Survivors SPEAK OUT! Carole Starr
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)
3. On what date did you have your brain injury? At what age?
I had my brain injury on July 6, 1999. I was 32 years old.
4. How did your brain injury occur?
I was in a car accident. My vehicle was broadsided on the driver’s side by someone going about 50 mph.
5. When did you (or someone) first realize you had a problem?
My brain injury was diagnosed about six weeks after my accident. It was the physical therapist I saw for the whiplash who realized that I also had a brain injury. It became apparent to me when I tried to return to my regular life and struggled with tasks that used to be easy.
6. What kind of emergency treatment, if any, did you have?
After my accident, I was transported by ambulance to the emergency room. They diagnosed me with severe whiplash and other soft tissue injury. The signs of the brain injury were there, but they were missed.
7. Were you in a coma? If so, how long?
I was not in a coma.
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?
I didn’t receive any brain injury rehab until nearly a year after my injury. That was the worst year of my life, as I tried and failed numerous times to return to my old life. A physiatrist referred me to outpatient brain injury rehab. I’ve had physical, occupational, speech, and recreation therapies and counseling. I’ve also found help from alternative therapies, including cranial osteopathy, neuro-optometry, and homeopathy. I received rehab therapies on and off for several years. I still see several medical professionals, and I continue to make slow progress, even after more than eighteen years.
9. What problems or disabilities, if any, resulted from your brain injury (e.g., balance, perception, personality, etc.)?
I am plagued by extreme mental fatigue, sound and light sensitivities, balance issues, memory loss, visual midline shift, and difficulties with decision-making and problem-solving.
10, How has your life changed? Is it better? Is it worse?
My life changed dramatically after my brain injury. I had to give up my teaching career and my classical music hobby. I struggled to manage everyday-life tasks. I felt dependent on family and friends. For many years, I grieved the loss of my old life. I hated the new me. It was a long process to work through that grief and start to build a new life. I try really hard not to judge whether my life is better or worse. It’s just different. That helps me with the acceptance process.
11. What do you miss the most from your pre-brain-injury life?
I miss performing as a musician. I miss being able to go a whole day without needing to rest. I miss being able to trust my brain to do what I want it to.
12. What do you enjoy most in your post-brain-injury life?
Brain injury gave me the passion for a cause that was missing in my old life. This has become my life’s work. I like being able to use my experience to help other brain injury survivors. I do that through my book (To Root & To Rise: Accepting Brain Injury), my keynotes at brain injury conferences, and the volunteer group I lead (Brain Injury Voices).
13. What do you like least about your brain injury?
I dislike having to rest every day and missing out on activities I’d like to do. I never know when too much sound, light, motion, talking, or thinking is going to overwhelm my brain and require hours or days of rest to recover from.
14. Has anything helped you to accept your brain injury?
For a long time, I didn’t think I could ever accept my brain injury. It was a long process. Some things that helped me were support-groups, reading books by other survivors, counseling, journaling, crafts, learning to laugh at myself, finding silver linings, and focusing on what I’m thankful for.
15. Has your injury affected your home life and relationships and, if so, how?
For a long time, I felt like I was a burden – the one who always needed help. I had to learn to accept help from my family and friends and not resist their advice. I can now manage taking care of my home, but everything requires strategies.
16. Has your social life been altered or changed and, if so, how?
My life is much smaller. My daily activities are short and quiet. If I want to do something bigger, I know that the price will be days on the couch recovering my mental energy.
17. Who is your main caregiver? Do you understand what it takes to be a caregiver?
I’ve been able to live on my own. Family, friends, and medical professionals have helped me learn strategies to take care of myself.
18. What are your plans? What do you expect/hope to be doing ten years from now?
I plan to continue writing and speaking about brain injury. I want to use my experience to make a difference. I’ve spoken at brain injury conferences and events in six states so far. I’d like to speak in all fifty! I’d also like to help other survivors create education/advocacy groups like Brain Injury Voices in other states.
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.
Find an activity that the new you can enjoy and do successfully. Start small, find success and build on it. Over time, small successes can grow into large achievements and lead you in directions you never imagined.
20. What advice would you offer to other brain-injury survivors? Do you have any other comments that you would like to add?
Find ways to connect with other survivors – either through an in-person support-group or online. Interacting with others who “get it” is invaluable.
Know that progress doesn’t stop after the first year or two after brain injury. Our brains are always healing. We may never be able to return to our old lives, but we can continue to grow into this new one.
If you would like to be a part of the SPEAK OUT! project, please go to TBI SPEAK OUT! Survivors Interview Questionnaire for a copy of the questions and the release form.
(Clip Art compliments of Bing.)
Feel free to follow my blog. Click on “Follow” on the upper right sidebar.
If you like my blog, share it with your friends. It’s easy! Click the “Share” buttons below.
If you don’t like my blog, “Share” it with your enemies. I don’t care!
Feel free to “Like” my post.