Raising brain injury awareness through personal stories of courage and resilience
This project has become a reality thanks to funding provided by the Colorado TBI Trust Fund, which is administered by MINDSOURCE Brain Injury Network in the Colorado Department of Human Services. Thank you!
The need for improved brain injury awareness and education has become increasingly evident over many years of working with adults and young adults with traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) and acquired brain injuries (ABIs). Here in the Center for Community Partnerships at Colorado State University, many program participants have shared their experiences of living with a brain injury. Nearly all have confirmed the need for more information about the lived experience of TBI and how to adjust to the challenging changes that can result.
Reviewing their statements, some common themes emerged. Most prominent was the lack of information related to:
The Hope Speaks project strives to bring Hope to people with brain injuries and their loved ones, challenging people to learn about their condition while helping to build a more supportive and educated community where the needs and gaps will be few, and services, knowledge, inspiration and HOPE will be limitless!
Through the voices of these individuals living with TBI, readers will gain insight into the trials and triumphs of these very personal journeys. Personal successes and challenges are illustrated through quotes and video clips obtained through interviews and student filming. While their injuries and stories are unique, they unite in their mission:
These are courageous, honest and generous individuals. Please read on to discover helpful and HOPEFUL information!
These three individuals have been participants in the Opportunities for Post-Secondary Success (OPS) program, offered through the Center for Community Partnerships (CCP) at Colorado State University (CSU). Lauren and Brandon have also served as mentors in the program, assisting other students with traumatic and other types of acquired brain injuries.
Lauren is a graduate of Colorado State University with a degree in biomedical sciences, and is co-founder of the CSU Brain Injury Community (CBIC) student organization. Lauren is a friendly, caring, confident, animal-loving person and has had four brain injuries.
Her first TBI was the result of a horseback riding accident on her family ranch when she was 14 years old. She was unconscious for about an hour, then stumbled over three fences and a cattle guard to reach a neighbor’s house, as her family was not home. There, she collapsed before being taken to the hospital and diagnosed with a concussion. “I don’t really remember the rest of that summer” she says. “And then I went through the rest of high school not knowing what I know now: things had CHANGED!”
Lauren’s second TBI occurred during her freshman year of college when she experienced severe whiplash in a car accident. Although she had no direct head contact, she suffered extreme fatigue, headaches, memory loss, and severe stomach issues. She also struggled in class, particularly with reading comprehension. She was later diagnosed with post-concussive syndrome (PCS).
Her third TBI was sustained from a bike accident after hitting a patch of ice. The helmet she was wearing cracked upon impact. “I mainly had problems with attention, anxiety and depression, so there were a lot more emotional issues with this brain injury.” Her vestibular-ocular reflex was impaired to the point where she could barely turn her head, so she struggled with everyday tasks and could not drive for some time. A few months later, she had another bike accident, and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). “If I was in a situation that triggered memories of my bike accident, or if I was in a big crowd, I would re-experience the trauma.”
Most recently, in August 2016, she experienced a concussion while walking in a ditch with some jostling of her head. She noticed a relapse of some previous issues like reading comprehension challenges and memory loss, fatigue and headaches. She missed a few weeks of work because of these symptoms.
Lauren is a strong self-advocate who recognizes how to balance her needs with her long and short-term goals, thus maximizing life satisfaction. She is passionate about brain injury education and passing on valuable life lessons to youth and young adults.
Brandon is a senior at Colorado State University studying Applied Computing Technology. He is also co-founder of the CSU Brain Injury Community (CBIC) student organization. Brandon is a hard-working, dedicated, sports-loving person.
Brandon remembers his first TBI at age 12 while playing in a baseball tournament. “I jumped to catch a ball on first base and the runner ran under my legs and tipped me back, and my head hit the ground. I lost all of my peripheral vision, but no one really thought anything of it!”
A survivor of second impact syndrome (SIS), Brandon recalls the moment of injury during a football game: “I dove to tackle somebody and I hit the ground. My helmet came off and the runner fell back and landed on the back of my head. At first, I had no symptoms, but later that same game I went to tackle someone and they tripped and landed on the crown of my head. I still hardly had any symptoms, and never left the game. I drove home that night just fine. But the following morning I started experiencing problems with cognition, walking and some speech issues.” That day, Brandon went to the doctor and was told he’d be better in a week. However, over the next few months there was little improvement.
Brandon has a calm demeanor and benefits from accepting and learning from his deficits while accentuating his strengths. He is passionate about brain injury education and creative problem solving.
Brett is a senior at Colorado State University studying Agricultural Business, and serves as treasurer of the CSU Brain Injury Community (CBIC) student organization. He is an optimistic and forward-thinking person who enjoys woodworking and being outdoors.
Brett’s first “significant” TBI occurred in 2011. He had been drinking, when he passed out and hit his head. “I was out of work and emotionally and physically unable to perform my daily duties for about a week. I didn’t recognize that things like depression and anxiety were part of the TBI. And so those things started to get worse and worse.”
In 2016, Brett had a devastating and nearly life-ending motorcycle accident. “Again, I was drinking. I was driving without a helmet and I crashed my motorcycle and hit my head on the curb going about 35 mph. I was dead on the scene, but was revived.” He was kept in a coma for nearly 10 days until he stabilized, after which he received approximately two months of in-patient rehabilitation.
Brett has an amazing ability to overcome adversity and put things into a positive perspective! He is passionate about life and sharing with others.
Please read on for more about Lauren, Brandon and Brett as they share their post-injury journeys and related insights, tips and strategies they learned along the way. They offer rays of hope that shed light on what it is really like to live with a brain injury and how to move from coping with the complexities that follow traumatic brain injury to renewed purpose and life satisfaction.
"An Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) is any type of damage to the brain acquired after birth and which is not hereditary, congenital, or degenerative. Causes of ABI include external forces applied to the head and or neck (traumatic brain injury), and non-traumatic brain injury including anoxic/hypoxic injury (cardiac arrest, carbon monoxide poisoning, airway obstruction, hemorrhage, drowning), intracranial surgery, infectious diseases, seizure disorders, toxic exposure (substance abuse, ingestion of lead, inhalation of volatile agents), aneurysms, and vascular obstruction (stroke)."4
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) can also occur by a hit to the body where the head and brain move rapidly back and forth or side to side within the skull, such as with whiplash or shaken baby syndrome. Symptoms of a TBI are classified as mild, moderate, or severe.
Concussion is considered a mild TBI (mTBI), but the effects can be serious and prolonged. Signs and symptoms of a concussion may be subtle. In many cases, loss of consciousness does NOT occur, though there may be alterations in consciousness such as feeling dazed or disoriented, or having “foggy” thinking.
The brain is very complex and no two brain injuries or recoveries are the same. The consequences of brain injury can be extensive and may be short or long term, affecting all aspects of a person’s life while also impacting the lives of family members, friends and colleagues. Changes after a brain injury may cause difficulties with school, employment, relationships, independent living, self-esteem, management of finances, driving, and general participation in daily activities.
Brain injury frequently is referred to as an invisible injury because symptoms are not always apparent to others. In addition, a disconnect may exist between the injury and how it relates to post-injury changes that are experienced. These may intensify feelings of social isolation, not being understood, and difficulty coping with these newly acquired challenges.
It is important to know that help is out there and there is a growing community of individuals willing and able to assist. However, the need for improved systems of support for individuals with brain injuries, their families and communities alike cannot be overstated. Advancements in research, as well as, increased education and brain injury awareness are essential for improving long-term prognosis and quality of life outcomes!