find it difficult to talk and keep in conversation. It’s hard to find stuff to say to people I was so close to before. It makes me so uncomfortable, although it could also be from our drifting apart naturally. It’s like I feel cold to them, but I don’t intentionally try to act that way.

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

Yes. I’m so anxious all the time. I’m very uncomfortable with myself.

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

My aunt was my caregiver right after I got out of the coma. I am my own caregiver now. I live on my own. My dad has to work, and my mom didn’t feel comfortable doing it. We live right next door to each other, though.

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

I want to be happy. I have a degree in English. I hope to write more. I have been published twice, but I haven’t gotten back an email or a response. I was a French major, but I lost it all after the accident. I was heartbroken.

Gretchen - Brain Injury Survivor

Gretchen – Brain Injury Survivor

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.

Nothing I can think of

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

Take it one day at a time, and don’t be hard on yourself. Love yourself. Again – don’t be hard on yourself!

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! . . . Gretchen" (15)

  1. Thank you. 💘


    • I am so happy to have your interview here, Gretchen. Thank you so much for sharing your story.

      Donna O’Donnell Figurski

      Liked by 1 person

      • I read it again and it made me cry. I just feel a little indifferent towards it. It still affects me when o think about it. But thank you for this opportunity. I will continue to read more of your posts with other tbi survivors.


      • Gretchen, I was honored to be able to share your story with my readers. I’m so glad you read my blog.

        Donna O’Donnell Figurski

        Liked by 1 person

  2. God bless you, Gretchen. Praying for you and your continued healing. God is always with you, never forget that! He is with all us survivors!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Gretchen , thank you so very much! I am sorry for your pain and what you went through! I understand the loss you feel!i wish you love and happiness

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank y’all!! Just noticing this. Strangers sending well wishes. I appreciate it so! 💘


  5. I shared my story a year ago today. I wanted to add another thing that has changed in me. Not just in is past year, but today anxiety is rearing its head. I am so much more focused on death and dying (maybe a better term, LOSS) since my/our accident. I am afraid and always thinking of it. At least weekly, it crosses my mind. It is not debilitating, as I have a life to live and I do but I am in a panic or some kind of anxiety a lot of the time. And much of the time its about death. I wanted to share that in case others can relate or have advice. Thank you Donna and continue your advocating.


    • gm1123, thank you for your candid comments about your feelings about death. I think those kind of thoughts cross everyone’s minds, though most don’t deliberate on them.

      I think after a near-death experience such as those had by brain injury survivors, it can be expected. After all, most survivors stared death in the face and walked (limped) away.

      I think to curb any kind of panic, you may want to redirect your thoughts. Go for a walk, do errands, try meditation. Refocusing your mind may help to allay your fears.

      I answered you in this way because, like you, I hope that it may help others who are reading my blog.

      Thanks for your input.

      Let me know if any of this makes sense to you.

      Donna O’Donnell Figurski

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, thank you. I had a moment (day) of anxious thoughts. Even though things going on in my life are okay…those thoughts are always in the back of my mind. I’m not suicidal, just have a slight fixation on death, the loss I had with my friends death and the partial death of the Gretchen pre—accident. She’s not totally different, but with the injury and life handing out lemons every so often (my moms death a year and a half later and my cousin/sister took her life 2 years ago…I feel sometimes it’s all around), (I have to see the positive—maybe I’m just in a mood, just a little pensive and lonesome. )
        I long for the carefree days and sometimes survivors guilt takes its toll, yes even 17 years later. Thank you for your kind words. ☺️☺️☺️


      • gm1123, yes survivor’s guilt is real and can pop up at any time. When one is aware of it, as you are, one can develop tools to stave it off.

        You are not alone on the pensive thoughts. Think them. Process them. And then do what is best for you.

        All best wishes to you.

        Donna O’Donnell Figurski


      • Thank you. ☺️


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