TBI – Survivors, Caregivers, Family, and Friends

Posts tagged ‘neuropsychologist’

Survivors SPEAK OUT! – Ali Stretmater

  SPEAK OUT! – Ali Stretmater


Donna O’Donnell Figurski

Ali Stretmater1. What is your name? (last name optional)

Ali Stretmater

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

Rockville, Maryland, USA     alicat012003@yahoo.com

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

I’ve had four TBIs: the first was at age 3; the second, at age 4; the third, at age 30; and the fourth, at age 37.

4. How did your TBI occur?

All four of my TBIs were due to blunt-force trauma. TBI #1 occurred when a friend went to hug me. I fell back against the hard wooden arm of a recliner and cracked my skull open. TBI #2 occurred when I fell from the monkey bars while playing on them. The details of TBI #3 are still sketchy to this day. Just before surgery, I fainted in the hospital from debilitating pain due to a spinal cord issue. I struck my head on the corner of a filing cabinet and then again on the floor. TBI #4 was due to an assault. I was unknowingly drugged in my own home. It’s believed that I passed out and struck my head on the bathroom sink. The details surrounding TBI #4 are still unclear. The only witness isn’t an especially reliable source, as that witness is also the assailant.

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

I was 32 years old and had sustained three TBIs by the time I was finally told I had a TBI!! My neurosurgeon and neuropsychologist were the ones who finally explained to me that I wasn’t crazy and that my behavior(s) was perfectly normal for a TBI survivor. Until then, I had no clue that I had a TBI. When I was growing up, it was common for doctors to “spare” the parents of a TBI-child by not telling them anything at all about it. I wish I knew I had a TBI when I was growing up. It could’ve saved me a lot of difficulties with school, work, life, etc.

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

For the first two TBIs, I was taken to the hospital. For TBI #3, I was already in the hospital. For TBI #4, I had no treatment for at least a week. I wasn’t able to schedule a visit with my neurologist until then. That appointment was at the insistence of another doctor whom I ran into a few days after I had TBI #4. That doctor was alarmed by my behavior. (I was in a complete blackout from TBI #4 and unaware that I’d had yet another TBI.) The doctor called my neurologist and made an appointment for me.

7. Were you in a coma? If so, how long?

Thankfully I never went into a coma from my TBIs. After TBI #3, I was in a medically induced coma for a few days. That was due to a spinal cord surgery. Because of the risk of paralysis, I had to stay completely immobilized. (The paralysis thankfully didn’t happen.)

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 physical, occupational, and speech therapies after TBI #3. I had rehab as an inpatient for a month and as an outpatient for the next 3–6 months. (It’s hard to remember exactly how long I was an outpatient.)

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

I have vertigo, depth-perception issues, impulse control issues, moodiness, word-searching issues, insomnia, severe short-term-memory issues, overstimulation, etc. TBI #4 made all the symptoms worse, and it wiped out my short-term memory as well. It’s even hard to remember all the symptoms and issues I have from the TBIs.

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

Being a 4-time survivor is my greatest blessing and also my biggest curse – all at the same time! I almost died twice. That and knowing that TBI is about “forever” really changes your perspective. Forever is a very long time!

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

That’s hard to answer. I can only vaguely recall a time when I didn’t have a TBI. I guess I miss my career. I loved my job and my colleagues. It was devastating for me when I was told that I would have to retire and that I wasn’t ever going to be medically cleared to return.

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

I appreciate being given a second chance at life and love. By rights, I’m not supposed to be alive to begin with.

13. What do you like least about your TBI?

I dislike being exhausted all the time, the insomnia, not being able to return to work, and the stigma that comes with having a TBI. I often tell people, “I have a TBI; I’m not simple. There’s a HUGE difference!!”

14. Has anything helped you to accept your TBI?

I have been helped by talking to other TBI survivors and by knowing that what we go through is normal – that I’m not alone in this.

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

Yes!! I can’t begin to explain how it’s changed everything!! Family members treat me very differently. They don’t understand, since they haven’t lived it.

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

Yes!! You name it. For a long time, I was very isolated. Old friends didn’t understand how much my world had changed. It was (still is) hard to get out sometimes because I’m always so tired. I’ve had romantic relationships break up. My current boyfriend is always harping on how it was before I had TBI #4.

17. Who is your main caregiver? Do you understand what it takes to be a caregiver?

As an adult, I’m my own caretaker. When I was a child, my main caregiver was my mother. But, she didn’t realize the lifelong impact that the first TBI had (and still has) on me.

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

Good question. I just want to live a peaceful life and help other TBI survivors when I can, especially new people. I’m in the process of realizing a lifelong dream of moving to Miami Beach, and I’m working (slowly, but that’s okay) on a new career path of fitness- and nutrition-coaching. I’d love to work with other TBI survivors, since we have a statistically higher risk of getting diseases like Alzheimer’s, etc. as a result of having a TBI. Studies seem to show that being healthy can lower this risk. I’d love to re-marry again too, but any future husband would have to understand (as best he can) that I have a TBI and that he is aware of what that entails.

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’ve had both front and back TBIs, as well as open-head and closed-head injuries. One thing I’ve learned is that, when it comes to remembering things, develop strategies to make it easier (like reminder apps on your phone or putting things like keys in the same place each time, so they’re readily visible and you’ll have a starting point to look for them when you need them).

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

YOU ARE NOT ALONE!! The biggest key – and the best therapy – is talking to other TBI survivors. Just knowing that someone else understands what it’s like without a lengthy explanation is priceless. Reach out to others, and remember that, by sharing your story, you’re also helping someone else who’s struggling.Ali


Thank you, Ali, 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 Ali.)


SPEAK OUT! Guest Blogger: Broken Brain – Brilliant Mind Change . . . for the Better

SPEAK OUT! Guest Blogger:  Broken Brain – Brilliant Mind

Change . . . for the Better


Boy Blogger thWhen it comes to TBI recovery, it’s easy to feel like things are never going to change. After I fell down a flight of stairs and hit my head in 2004, my personality changed dramatically. Before my fall, I used to be very levelheaded and thorough. I was competent to an extreme. Being a Type A overachiever was a big part of my personal identity, and any time I fell short in the know-how department, I worked my butt off to make up for it. I was very funny, once upon a time, and I was fun to work with. People sought me out and asked specifically to have me assigned to high-profile, high-stakes projects at work. I could pick up new skills with little or no problem, and I was always up for a challenge.

After my fall, I basically fell apart. I lost the ability to read things and understand them. I hardly could sleep. I was always on edge, and my hot temper flared at an instant’s notice. The worst was I lost my sense of humor. I no longer thought anything was funny. Plus, I could not learn new skills . . . at all. I could never figure out for myself where to begin new tasks, and, when others told me where to begin, I could not stick with things long enough to complete them. But I could not see that something was “up” with me. It was always someone or something else’s fault.

And I thought that nothing would ever change. So did my spouse. Both of us figured the old me was gone for good.

But it hasn’t turned out that way at all.

I somehow managed to find a neuropsychologist who is a strong believer in neuroplasticity — the idea that people’s brains change and that we can get better after TBI. My “neuropsych” is convinced that the brain can rewire itself, and so am I. In fact, I have been a believer in neuroplasticity for 30 years. Back in the early 1980s, I came across a scientific report that showed the brains of rats that had been exposed to a rich learning environment versus those that had not received any stimulation. The brains of the stimulated rats were chock-full of additional connections (their wiring). The proof was in the picture, and it was undeniable. If that happened to the brains of rats, surely it happened with humans as well!

In the last 5 years, since I started my TBI rehab, I have seen so many changes for the better. I realize now that my fall in 2004 was really the most recent of a series of mild traumatic brain injuries, which started when I was a kid. I’ve had at least 9 mild TBIs since I was about 7 years old, and there could have been more that I just can’t remember. So, I’m not just recovering from a fall in 2004. I’m recovering from a lifetime of concussions — some of them worse than others, which finally culminated in my nearly catastrophic traumatic brain injury ten years ago.

To say that I’m a different person now would be an understatement. There have been many ups and downs, and some days I still wonder who the heck I am. But in the end, things are so much better now than they were just five short years ago. TBI recovery takes years and years — and even when we reach a level of decent functioning in the outside world, our inside world can still feel like utter chaos.

My life can “feel” very chaotic, when it’s actually very calm and orderly. That’s one of the weird and frustrating things about my injury — it makes many things seem far worse than they are, and I tend to react to that impression, rather than stepping back and taking a logical look at things. It’s hard to trust my brain, when it’s constantly sending me signals that something’s wrong while everything is actually pretty awesome.

But to be honest, it’s tough to believe everything is okay when you have constant issues that never seem to go away. I get overwhelmed by back and neck pain, loud ringing in my ears, sensitivities to light and noise, and feeling like I’m always playing catch-up. My memory comes and goes; I’m tired a lot and have trouble sleeping; and my energy level is unpredictable. Some days I just need to disappear into my own world — going for long walks in the woods or walks on the country roads around my home, spending time surfing the Web, working in the yard or my workshop, or just sleeping all afternoon on the weekends.

After years of trying to fix the problems, I’ve found that a better strategy is to concentrate on creating new and better experiences that eclipse the bad ones and to get my mind off my troubles. Yes, I’m in pain. Yes, I forget things. Yes, I often feel like I’m in damage-control-mode. But when I focus my attention on the good parts of my life, the troubles fade away and become part of the scenery, instead of the defining factors of my life.

My present recovery strategy is to enjoy myself as much as humanly possible. I go out of my way to slow down and really enjoy the life around me. I want to give my brain as much good to react to, as bad. I’m an expert in identifying problems that I can fix, and it gives me a lot of pleasure to fix them. At the same time, there’s more to life than constant problems. Being able to stop and enjoy an amazing day…just breathe deeply and soak it all in…really taste the food I’m eating…feel myself getting stronger when I work out in the mornings before work…and feel my body soaking up the water I drink after my workout is done. All those things are good for my spirit AND my brain. I figure the more good things I notice and dwell on, the more “wiring” for good I’m building in my brain.

Traumatic brain injury comes with a host of predicaments and issues that you’d never expect to come up in a regular life. If I’m going to have to deal with all of that, I might as well get to enjoy myself too. There’s a ton of stuff I cannot control in my life — but my attitude and my outlook are something I can control. So, I focus my energy there.

Granted, it doesn’t always work. It takes a lot of energy, and some days I just can’t manage the whole “positive” thing. So, I cut myself a break, make myself a nice steak dinner, watch a man-against-nature television show, and call it a day.

There’s always tomorrow.Broken Brain Brilliant Mind Gravatar dc1f49ad8493ea68c0c1c5e9b24d2e69


Thank you, Broken Brain – Brilliant Mind.

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


You can read more about Broken Brain – Brilliant Mind on his blog.

(Clip Art compliments of Bing.)

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