Survivors SPEAK OUT! Dawn Wasserman Corbelli
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)
Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA firstname.lastname@example.org
3. On what date did you have your brain injury? At what age?
February 13, 2008
At the time of the accident, I was 39 years old, and my daughter, Veronica, was 15 years old.
4. How did your brain injury occur?
5. When did you (or someone) first realize you had a problem?
The day of our car accident
6. What kind of emergency treatment, if any, did you have?
I was hospitalized. There I had X-rays and a CT (computerized tomography) scan. Staples were put in my head, I had to use a catheter, and I was given morphine.
My daughter had exploratory surgery, X-rays, an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), life-support, and many other things that I do not know because I lost my memory for seven weeks.
7. Were you in a coma? If so, how long?
I was not in a coma.
My daughter was in a coma for two weeks and one day.
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 did speech, occupational, and physical therapies – inpatient for two weeks and outpatient for months.
My daughter was in speech, occupational, and physical therapies – inpatient for six hours/day for 2½ months and outpatient for over a year. She had physical therapy on and off throughout the years since our accident (almost 14 years ago now). She also participated in manual therapy in which specially trained therapists put pressure on muscle tissue and manipulate joints in an attempt to decrease back pain caused by muscle spasm, muscle tension, and joint dysfunction.
9. What problems or disabilities, if any, resulted from your brain injury (e.g., balance, perception, personality, etc.)?
My disabilities are memory loss, lack of comprehension, decreased cognitive speed, balance difficulty, vertigo, a very short temper, and extreme mood changes. I became more depressed, and I now suffer severe anxiety. I have bipolar disorder that has been exacerbated due to my moderate brain injury. When driving, I would sometimes forget where I was, where I was going, and why. It happens less now, but it still happens. My math skills have become extremely poor. I couldn’t read for years; I read like a five-year-old trying to put words together. I am capable of reading well now.
My daughter has a severe traumatic brain injury (TBI). She has a sheared brain stem that causes trouble with swallowing. (She frequently chokes on her own saliva.) She was paralyzed on her left side, but she now has full use of it. She has severe short-term memory loss, and she also suffers from long-term memory loss. (She has forgotten the three months before our accident and the three months after.) Her cognitive speed and the speed of her speech has been affected, but not to a great extent. She cannot run due to her previously paralyzed left side. She has a great deal of chronic pain. She broke her pelvis in eight places, both of her hips, and her left ankle, all of which cause her pain daily. She cannot stand in one place for more than a few minutes. Her left ankle swells up. She has balance issues.
Because my daughter’s hypothalamus was damaged, she gained 4.5 pounds a week after leaving the hospital until she gained 70 pounds, which she still carries today. Her body thermometer is also broken. She is hot all the time and doesn’t even wear a coat in 30-degree weather. Her personality is sexually perverse. Her mind is frequently on sex and, with very little filter, she speaks frequently in a sexual manner, but it is much better than it used to be. She is quite impulsive, and she has poor decision-making skills, which can sometimes leave her in danger. For years, she would take off her shirt in public to show her breasts. When we are there to guide her, we can keep this from happening. She takes things very literally. If someone makes a suggestion that is inappropriate, she will take it seriously. She does what her friends do (for example, not wearing a seatbelt). She has a severe mood disorder. Sometimes severe anxiety makes her cry for long periods of time. She is on medication. Sometimes it works, and sometimes, not. So we have been going through med changes for the past couple years.
Note: She was very stable pre TBI.
10. How has your life changed? Is it better? Is it worse?
We are deep believers in the Lord and believe that everything happens for a reason. Now we cannot imagine our life any other way. For many years, we lost all of our friends, and we were very lonely. But we always had each other and became best friends. Life with a brain injury is very difficult. But we have always seen and appreciated our blessings and have learned to find joy in every day again. Our faith brought us through and carried us when we couldn’t carry ourselves.
Veronica believes life is better because many blessings came from our injuries. Our lives are not really “better” or “worse”; it is as God has planned. He gives us the strength to get through any situation, and we do what we have to do even during the difficulties. Veronica believes she is a better person and is much closer to God now. My bipolar episodes are worse now, but, thankfully, I do not have them very often.
11. What do you miss the most from your pre-brain-injury life?
I miss my very sharp thinking. I am slower, and there are many things I just do not understand without them being explained to me in a different way – with the use of different words now.
My daughter misses having stable moods. She does not have the independence she always dreamed of. She lives at home, cannot drive, and cannot work. Since she was 10 years old, she knew she wanted to go to college at ASU (Arizona State University); join the Air Force, like her parents did; and
12. What do you enjoy most in your post-brain-injury life?
I enjoy my family. I enjoy staying home with Veronica. Who wouldn’t want to raise their child twice if given the blessed chance?
Veronica enjoys spending time with her boyfriend most.
13. What do you like least about your brain injury?
I dislike that I forget so much and that it sometimes frustrates my husband.
Veronica hates her deficits, especially the short-term memory loss, the anger, and her labile moods.
14. Has anything helped you to accept your brain injury?
After 12 years, I saw a wonderful counselor who taught me that my deficits have nothing to do with my intelligence.
For Veronica, the fact that her family and friends accept her brain injury helps her accept it. Her boyfriend did not know her pre injury and loves her just the way she is.
15. Has your injury affected your home life and relationships and, if so, how?
Yes. My husband and older daughter are very protective of us now. We all worry that if we can’t get a hold of each other, the one we are trying to get a hold of is on the side of the road dead in a car accident.
Being sexually perverse and very touchy feely, Veronica ended up being raped twice by different people we knew. That ended friendships, of course.
16. Has your social life been altered or changed and, if so, how?
For many years, we had no social life or friends outside of our family. Veronica and I were very lonely for friends and ever so grateful every day that we had each other. We prayed for a very long time – years – for new friends to come into our lives, and they eventually did. A family (the husband is Greg’s best friend); the wife is my best friend, and their grown children and their families are Veronica’s best friends. We spend evenings, a week, and often a day on the weekend with this family. And after eleven lonely years, Veronica has a boyfriend again.
17. Who is your main caregiver? Do you understand what it takes to be a caregiver?
I am Veronica’s main caregiver, but my husband and I both are co-guardians of Veronica.
18. What are your plans? What do you expect/hope to be doing ten years from now?
My husband will be retired, and we plan on doing some traveling. I hope to be promoting the book I recently published and maybe another.
Veronica hopes to be moved out, with a man (maybe this boyfriend), and not be living at home.
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.
Use Google maps so that if you are driving and you forget where you are, where you are going, and why, at least you will know where you are.
20. What advice would you offer to other brain-injury survivors? Do you have any other comments that you would like to add?
The biggest problem daily is memory loss. I have learned how to manage it pretty well on a daily basis. Write everything down that you want to remember. Keep paper in every room of your house and in the car if you drive. Be responsible for your own notetaking. That way you cannot blame anyone else for your forgetfulness. Put notes anywhere they will help you remember. Put them in the kitchen on the counter, taped to the microwave, in the bathroom, on the toilet seat, or on the steering wheel of the car if it will help.
If a brain injury survivor’s loved ones do not accept the new person he or she has become, neither will the survivor accept himself or herself. So, survivors, allow yourself to grieve, but don’t ever say, “I miss the old you.”
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