Survivors SPEAK OUT! Nolan McDonnell
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)
San Jose, California, USA Nolan@CoachNolan.com
3. On what date did you have your brain injury? At what age?
My traumatic brain injury occurred on April 23, 2017, at the age of 31.
4. How did your brain injury occur?
I was the victim of a robbery. I was held at gunpoint and then shot in the head. My brain injury is bilateral, as the bullet went through both sides of my brain.
5. When did you (or someone) first realize you had a problem?
I was found in my car, which was riddled with bullet holes. I had an entrance wound in my skull from the bullet.
6. What kind of emergency treatment, if any, did you have?
I had seven blood transfusions, a craniotomy, and maybe some other things.
7. Were you in a coma? If so, how long?
Yes – fifteen 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 have or had speech, occupational, physical, stretch, recreational, massage, and craniosacral therapies and acupuncture. It has been two and a half years now, and I put in eight hours a day, five days a week.
9. What problems or disabilities, if any, resulted from your brain injury (e.g., balance, perception, personality, etc.)?
I was a paraplegic – I could not move from the neck down. I worked hard to overcome this, however. I still suffer from extreme spasticity, muscle imbalance, and minimal range of motion on the left side of my body, as well as in my legs.
10. How has your life changed? Is it better? Is it worse?
My life is better after my traumatic brain injury. Before the injury, I did not know how short, valuable, and fragile life is.
11. What do you miss the most from your pre-brain-injury life?
I miss skateboarding, making new friends at school, the freedom to get up and do anything I wanted at any given time, athletics, not having a caregiver, living alone, and having guests come over.
12. What do you enjoy most in your post-brain-injury life?
I like my perspective on and my valuing of both life and people. Life is so valuable to me now – more meaningful and beautiful.
13. What do you like least about your brain injury?
I love everything about my brain injury. Life is more important to me now.
14. Has anything helped you to accept your brain injury?
15. Has your injury affected your home life and relationships and, if so, how?
Yes. We had to make everything wheelchair-accessible, and someone always needs to be with me. Also, with my injury, I can’t get up and go make myself a sandwich or go to the store and get something that I want. Somebody needs to do those things for me. I am a lot more limited in that aspect, but it’s not a big deal if I plan ahead.
The biggest aspect about this question is addressing the invisible injury. People look at me and see that I’m strong, and they expect that, at any moment, I can just get up and start walking, hiking, or going on dates.
16. Has your social life been altered or changed and, if so, how?
Not really for me. I have always been a very social person, and my wheelchair is a great conversation starter! People come up all the time and ask me what happened. I am always making new friends.
17. Who is your main caregiver? Do you understand what it takes to be a caregiver?
18. What are your plans? What do you expect/hope to be doing ten years from now?
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.
This is a tough question because no two injuries are the same, but I will share my input and what worked for me to get my legs strong again.
Learning how to use my legs has been especially difficult. My parents bought an assist-bar at Home Depot and mounted it to the wall, a little below chest height. I can use my wheelchair to wheel up to the bar and practice standing up, do squats, stand up, and let go and learn how to balance.
Another great thing that I would love to share is to go to your local community college and check out adaptive PE (physical education) classes. The community colleges by my house have adaptive PE – they have standing frames and parallel bars, and all of the equipment and workout-machines are wheelchair-accessible. Adaptive PE programs usually have water classes as well.
20. What advice would you offer to other brain-injury survivors? Do you have any other comments that you would like to add?
I would suggest that other brain injury survivors take initiative and demonstrate that they want to help themselves because that will encourage support from other people. Also, always continue doing exercises and stretching. Try to increase your range of motion, and workout constantly. Fitness creates a mind-body connection and promotes new neurological pathways. Additionally, if you take care of yourself physically, you tend to eat better – and proper nutrition is very important for a healthy brain.
Stay Safe and Healthy!
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