Survivors SPEAK OUT! Kristin Russo
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)
Annandale, Virginia, USA
3. When did you have your TBI? At what age?
July 22, 2013 – I was 28.
4. How did your TBI occur?
My TBI was caused by a collision with a tractor-trailer. Read about it. “Kristin Russo accident.”
5. When did you (or someone) first realize you had a problem?
It was realized about 2-3 days into my stay in the ICU (Intensive Care Unit).
6. What kind of emergency treatment, if any, did you have?
I have no memory of the accident, the month in the hospital, and even the first 5-6 months at home under 24-hour care.
7. Were you in a coma? If so, how long?
Yes. My coma was induced.
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 had occupational, physical, speech, and recreational therapies for a month as an inpatient. I had therapy as an outpatient until May 2014 when all but physical therapy ended. I’m still in physical therapy for physical injuries.
9. What problems or disabilities, if any, resulted from your TBI (e.g., balance, perception, personality, etc.)?
I have moderate to severe diminished visual memory, mild to moderate decreased attention span, diminished executive function, and mildly diminished speech and language function. Those are the significant findings as per my neurological addendum. It was also noted that I am likely to have significant permanent neurocognitive dysfunction due to the TBI. This problem with the physical brain injury is further complicated due the fact that I have significant PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). I have a college degree, yet I had to learn how to do things as simple as double-digit subtraction. My entire education has been wiped away. Since I graduated with honors, it was easy to get accepted to Liberty University. But, I can’t retain information anymore, so I’m not sure if I’m going to go back to try and learn everything all over again. My neurologist has diagnosed me with ADD (attention deficit disorder) due to the TBI. I’m not allowed to use anything hot without supervision, etc.
10. How has your life changed? Is it better? Is it worse?
Some things are better because I now have an excuse for being directionally challenged or for when I mess up (haha). 😉 Things are worse because I am dependent and I HATE IT! (I am an independent girl.) I was such an intelligent woman. I was still paying off my degree when the accident happened. Not being able to use ANY of the knowledge really made me unhappy. Not being able to work has been horrible because that is all I have ever known. I have been working since the day I turned 14. (My first day of work was on my 14th birthday). I worked at the same place until I graduated high school and went to college. I hate that I can no longer drive. I miss being able to do what I want to do when I want to do it. 😦 I live about eighty miles from where I grew up, so it’s not often that someone comes to visit me. The accident caused me to lose my family because my own father was stealing my pain pills for his sick addiction. I’ve lost some of my friends because I’m a totally different person personality-wise. I’m 100% honest, and I have dedicated my life to Jesus Christ. The girl in the accident died. She wasn’t the best wife. (I’d give more details, but those things are better kept between husband and wife. 😉 ) But, that’s why my accident happened, and I know it. God was showing me what was in front of me, and the same, for my husband. God was bringing us closer together, and that’s exactly what my accident did. So, that’s what I do like about the TBI. Another thing that I like about the TBI is that I don’t remember the accident or being in the hospital or even the 5-6 months after it. I also don’t remember my surgeries up to July. I remember the ones on Black Friday and December 1st. But, yeah, the girl I was before was a girl who drank a lot and went to clubs and acted like she was a single 21-year-old female. Since I’m not her anymore, I’ve lost a couple friends who were just like that girl. I don’t need those girls anyway!
11. What do you miss the most from your pre-TBI life?
I miss being able to drink alcohol sometimes – at least to drink socially. I miss being able to drive. I miss being able to do what I want when I want. I miss working. What I do now is to constantly go to appointments – it’s nuts! I am still in physical therapy – several months post accident. I just got yet another MRI scan (magnetic resonance imaging). I had surgery number eight on January 27th. I began speech therapy in January since insurance started paying again. I miss sleeping like a normal person. I miss being skinny. (I was a size 2 when I was married on July 7th, 2011, and I’m not that size anymore.) I hate being on so many damn medications. I loathe people’s not understanding invisible disabilities. I also have CRPS (complex regional pain syndrome) that was caused by the accident. It’s a chronic pain disease that has no cure.
12. What do you enjoy most in your post-TBI life?
I enjoy the fact that the Trauma Survivors Network Next Steps program taught me to find the positive in everything, so I do. When my legs hurt, I remind myself that I shouldn’t have any, so I thank God for letting me keep my legs! When I have my chronic headaches, I thank God for not making the swelling be so bad that I need to have surgery!
13. What do you like least about your TBI?
I don’t like that I sleep every other day sometimes. I dislike the chronic headaches and the fact that a headache is invisible. I don’t like having memory issues and being confused so often.
14. Has anything helped you to accept your TBI?
15. Has your injury affected your home life and relationships and, if so, how?
My husband gets rather upset when I forget that I’m not supposed to use a curling iron, and I fail to remember to turn it off. I no longer speak to my parents – my father makes fun of my TBI and acts like I’m making it up. (A*^#@~! ! I guess that’s what drugs do to ya.)
16. Has your social life been altered or changed and, if so, how?
I don’t really have a social life anymore. Things are so much louder now. People annoy me more. 😦 I have NO filter. I just want to be home with my husband or alone with my dogs. I haven’t watched TV since the accident.
17. Who is your main caregiver? Do you understand what it takes to be a caregiver?
My husband is my main caregiver.
18. What are your future plans? What do you expect/hope to be doing ten years from now?
I’ll be running a photography business. 🙂 And, I better be a mommy to more than just my fur babies!
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 urge people to try to make a positive out of everything. Depression is so ugly. I wish that I never hit that stage. Having a positive attitude has helped me SOOO much.
20. What advice would you offer to other TBI survivors? Do you have any other comments that you would like to add?
I give back now by volunteering at the hospital where I did my outpatient therapy. I got one of my dogs certified as a therapy dog, and we visit patients. I also visit patients in the trauma unit. My visits help others, and they also help me!
Thank you, Kristin, 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 Kristin.)
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