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Past Blast: Survivors SPEAK OUT! George Visger (former NFL player)

SPEAK OUT! George Visger (former player for the San Francisco 49ers)

Survivors SPEAK OUT! George Visger

(former NFL San Francisco 49ers player)

(originally published July 7, 2014)

presented by

Donna O’Donnell Figurski

 

 

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

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

George Visger

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

Cypress, California, USA     visgergeorge@gmail.com

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

I was first injured – had surgery – at age 22 during the 1981 Super Bowl season with the San Francisco 49ers.

4. How did your TBI occur?

I had a number of concussions throughout my 12 years of playing organized football. My first serious concussion occurred at age 13, during my third year of Pop Warner. I was hospitalized on that one. My final, and most severe, concussion occurred in 1980 against the Dallas Cowboys. I suffered a major TBI in the first quarter, yet I never missed a play by the use of over 20 smelling salts during the game (or so I was told later in the week when my memory returned). I also never missed a practice. Several months later, early in the ‘81 season, I developed hydrocephalus (water on the brain) and underwent emergency VP (ventriculoperitoneal) shunt brain surgery at Stanford. I have since survived nine emergency VP shunt brain surgeries, including five in a nine-month period in ‘86-‘87 while completing my Biology degree. I have also had several gran mal seizures, and I have been on anti-seizure meds for over 30 years.

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

I realized I had a problem during the ‘81 season. I developed major headaches and projectile vomiting. I saw balls of light in front of each eye each night. The team doctors diagnosed me with high blood pressure and prescribed diuretics for over two weeks, until I suffered focal point paralysis of my right arm. The team doc diagnosed me in the locker room with a brain hemorrhage. I drove myself to the hospital, where I underwent emergency VP shunt brain surgery.

6. What kind of emergency treatment, if any, did you have (e.g., surgery,

tracheotomy, G-peg)?

I have had nine emergency VP shunt brain surgeries since then. They drilled a hole in my skull and installed a permanent drain tube, which runs to a pressure valve in the back of my head. They plumbed that to drain into my abdomen. I am also on Lamictil for seizures.

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

Nine months after my first shunt surgery, the shunt failed while I was fishing in Mexico with my brother. It took him a day to get me home, and I was in a coma from the pressure on my brain. I had two more brain surgeries ten hours apart and was given last rites. I was 23 at the time.

8. Did you do rehab? What kind of rehab (i.e., In-patient or Out-patient and Occupational, Physical, Speech, Other)?

I was never offered rehab. In fact, I was forced to sue the 49ers for Work Compensation just to get my second and third brain surgeries paid for. Until now, it was brain surgery, out the door, and “See you next shunt failure.” I did use Vocational Rehabilitation Services when I returned to school in ‘86 to complete my Biology degree. But, I was on my own to rehab after each of the five brain surgeries that I had while finishing my degree. I discovered B.R.A.I.N. (Brain Rehabilitation And Injury Network) founded by Sue Rueb in Cypress, CA, last year while speaking at a TBI conference. I literally moved there last August to get daily treatments – first treatments I have ever had. I do neurocognitive therapy and Yoga therapy, and I counsel other TBI survivors, which helps me as well.

How long were you in rehab?

I’ve been rehabbing since August 2013.

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

I have gran mal seizures, MAJOR short-term memory issues, poor judgment, anger-management issues, loss of direction, poor concentration, problems getting my words out or thinking of the right word, numbness in extremities, constant headaches, vision problems when my shunt goes out, diminished hearing, personality changes, problems handling finances, and brain seizures from alcohol, to name a few.

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

I completed a Biology degree in 1990 at age 32 after eight brain surgeries, and I followed my second dream to be a wildlife biologist. I have never let my injury define me, and I thank God for it. I wouldn’t be where I am now had I not been injured. But recently, things have begun to spiral out of control. I lost my environmental consulting business (Visger & Associates, Inc.) in 2009, and I lost our house in 2011. My wife of nearly 19 years, and the mother of my children, and I are going through a divorce. It’s been too much for her.

Visger, George  2008-06-15 21.03.51

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

I miss my family. I miss being The Giant – the guy who “could do anything,” as my wife used to say. I miss being able to remember things. I literally do not remember numerous out-of-state bow-hunts, months of my life, kids’ activities, etc.

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

I enjoy being able to use my injuries to help others. I feel it is my God given mission in life now.

13. What do you like least about your TBI?

Loss of my marriage

14. Has anything helped you to accept your TBI?

I’ve been helped by my belief that God has a plan for me and that “something good comes out of everything.”

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

It has destroyed my marriage, and I lost my ability to provide for my family.

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

Social activities were impacted, as I liked to drink back in the day. Now the only impact is that I will forget to attend a social outing. I have never been embarrassed about my injuries. I’m just as goofy now as I was before my injury.

17. Who is your main caregiver?

I was single until my late 30’s, and I have been my main caregiver ever since. My mom stepped in for a few days during surgeries, and my older brother, whom I worked with, kept an eye on me. My wife has done what she could over the years, but she has never been through a surgery with me.

Do you understand what it takes to be a caregiver?

I understand better than most what it takes to be a caregiver. I also understand what caregivers go through. I call it the “Ripple Effect.” My family members and caregivers have taken a worse beating from my TBI than I have. It is much harder on our loved ones than it is on ourselves.

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

I founded The Visger Group – Traumatic Brain Injury Consulting in 2010, and I have spoken all over the country. I coordinate directly with the NFL on rule changes to reduce TBIs in football at all levels. I have spoken at congressional hearings, conduct motivational talks at schools and businesses, and currently am working with our veterans suffering from TBI. I am also suffering from frontal lobe dementia, and I hope to kick a few butts and rattle a few cages while I can, in hopes of changing the way the medical field treats TBI survivors and families. In ten years, I expect to be working with government agencies, our military, academics, and sports leagues. I plan to be leading and speaking at TBI-recovery groups.

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.

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

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

In football, there is a saying: “Short, Choppy Steps.” If you over-stride, it’s easy for someone to knock you on your butt. You want to keep your butt down, your head up, and take short, powerful 12-inch strides. Forget about breaking long touchdown runs. Get the little things done each day, and you will reach your goals. If a football team only got four yards each play – no more, no less – they would never lose a game. Think about it. They would get a first down every three plays, and they would score every time they had the ball. Life is no different. You need long-term goals for sure: score a touchdown, win the game, win the Super Bowl. But, you will NEVER get there if you don’t get your four yards a carry. We sell wrist bands on our website (www.thevisgergroup) that say “Short, Choppy Steps” and another one we give to coaches and players that says “Use your head, DON’T use your head.” Focus on small daily victories, and you’ll win the game.

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

Keep in mind everyone has a cross to bear. Carry your cross; don’t let it carry you. All of us TBI survivors have a lot to give to everyone. Turn your negative into a positive and touch people’s lives. Focus on your positives. Work hard, and put it in God’s hands. It will all work out.

That’s all anyone can do.

You can learn more about George Visger on his blog and these YouTube videos.

George Visger Blog – Life Before and After Football

George Visger talks about his life in these videos:

The Damage Done — George Visger’s Concussions

Battle Scars: Stagg High Alum, Former 49er Fights on Despite Brain Injuries

George Visger addresses specific topics in these very short videos:

Visger-275x300

Do Helmets Give Football Players a False Sense of Safety?

Would This Retired NFL Player Do It Again?

Thank you, George, 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.)

(Photo compliments of George.)

If you would like to be a part of this project, please go to TBI Survivor Interview Questionnaire for a copy of the questions and the release form.

 

(Clip Art compliments of Bing.)

(Photos compliments of contributor.)

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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:

“TRY GOD.”

“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.

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

 

 

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