SPEAK OUT! – Bob Bernardi
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)
Wheeling, West Virginia, USA
3. When did you have your TBI? At what age?
My TBI happened in 1992 at the age of 35.
4. How did your TBI occur?
5. When did you (or someone) first realize you had a problem?
It was first realized while I was in the ICU (Intensive Care Unit).
6. What kind of emergency treatment, if any, did you have?
I was put on a respirator at the scene of the accident because I stopped breathing. My chest was crushed, and my back was broken in half at my T6 vertebra. My spine was bruised, and I had a traumatic brain injury. My lung collapsed three days later.
7. Were you in a coma? If so, how long?
I was in a semi-coma for about six days.
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 was in the hospital for almost 7 weeks. Then I was in outpatient rehab from May until February. In that time, I had physical, work, and speech therapies.
9. What problems or disabilities, if any, resulted from your TBI (e.g., balance, perception, personality, etc.)?
My whole life changed on that terrible morning. I had to relearn all of my simple math skills and redevelop my short-term memory. I slowly regained my ability to walk. My attention span has been diminished, and I go into a deep depression at times.
10. How has your life changed? Is it better? Is it worse?
My life is much worse. I was never able to regain my executive skills or my position as a Regional Human Resources Manager. I am 100% disabled today and feel as if I am a warehoused individual. A diabetic hypoglycemic reaction caused my car accident, and since my accident, my condition has worsened to the point that I am now very brittle. In 2009, I applied for 100% disability, and, in 2010, it was granted. I now depend on a small Social Security check and my wife’s pay. Our whole lifestyle has changed because my earning potential was eliminated. Seven years ago, I was diagnosed with celiac disease and also with brain meningiomas. In May of 2014, it was determined that I needed Gamma Knife brain surgery to stop the growth of the meningioma. So far, the surgery has been deemed a success. I now live day-to-day and do my best to enjoy life the best way that I can. I feel that my best therapy is talking to friends on the Brain Injury Awareness Group on Facebook and giving and taking advice on making our lives more bearable. I try as often as I can to inform and educate people on Traumatic Brain Injuries, how best to avoid them, and, if they do occur, how to deal with this tragic occurrence in life.
11. What do you miss the most from your pre-TBI life?
Work. I was diagnosed with having a Type 1 personality, and so my mind is always trying to work at accomplishing things.
12. What do you enjoy most in your post-TBI life?
I enjoy helping others cope and giving encouragement to others who have injured their brains.
13. What do you like least about your TBI?
I dislike the stigma attached to me that I am slow or stupid.
14. Has anything helped you to accept your TBI?
Not really, but, when I look at others who have suffered this terrible happening in their lives, I feel lucky at times because I came out better than a lot of my survivor friends.
15. Has your injury affected your home life and relationships and, if so, how?
My injury has put all of our financial burden on my wife, who is in constant worry both for me and in handling her “management” position. She is stressed to the maximum.
16. Has your social life been altered or changed and, if so, how?
My social life is not too bad because when others look at me, they really do not know. I have some scars on my forehead, but you really have to look, and I have no problems with speech. I may repeat myself at times, but I know how to keep my conversations in check. I have no problems today walking or doing physical activities, but I will tire more easily. Many have no idea what my physical body has gone through. I have always kept a small circle of friends. Probably the worse aspect of my TBI is that many have left me because they all want the “Old Bob” back. I would love for the “Old Bob” to come back, but he is gone forever.
17. Who is your main caregiver? Do you understand what it takes to be a caregiver?
My wife has always been there for me. After 22 years, she is worn out, and her health is beginning to fail.
18. What are your future plans? What do you expect/hope to be doing ten years from now?
I do not plan ahead anymore. I do one day at a time. Ten years from now is just too far away. I keep getting all of these health challenges, and that keeps me busy enough.
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 TBI survivors with your specific kind of TBI.
I have learned that, if I need to remember something, then I must tell myself to remember it. I almost curse myself to remember and not to forget. So far it has worked. I also would like for people who have suffered with TBI, or BI in general, to not always write in stone what the doctors tell you. The human brain is more capable than even they know, and the healing process never really stops. I just had cognitive tests done, and I only scored “fair” on almost all of them. I was somewhat down, but I started thinking how I handle things in real life situations, and I can do a lot. I even do our own taxes every year. I am an avid reader, and I do word puzzles to keep my brain active. I refuse to give up. The bottom line is DO NOT GIVE UP ON YOURSELF!
20. What advice would you offer to other TBI survivors? Do you have any other comments that you would like to add?
I honestly think that TBI is one of most evil happenings that a person can go through because it alters how one thinks, one’s personality, and his or her life in general. I would suggest for anyone who has gone through this personal hell to hook up with others – either online or in personal groups – so as to talk about your different problems and to share feelings – both negative and positive – so as to help one another cope.
Thank you, Bob, for taking part in this interview. I hope that your experience will offer some hope, comfort, and inspiration to my readers.
(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.
(Photos compliments of Bob.)