TBI – Survivors, Caregivers, Family, and Friends

Posts tagged ‘Richard Johnson’

SPEAK OUT! . . . . . . . . . . . . . Guest Blogger: Ric Johnson

Meditation After a Brain Injury


Ric Johnson



Donna O’Donnell Figurski


Boy Blogger thI didn’t meditate before my injury, and I don’t remember what caused me to start meditation. Whatever it was, I’m glad meditation and I became friends.

Many people tend to think that meditation is a “religious” practice. Meditation is actually a broad variety of practices, and the most commonly heard practice is called “mindfulness.” Do I have to get into a yoga pose? Do I have to start saying “Om”? No, I don’t. Nobody needs to.

For me, meditation is actually the practice of focusing on the moment. After my traumatic brain injury, staying focused was (and still is) the hardest part of daily life. Meditation helps me to continue moving forward. I don’t need to clear my mind or empty my thoughts when starting a session – that seems to happen by itself. The longer meditation becomes part of your life, the easier it becomes.

I try to meditate twice a day, especially during a “hard” day. Most of the time, though, I meditate only once – other things seem to get in the way. I try to carve out 30 minutes for each session, but 15-20 minutes is pretty much the normal length I’m able to use. Not sure if 30 minutes would give me better results. Results are really based on the ability to continue to meditate.

I use the breathing-meditation method. We all breathe, so no equipment is necessary. I can do it anywhere and anytime. I only need 15-30 minutes. After waking up, the first thing I do is look at my calendar to see what the day brings. After eating breakfast, I set the kitchen alarm for 30 minutes, sit down and relax in a comfy chair, close my eyes, and listen to my breathing. My breath is the object of my attention. I begin to feel and hear my breath flowing in and out of my body. I use my normal breathing pace. Breathe in – breathe out; breathe in – breathe out; and on and on until the alarm sounds. Like everybody else in the world, I can get distracted by anything. Or, my mind just wanders off (by itself). When that happens, my breathing can bring me back to meditation. Yes, I have start all over again. But that only takes a few seconds, and I’ll be back in the groove.

My second meditation of the day is between lunch and dinner. I actually do the same routine as before, but most times there’s no alarm involved, so I just do it as long as time permits. Those two sessions really help break the day into manageable pieces. I have even meditated in my doctor’s office while waiting to be called for my appointment. I have found that playing music or a white-noise CD just distracts me, so I need to be in a quiet room.

What does meditation give me? I think awareness is the gift meditation gives me. Awareness of the present moment and awareness of my body and mind. When I began meditation, I thought I had to count my breaths to succeed, but that’s not true. Meditation really takes being aware and focusing on your breathing – focusing on feeling the air going in and out of my nose, feeling my lungs expand and contract. My mind opens up to let those feelings become positive thoughts and to block negative thoughts.

If you would like to see if meditation is your cup of tea, find a good place and a good time to give meditation a chance. There are also many websites to get more information – just Google “breathing meditation.” It is not a miracle drug – it’s a place for your mind to open and relax. Meditation hasn’t cured my brain injury, but it does make most days good days.


Ric Johnson
13+ years TBI survivor
Facilitator for the Courage Kenny Brain Injury Support Group
Member of the Speaker Bureau for the Mn. Brain Injury Alliance


Thank you, Ric Johnson


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

(Clip Art compliments of Bing.)

(Photos compliments of Ric Johnson.)

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SPEAK OUT! . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Itty-Bitty GIANT Steps

SPEAK OUT! Itty-Bitty GIANT Steps

presented by

Donna O’Donnell Figurski

Itty-Bitty GIant Steps for BlogSPEAK OUT! Itty-Bitty Giant Steps will provide a venue for brain-injury survivors and caregivers to shout out their accomplishments of the week.

If you have an Itty-Bitty Giant Step and you would like to share it, just send an email to me at neelyf@aol.com.

If you are on Facebook, you can simply send a Private Message to me. It need only be a sentence or two. I’ll gather the accomplishments and post them with your name on my blog approximately once a week. (If you do not want your last name to be posted, please tell me in your email or Private Message.)

I hope we have millions of Itty-Bitty Giant Steps.


Here is this week’s Itty-Bitty GIANT Step


Ric Johnson – Brain Injury Survivor

Richard Johnson (survivor) … With two new grandsons, my wife and I decided we needed a baby crib in our house. So, we went to a store, bought one, drove it home, and then had to put it together. It should have been easy, but not so much after a traumatic brain injury.crib

First, it was hard to focus in the store – too much noise and too many lights. Then, having short-term memory issues and only two hands, I took four hours to put it together.

YOU did it!

Congratulations to contributor!

(Clip Art compliments of Bing.)

(Photos compliments of contributors.)

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SPEAK OUT! Guest Blogger . . . Ric Johnson . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Why You Should Tell Your Brain-Injury Story

Why You Should Tell Your Brain-Injury Story


Ric Johnson



Donna O’Donnell Figurski


Boy Blogger thMarch is Brain Injury Awareness Month.  It’s said that brain injuries constitute an invisible and silent epidemic. Invisible? Yes, because most times we, “the walking wounded,” seem fine and because there isn’t a high-profile celebrity who is a spokesperson for brain injuries. Silent? Yes, again, because most of us prefer to blend in and don’t have a public forum to speak from.

Is it possible to stop having brain injuries called “silent” or “invisible”? Yes, it is. It’s all about educating the general public.

Let’s start first by explaining. What is the difference between a mild, moderate, or severe traumatic brain injury (TBI)? According to my dictionary, “traumatic” means “shocking,” “devastating,” “alarming,” “distressing,” “terrifying,” “upsetting,” “wounding,” and even more adjectives. Which seems like there is no such thing as a “mild” or “moderate” traumatic brain injury. The only apparent difference is what caused the injury. A brain injury is a different kind of injury. We didn’t break our arm; we broke our brain. We didn’t remove a cast after eight weeks and get on with life; we needed to relearn, refocus, and re-navigate into our old lives if or when possible. There isn’t a 100% healing process – any person who had a brain injury still has a brain injury and is still recovering.

Concussion seems to be a brain injury that’s mentioned everywhere these days. That’s good – people are beginning to understand concussions. But, concussions are mainly (not always) from sports (football, skating, soccer, and skiing, to name a few). I probably had two concussions after getting hit by cars. I didn’t think I had a concussion at the time, but the more I think about it now, the more I believe I had a concussion from each. I didn’t have any major problems that I can think of, but the accidents happened many years ago.

Johnson, Richard la5-seQbctqTwXPuELQm7w3ZPSPra73-BTYsV2TzFrmHjlfsj8CAdfvj1wnfejETg2tSTJ4rfqDvOL9oMI_160CYm__3H82mWGki2QEVhZYz8ZLYhqad7IsWyOqj_li8nObQrOkqqzVt95fKknyW4oNd7A0fSkhYMnExzhzeBcwPbATtvzU5LI-TdmefuMcdZc7l959--u6H5aNYtBUCZmiCBS0BWSmt

Ric Johnson – Brain Injury Survivor

Traumatic brain injuries seem to be getting more attention as well. A TBI may seem as the most serious type of brain injury, but only because of the circumstance that caused the injury (a violent blow/jolt to the head or an object penetrating the skull). Most people think TBIs come from actions like bomb blasts, combat, violent shootings, or horrible car accidents. Well, falls are main causes of TBIs – falling down stairs, falling from a ladder, falling when attempting to cross the street, etc.

My injury happened when I fell from a ladder while cleaning the gutters on my house in October 2003. I spent one month in HCMC (Hennepin County Medical Center) in a medically induced coma. I needed craniotomy surgery to relieve swelling on my brain. I had many MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and CAT (computerized tomography) scans, a feeding tube, a tracheotomy, a session in the hyperbaric chamber, etc.

After waking from my coma, I spent the next two months in two different hospitals to see what, if any, therapy would be necessary. I started with physical, occupational, and speech therapy sessions daily. In January 2004, I was released and was back at home. I wore a protective helmet until the bone flap was reinserted on my skull in February 2004. I continued with speech and occupational therapies at Courage Kenny (Center) from January to September 2004. I went back to my full-time job in October 2004.

Since then, I have become a member of the Minnesota Brain Injury Alliance Speaker Bureau, and a facilitator for the Courage Kenny Brain Injury Support Group. It looks like I recovered nicely, but looks can be deceiving. It may seem like most survivors can go back to their pre-injury occupations. In fact, most survivors cannot.Typewriter 4C

So what can survivors do? They can become advocates for all survivors. Let the public know that a brain injury is perhaps the worst injury of all. It doesn’t just happen to one person; it happens to the entire family as well. Let the public know by telling your story.


Thank you, Ric Johnson.

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

(Clip Art compliments of Bing.)

(Photos compliments of Ric Johnson)

As I say after each post: Please leave a comment by clicking the blue words “Leave a Commentanim0014-1_e0-1 below this post.

Feel free to follow my blog. Click on “Follow” on the upper right sidebar.

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

If you don’t like my blog, “Share” it (intact) with your enemies. I don’t care!

Feel free to “Like” my post.


SPEAK OUT! Faces of Brain Injury Richard Johnson

Brain Injury is NOT Discriminating


bigstock-cartoon-face-vector-people-25671746-e1348136261718It can happen to anyone, anytime, . . . and anywhere.

The Brain Trauma Foundation states that there are 5.3 million people in the United States living with some form of brain injury.

On “Faces of Brain Injury,” you will meet survivors living with brain injury. I hope that their stories will help you to understand the serious implications and complications of brain injury.

The stories on SPEAK OUT! Faces of Brain Injury are published with the permission of the survivor or designated caregiver.

If you would like your story to be published, please send a short account and two photos to me at neelyf@aol.com. I’d love to publish your story and raise awareness for Brain Injury – one view at a time.

Richard Johnson (survivor) 


Hello, I’m a TBI (traumatic brain injury) survivor. In October 2003, I was cleaning the gutters on my house. The ladder slipped, and down I went, hitting my head on a concrete slab. I was admitted to HCMC (Hennepin County Medical Center), and I spent the first month there. I was placed into a medically induced coma and had a craniotomy, one session in the hyperbaric chamber, multiple MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans and/or CAT (CT, computerized tomography) scans, and a tracheotomy. A feeding tube was inserted. And, I was given a protective helmet.

During the second month, I was sent to Bethesda Hospital to help me “wake up” from my coma. There I had cognitive and physical therapies.  For my third month, I was transferred to Regions Hospital. I continued with speech, physical, and occupational therapies on a daily basis (two sessions a day, 45 minutes each).  In January 2004, I was released from the hospital and was able to return home. In February 2004, I went back to HCMC, where they placed my bone back onto my skull (and I was able to throw away my helmet). During January through September, I had daily outpatient sessions for speech and occupational therapies. In October 2004, I was able to start working again full-time at my “pre-injury” job.

My main “post injury” side effects are aphasia and a short-term memory issue. To “heal” my ongoing aphasia, to help other survivors (and their families), and also to inform the general public about brain injuries, I am a co-facilitator for a brain injury support-group in the Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Center and a member of the Minnesota Brain Injury Alliance Speaker Bureau. To help me recover from my short-term memory issue, I bought myself a mandolin.  I didn’t just buy it to play some tunes, but to remember the notes, chords, and lyrics for those songs hour-to-hour, day-to-day, and month-to-month. To me, playing my mandolin is self-help therapy and perhaps the best idea I’ve had after my injury.

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

(Clip Art compliments of Bing.)

(Photos compliments of contributor.)

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 upper right sidebar.

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

If you don’t like my blog, “Share” it with your enemies. I don’t care!

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TBI Tales: Can Music Rewire Brain?

Playing a Mandolin


 Richard Johnson

(presented by Donna O’Donnell Figurski)


mandolin-for-gloggtserMy traumatic brain injury took place in October 2003. I did survive (fortunately), but one of the main side effects from my injury is short-term memory loss.

Years ago, I was in a local coffee shop drinking a cup of coffee and thinking – not “Why me? Why me?” but “What can I do to help my short-term memory loss?” The coffee shop had two people playing guitars. One person put down his guitar and picked up a mandolin. They then played three of my favorite songs. What they triggered was like a bolt of lightning had gone through me! I knew right away that learning how to play an instrument, how to read sheet music, and, most importantly, remembering what I just practiced would be the best memory therapy in the world.

When the musicians took a break, I asked about the mandolin. I told the mandolin-player that I had never played any instrument before. I asked if I could chord with less than four fingers (I only have about two-and-a-half usable fingers), and on and on we talked. He showed me a couple of mandolin chords and said to search on Google for two-finger mandolin chords. He told me to buy a beginner’s mandolin to start and to have fun. And that’s exactly what I did. I bought a good-enough beginner’s mandolin from a friend of a friend, found a great local music store that gives mandolin lessons, bought a couple of books and DVD’s, and started playing.

Well, it’s been a few years now, and I play at least one hour every day. It seems to take a month to learn a song. I’m taking the old “practice, practice, practice” route. I’m able to remember and play (most of) those songs without reading the sheet music. If I haven’t played one of those songs in a couple of weeks, I may need to read the sheet music to remember a measure or two.

I wake up in the morning thinking about the songs I practiced and played the day before. I think about the songs I will practice and play that day by “singing” the songs in my head (not the lyrics, but how they’re fretted and picked). When I’m playing, I’m in a whole different world, and the daily toils just slide away.  I’m sure I could refer to my playing-time as “therapy,” but, for me, it’s pure bliss.

In short, playing a musical instrument is one of the main keys I have gained for rewiring my brain. I truly think that beginning and learning a new hobby or new skill is very important, as it makes us think, think, and think. I also believe that playing music, any type of music, all the time helps my brain find those broken nodes and, with its neuroplasticity, “fixes” them. And most importantly, my short-term memory problem is less and less pronounced. Sure, I can still forget what I had for lunch an hour after eating it, but I can bring that memory back a few seconds later. I can still forget who called me earlier today or why, but again it’s easier to make that connection again.

I would like to continue talking, but my mandolin is calling me.

(Richard Johnson’s experience is an excellent example of something I thought might be true – using the playing of a musical instrument to stimulate the brain and thereby help heal an injured brain.)


RJohnson-PortraitThank you, Richard, for sharing your story in TBI Tales. I hope that your experience will offer inspiration to my readers.

(Disclaimer: The views or opinions in this post are solely that of the author.)


If you have a story to share and would like to be a part of the SPEAK OUT! project, please submit your TBI Tale to me at donnaodonnellfigurski@gmail.com. I will publish as many stories as I can.

(Pictures compliments of Richard.)

(Clip Art compliments of Bing.)


As I say after each post:

Please leave a comment by clicking the blue words “Leave a Comment” below this post.anim0014-1_e0-1

Please follow my blog. Click on “Follow” on the lower right corner of your screen. (It’s nice to know there are readers out there.)

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

If you don’t like my blog, “Share” it with your enemies. I don’t care!

Feel free to “Like” my post.


Survivors SPEAK OUT! Richard Johnson

SPEAK OUT! – Richard Johnson


Donna O’Donnell Figurski


RJohnson-Portrait1. What is your name? (last name optional)

Richard Johnson

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

Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA

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

My TBI happened October 2003. I was 53 years old.

 4. How did your TBI occur?

While cleaning the gutters on my house, I took a step from the roof onto the ladder. The ladder slipped, and down I went – hitting my head on the cement slab in my driveway.

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

 My daughter – 13 years old – saw me fall and ran over. When she saw that I was unconscious and bleeding, she called 9-1-1.

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

I was admitted into Hennepin County Medical Center (Minneapolis) in the Brain Injury ICU. I was placed into a medically induced coma. I had a craniotomy and a tracheotomy. A feeding tube was put in, and a cast was put on my left arm, as I broke my wrist in the fall.

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

Yes, a medically induced coma for 3½ weeks.

8. Did you do rehab? What kind of rehab (i.e., Inpatient or Outpatient and Occupational, Physical, Speech, Other)?

After being weaned from my coma, I was fitted with a protective helmet and transferred from HCMC into Bethesda Hospital in St. Paul for my second post-injury month. I began with inpatient cognitive, physical, speech, and occupational therapies. The trach was removed, but not the feeding tube. After Bethesda, I was transferred to Regions Hospital (St. Paul) for my third post-injury month. In Regions Hospital, I continued with inpatient physical, speech, and occupation therapies. The feeding tube and cast were removed. In January 2004, I was released from the hospital, and I went back home. I then began speech and occupational therapies as an outpatient at Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute (Golden Valley) until October 2004.

How long were you in rehab?

I had rehab a full year from the date of injury until I was able go back to my “pre-injury” job.

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

Aphasia is my main problem. Talking is an ongoing issue, and, in my humble opinion, that issue will never go away. Most of the time it’s not a problem, but my aphasia comes and goes. Background noises are problematic – another side effect. It’s really hard (if not impossible) to filter out background noises, especially in “loud” or “busy” situations. I also have minor balance problems, so I’m very careful when walking.

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

My “new” life is just slower than it was before. It’s not worse – only different. I look carefully at everything that I am going to do. I question if I will need help, and, if so, I make sure to ask for help. Fatigue is a problem. I get tired more easily.

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

I am unable to ride my bike anymore. I don’t think I have the balance to do it, and I refuse to find out. One brain injury is enough for me.

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

I enjoy being a co-facilitator for the Brain Injury Support Group at the rehab institute that I used during my outpatient therapy. I also became a member of the Minnesota Brain Injury Alliance Speaker Bureau.

13. What do you like least about your TBI?

I cannot multitask. It’s way too hard to be focused on the task at hand.

14. Has anything helped you to accept your TBI?

My family has helped me more than anything else. They understand me.

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

Home life – Not much is different, except I need more help to finish tasks/projects.

Relationships – Old friends are harder to find or meet up with, but I think a lot of that is because their lives haven’t changed.

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

With aphasia, I do not often go to parties or events, especially if they’re loud. It can be almost impossible to filter out background noises, unless I’m with people who understand my limits.

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

My wife is my main caregiver. I remember what my injury did to my wife and kids. So I just try to make sure their lives are getting better as well.

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

My future plan is to retire in 6 years. In 10 years, I hope that my recovery is still going well.

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 wish I had known about support groups. Not just for me, but for my family as well. It would have given them (and me) a better understanding of the recovery process. TBI affects the entire family, and a local support group lets us know we are not alone.

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

Don’t look for a book to tell you what to expect. There is no such thing. You can Google all day long, but there is no easy answer for a traumatic brain injury. But Google will help you find online support groups, where you can post questions or vent issues that you’re fighting with.


Thank you, Richard, 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.)

(Photos compliments of Richard.)

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.

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