TBI – Survivors, Caregivers, Family, and Friends

Posts tagged ‘Guest Blogger’

SPEAK OUT! . . . . . . . . . . . . . Guest Blogger . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Karen Dickerson

Never Give Up!


Karen Dickerson

presented by

Donna O’Donnell Figurski

Girl Blogger cartoon_picture_of_girl_writingOn March 2nd, 2014, I was involved in a car accident that changed my life forever. My speech was slurred; I couldn’t read; I couldn’t even write my own name.


Karen Dickerson – Brain Injury Survivor

Two months after my accident, I was so proud to write my name again that I signed divorce papers I couldn’t comprehend. I also signed so that my brain injury wouldn’t be used to take my children away. For fifteen years, I was married – and in an abusive relationship. I had three children, and I was left with nothing. Not even child support. I had lived a fairly comfortable life, financially speaking. I just wanted out and couldn’t take the confusion of court proceedings, but yet I couldn’t understand why. Everyone said I looked “normal.”

I struggled to feed my children. I swallowed my pride even when I was standing in line at a food pantry. I walked dragging my left leg to my speech, physical, and occupational therapy sessions, thinking that my leg problem would just go away in a few weeks. A friend helped me buy a car with what little money I had. I spent a few cold nights sleeping in it, confused as to where I was, what I was doing, and when my next appointments were. I’d yell at anyone who crossed my path – losing friendships. Family left me all alone. I fought with my auto insurance company for my rights in a no-fault state, and, after several months, I finally received compensation for wage losses.

I’m not sure how it happened (as things are a complete blur at times), but I finally found a good doctor and a nurse case-manager to help me. I was put into a neuro rehab program an hour away from home. (I had to let my children go live with their dad.) Seven days a week, I learned basic living skills and tried to control my anger and frustrations and emotional outbursts. I had constant legal issues, as I was beginning to realize that what I had signed in my divorce was not what I thought. The settlement was not good for me. As a result, I had to fight for my children and for child support. After a few battles, I won their support! After getting through those struggles, I finally realized I needed to take this TBI (traumatic brain injury) head on and fight to get my life back.counsleing

I was angry that I couldn’t do the simple things a child could do, and I was frustrated that I had tested intellectually as lower than high-school level. As hard as it was, I learned coping skills to control my damaged frontal lobe and to try to focus. After my rehab program ended, I moved back home to be with my children. I went to all my therapies (three times a week) and to numerous tests and doctors. I got my kids to and from school every day. I learned how to cook again. After almost two years, I was finally beginning to live a somewhat normal life again. I was even able to meet a wonderful, humble, and understanding man. What were the chances that his own brother-in-law had a TBI? The new man in my life knew exactly what I was going through and accepted my flaws and deficits.

I then started to get interested in learning about this misunderstood injury. I attended the BIAMI (Brain Injury Association of Michigan) meetings in Lansing, Michigan. Using social media as a tool, I advocated and educated others. Hearing good vibes from all over the country and the world, I began to realize how many people just like me were out there. I had to do something about brain injury, as I was so misunderstood and I was tired of being called “crazy.”social-media

I began to excel in all my therapies, which moved me into vocational training. I was asked to put my résumé together. I did – I looked at it and saw that I never had the opportunity to go to college. I was a single mom at nineteen, and I married someone who wouldn’t allow me to grow. I could have gone back to real estate, but how was that helping people? I could have returned to the ophthalmology career that I had for years, but I was limited by the small area I live in. I had already worked for the one surgeon, but he told me that he didn’t trust me with his patients anymore because of my TBI.

th-1As hard as occupational therapy was for me, it was also fun. I gained friendships with my occupational and speech therapists. Even if I couldn’t do their tasks that day, they were still there for me to talk. They comforted me and encouraged me to keep on going. I looked into the OTA (occupational therapy assistant) program and thought Why not see if I can try it? With my disability, there should be some accommodations, and, after what I’ve been through with so many occupational therapy sessions, I thought I might just know a little about it!

I took the test and was accepted to Baker College! (Two years and five months post TBI.) I went to orientation yesterday and teared up as I walked on campus.

Karen Dickerson - Brain Injury Survivor & College Student at Baker College

Karen Dickerson – Brain Injury Survivor & College Student at Baker College

As I sat in a loud room with others picking their classes, I struggled to drown out the noise, as audio is still a daily struggle. The abbreviations and so much on the class schedule – even with military times, were problematic. I thought for one second I can’t do this. Then I remembered all those times I did “do it,” and I focused and got my class schedule done. At 39 years old, a TBI survivor, a domestic-abuse survivor, and a mother of three, I am a college student!

This program is offered near Grand Rapids, Michigan, over three hours away. As I checked in, I met the president of the college, and he noted where I was living. All I could say was, “I’m going to do this.” It is in my heart. God has gotten me this far. I will NOT give up!

SPEAK OUT! . . . . . . . . . . . . . Guest Blogger . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Ed Steeves – Standing Still

Standing Still


Ed Steeves



Donna O’Donnell Figurski


Boy Blogger thNo matter how great it sounds, we can’t go back. No matter how much we may want to, that bridge has burned. The past has passed for a reason. We need to accept that it is over. We can only take the lessons we’ve learned.

Now we have a choice, since we can’t change the past or return to it. We can’t get the past back and never will. So, the decision that we have to make is Will we move on into the future, or will we simply stand still?k20874676

I, for one, will go forward with my life. I have decided that, somewhere ahead, there is something better to find. Because, if we just stand there and stare at what’s dead and gone, we will surely lose our mind.

The thing we fail to notice at times is that, no matter how amazing the past was, the future is better. The past, sadly, is occupied only with our memories, and it’s our prison. Only in the future can we all be free.

Ed Steeves - Survivor

Ed Steeves – Survivor

It’s OK to take some time to reflect – to forgive and move on. I’ve finally given up on all that’s there in the past.

But remember that life is still alive in the future, and we are never certain how long it will last.

Thank you, Ed Steeves.

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

(Clip Art compliments of Bing.)

(Photos compliments of Ed Steeves.)


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SPEAK OUT! . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Guest Blogger: Jennifer Stokley Transitioning and Brain Injury

Transitioning Can Work in Odd and Wonderful Ways


Jennifer Stokley


Donna O’Donnell Figurski

Girl Blogger cartoon_picture_of_girl_writingWhen I moved into my new home back in September, I was a stranger – scared and so alone. I had neighbors on either side, but they were strangers. Strangers terrify me.

Behind me was a family with three young children and a big floppy dog. I am not sure how it happened. (I forget these things – “TBI Memory” – LOL.) Maybe it was the doggie that made me go out and meet them, but who cares? I went. And, it totally changed my world forever!

Next thing I knew, I was playing with their dog almost every day and sitting on their bench out front to see the kids go off to school every morning so I could say hello and “Have a great day!” I went out again every day to greet them when they came home from school. I became good friends with the mother, who turned out to have been a nurse prior to being a stay-at-home momma.

The mother was very familiar with folks like me – with a TBI. What are the odds of that? She wrote me a beautiful poem about new starts in my life. While reading it to me, she started to cry. She had to regain her composure and begin again. At the end, we were both crying. We ended up hugging. Wow! I was so grateful for her huge heart and her understanding.

Her husband would mow my yard when he did his own and never asked for anything in return. I was amazed and so grateful that they understood I was completely unable. They did it because they cared.Jennifer Stokely 3 Survivor 052615

One day, I joined the kids in a leaf fight in their yard (in my PJs! – LOL), along with the parents’ autistic son – my best buddy, with whom I had a special connection for some reason. He came over, sat down with me, threw leaves into the air with me, and giggled. He even lay down and wanted me to cover him with leaves to his chest (none on is face or neck – sensation issues – I understood) so he could pop out of the leaves like the rest of the kids were doing. His parents’ chins were on the ground, I swear. I don’t think they had ever seen him connect and want to play like this before. Once he popped out and had a leaf in his hair that upset him. I asked him if I could remove it for him. He said yes, so I did, and the playing resumed.

The best part came at the end, though. I thought his parents’ heads were going to explode! I put my hand out and told him, “Give me a high five!” He slapped my hand as hard as he could. I don’t think his parents had ever seen him give physical contact by choice to anyone not family.

His parents got him a new puppy, all his own. One of the kids had let the puppy out by accident. No one knew it was gone. I was outside doing something, and the puppy ran around the other side of my house and straight to me! Yay! I was able to save the puppy, give it some loving, and carry it home – safe and sound.

This family brought me so many blessings by being my neighbors in a new, strange, and scary environment. They just sold their home and have begun moving into their new home. But, the blessings keep coming. My two nephews bought their place, so I will have family living behind me, after having pseudo family living there.

Jennifer Stokely Survivor 052615Miracles work in mysterious ways for sure! I will sure miss that family. But, I am grateful for the wonderful memories they gave me and for being there to help make my transition feel so safe and protected. I wish them well on their new journey.


Thank you, Jennifer Stokely.

You can learn more about Jennifer on the following sites.

SSS (Semi-Support Sisterhood) for TBI Survivors


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

(Clip Art compliments of Bing.)

(Photos compliments of Jennifer Stokley.)


As I say after each post:

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

Feel free to follow my blog. Click on “Follow” on the lower right corner of your screen.

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

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Survivors SPEAK OUT! Lee Staniland

Survivors SPEAK OUT!  . . . . . Lee Staniland


Donna O’Donnell Figurski

Lee Staniland -  TBI Survivor

Lee Staniland –
TBI Survivor

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

Lee (Liana) Staniland

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

Oxnard, California, USA     leechar101@gmail.com

3. When did you have your TBI? At what age?

Age 25

4. How did your TBI occur?

A horse took me under a tree.

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

My husband came home and found me unconscious under the tree in our pasture.

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

My husband took me to the Emergency Room. They sent me to another hospital.

7. Were you in a coma?


If so, how long?

I was in a coma six weeks.

8. Did you do rehab?

Yes. I did rehab for a while.

What kind of rehab (i.e., inpatient or outpatient and occupational and/or physical and/or speech and/or other)?

I did rehab both as an inpatient and an outpatient.

How long were you in rehab?

I had rehab for a month. Then I got impatient with the drive to get there, so I quit and did my own rehab.

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

I have issues with balance and memory.

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

I think my life mostly changed for the better. I’m a better and nicer person.

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


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

I got back most of my old self, so I can do most everything.

13. What do you like least about your TBI?

The fatigue

14. Has anything helped you to accept your TBI?

I was blessed that my mind just let me accept the new me.

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

I don’t let people push me around. I divorced my husband whom I was married to when the accident happened, and I married a more accepting man.

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

I am a morning person, so when it starts getting dark, I fade.

17. Who is your main caregiver?

I am my own caregiver.

Do you understand what it takes to be a caregiver?


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

I’m 62 now, and I am just going to take life easy.

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.


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

I’m adding my story to this so that you can understand better. Over 20 years ago, six other couples started the Brain Injury Support Group. It is now a non-profit organization called The Brain Injury Center of Ventura County. I was even the president for a while. I drew our logo, and I have taken many photos for them. My message is to get involved. Thanks!

You can learn more about Lee in her Guest Blog article called, “What I Remember” on my blog, Surviving Traumatic Brain Injury.


Thank you, Lee, for taking part in this interview. I hope that your experience will offer some

Lee Staniland  TBI Survivor

Lee Staniland
TBI Survivor

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 Lee.)


SPEAK OUT! Guest Blogger . . . . . . George Visger (former NFL SF 49er)

SPEAK OUT! Guest Blogger George Visger (former NFL SF 49er)

Short, Choppy Steps


Boy Blogger thAnyone who has ever spent time on the gridiron will know what those words mean. But their meaning holds truth far beyond the playing field and can be applied to everything we do in life.

In football, the object of the game is to win. But to win, you must score. To score, you need to punch the ball across the goal line.

But what if the goal line is 99 yards away?

Short, choppy steps will get you there – not long strides and an occasional 50-yard run.

In football, everything starts with a good stance. You need balance. Just like in life. You need to get yourself into position to succeed before you can succeed. A bad stance, and you’re beat before the ball’s snapped. When playing defense, if you have too much weight on your right foot, you’ll never be able step with that foot, and the offensive linemen will easily be able to cut you off if the play is going that way. If you have too much weight forward, like you have during a passing situation, you can never react quickly enough if they call a run to the inside.

A good stance is a balanced stance. Try it.

No, I mean try it. Everyone who can, stand up.

Stand up tall – feet, shoulder-width apart, and toes, even. Move your dominant foot back about 10-12 inches so your right toes (if right-handed) are even with the instep of your left foot. Now push your chest out and your butt back. Slowly squat down until your elbows touch your knees. Once your elbows make contact, lean forward a bit and place your hand on the ground with your thumb directly under your nose.

That’s a balanced stance. You can easily move in any direction from that position.

#74 NFL San Francisco 49er, George Visger @ 1981

#74 NFL San Francisco 49er, George Visger @ 1981

On offense, if you don’t score, you can’t win. To score, you have to move the ball. If the offensive lineman fires out with a long stride – like you would do when sprinting, it’s very easy for the defensive player to knock him on his butt. Holding your head up and looking 90 yards down the field at the goal line is a great way to get your cranium removed. Considering the cranium is a fairly important organ, it’s best you hang on to it. You need to keep your butt down, your face up, and your neck bowed and to take short, choppy steps.

Try it.

A long stride with your head up is a narrow stride. Any pressure from the side will knock you on your butt. To maintain the most strength, you want short, choppy steps. Fire out, and keep your butt down and your face up. Stick your face into the numbers, and, with your butt under you, drive with short (12-16 inch) strides. That’s where you get your power. Not a long, narrow, unbalanced stride with your neck craned up and your head looking downfield. Focus on the short, choppy steps.

If a football team got only 4 yards every play on offense – no more, no less, they would never lose.

Think about it.

Only 4 yards a play, and you would NEVER LOSE!

George Visger #74  4th row from bottom, 2nd from right  @ 1981

George Visger #74
4th row from bottom, 2nd from right
@ 1981

That’s a first down every 3 plays. You would score every time you had the ball. NO ONE could stop you.

Every one has a cross to bear. Some crosses are much heavier than others. I have met people on my journey, who have silently carried crosses I could never even lift. Yet they pack them – everyone.

And never complain.

If we looked downfield every day – gazing at where we want to be in life and thinking about what we have to deal with to get there, we’d never score. You need to keep that goal line in the back of your mind every day of your life – every play, but to get there, you need to focus on each step. One day at a time. One step at a time.

A single short, choppy step each day wins games.

Set a short-term goal each day, and focus on that.

In 1986, at the age of 28, I returned to school to complete my Biology degree, after an Orange Bowl, a Super Bowl, three emergency VP (ventriculoperitoneal) shunt brain surgeries, and several gran mal seizures. I needed four semesters of Chemistry (Chem 1A, Chem 1B, Organic Chem, and Bio Chem), two semesters of Physics, two semesters of Pre-Calculus, and other fun classes to complete my degree in Biological Conservation and to attain my second dream in life – to be a wildlife biologist. (My first dream was to be the greatest NFL player of all time.) At the time, I was working construction during the day, earning a Class B General Contractors license in the evenings, and bouncing at bars at night to survive. (No, all NFL players are not millionaires. I was a 6th-round pick in 1980 and signed for $35,000.)

After I returned to school in 1986, I survived five additional emergency brain surgeries during a 9-month period in ‘86-’87, while taking Organic Chem, Physics, and other classes. I was in Organic Chem three times when my shunt blew out. I had emergency brain surgery, and I dropped out of school. After the first, I came back and took the class again. Another shunt blow out and another brain surgery, and I dropped out of school again. Happened a third time. This time, I was determined not to drop out. Brain surgery on Saturday, and I left the hospital on Sunday, 23 hours later. I was sitting in Organic on Monday when I had a >50-minute gran mal seizure. I was hospitalized for a week. It seemed I had developed an infection in my shunt on that one. They sent me home with a PICC line (peripherally inserted central catheter) in my arm, with a pump taped to my bicep, and with a tube that ran directly into my heart to deliver antibiotics. I packed that around for 10 days and had to drop out of school again.

I came back the next semester, but by then I had developed dyslexia and major short-term memory issues from my surgeries and gran mal seizure meds. (I’ve been on Dilantin, Depacote, Phenobarbital, Kepra, Zonegran, and now Lamictil.) After discovering through my own investigations that each one causes short-term memory problems, I had my doctors change the meds because I didn’t like the side effects. I had to write on my notebook where I parked my truck each day, or I would spend an hour or two walking up and down each row of cars in each parking lot on each side of Sacramento State University looking for my truck.

I came back the next semester so frustrated I met with my counselor, Mr. Sterling Ebel, a man who had as much influence on my life as anyone other than my father. Mr. Ebel was a man who quietly gave me information on how best to achieve my goals and connected with me as a person and a man. He was a man who wore the same tiny tie clasp every day I knew him. It had two words:


“Sterling, I can’t keep doing this crap. I can’t even remember where I parked my truck, much less Organic Chemistry. I just want a degree. I don’t care what it’s in. Just find me a degree. I need to get on with my life,” I ranted one day, as I barged into his office without an appointment, ready to quit.

“You’re 12 units from a Social Science degree,” he calmly replied after studying my transcript and telling his receptionist to hold his next appointment.

“OK, I’m a Social Science major,” I said.

That semester I took 6 units towards my Social Science degree, and passed both classes. The next semester, just 6 units shy of a BA in Social Science, I decided I’d give Organic Chem one more shot. I’d never quit on anything in my life, and words of my father, Big Jack Visger, the greatest man I’ve ever known, rang in my ears:

“Shoot your best shot.”

If I didn’t make it through Organic on this one, God didn’t mean for me to be a biologist. I was shooting the last round in my chamber.

On the fourth try, I powered through Organic – a “Short, Choppy Step.”

Physics 1B – Short, Choppy Step

Pre-Calculus – Short, Choppy Step

Bio Chem – Short, Choppy Step

In 1990, at the ripe old age of 32, with 172 units completed, gran mal seizures, and eight VP shunt brain surgeries under my belt, I earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Biological Conservation. Graduating made playing in the NFL look like child’s play.Visger, George

Another Short, Choppy Step.

And I continue to take short, choppy steps each day.


Thank you, George.

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



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