DuWayne’s Story

DuWayne’s Journey

It was a day like any other day, and, like every other one, I got ready for work and headed out the door.  I climbed on my motorcycle, as usual, and drove to work, circling around the tight, hairpin turn in front of the emergency room at Saint Benedict’s Hospital where I worked as a counselor. I had arrived 15 minutes early and parked in my usual space in front of the admissions door – nothing new there.  The day was as mundane as expected.   The psych ward where I worked was filled with patients, half of them teens and young people.  I went to my shift change, learned the medical history on my patients then began to gather the supplies necessary for my group session.

One by one, my patients filed in to attend my group session.  I handed out supplies and we went to work, discussing the problems surrounding what caused them to enter the hospital in the first place. This routine had been repeated daily for eight years and every day had been identical – arriving to work at 3:00 in the afternoon and working until 11:00 at night.

This night, though, it was 11:00 p.m. and my shift relief failed to show up.  I was required by my employer and the law to stay on the job for the second shift, so that is what I did.  While I thought the first shift was long, the second shift felt longer, and, by lunch time, I really needed to get off the hospital grounds. I clocked out and drove down the road to McDonald’s to pick up a hot lunch.  My lunch needed to stay hot on the short ride back to work, so, I took off my helmet and placed the paper bag inside it.  I wish I had given my head as much consideration as my lunch; I was now driving down the road, helmetless.

As I rounded that familiar hairpin turn by the hospital’s emergency room entrance, a car pulled out right in front of me causing me to lie my motorcycle down.  The bike pinned my right leg under it then dragged me 100 feet down the road.  Without a helmet on, my head bounced just like a super ball between my shoulders and the ground. I acquired a massive amount of “road rash” on my right side.  My chaps and uniform became shredded from the grinding of the motorcycle scraping across the road.  I received a severe traumatic brain injury, had a compound fracture of my right collarbone, and shattered my right elbow.  I crushed my right cheek and almost ripped off my right ear.  I broke my right leg and my right eye was hanging out of the socket.  To control brain swelling, the doctors introduced a shunt and placed me into a prolonged coma.  My Big Mac sandwich did much better than I did.

While I was in my coma, I did not know that I was injured.  I imagined myself on a mountaintop overlooking the city that I lived in.  I kept thinking to myself, when are they going to start the fireworks?  I believed I was only in the mountains to observe the fireworks from up above for a better view of the show, instead of from down below.  The fireworks finally went off.  The next thing I knew, I was looking through hospital bed bars.  I had no idea where I was, how I got there, or when I got there.  The last thing I remembered was being in the mountains watching the fireworks go off with friends.

I was in my coma for 25 days. On the 24th day, the doctors began preparations to remove me from the life support equipment.  I wouldn’t live long.  My parents, not wanting my daughter to see me dead, had made arrangements to bring her into my hospital room to view my body before they disconnected me.  My daughter had not seen me in nine years. The doctors, nurses, my parents, and several friends watched passively as my daughter, who was 10 at the time, walked over to me and asked, “Daddy, do you want a cup of coffee?  To everyone’s amazement, I started to laugh.  I had inexplicably come out of my coma.  The doctors immediately started back peddling.  Nobody could explain how it was that I didn’t die, or how a simple question from a little girl had turned things around so abruptly. That whole experience lasted three weeks then my rehabilitation began.

The documentation on head injury is incomplete at best.  Rehabilitation therapists follow a standardized guideline on how to treat a head injury, but every article I have ever read states that all head injuries are unique from one another.  So, it stands to figure that the standardized approach did not work well for me.  The doctors did not like the fact that I was questioning my treatment.  I was transferred to three different rehabilitation hospitals over a period of five years while I relearned how to walk, talk, interact with other people, eat, cook for myself, shower, use the toilet, wash my clothes, add, subtract, and even how to use a phone.  I had to relearn all of my relationships, even my own family.

Ten years into my disability, because of my coordination problems, I slipped and fell in my own home.  I broke my neck.  It was a miracle I did not paralyze myself from the neck down.  Because I was brain injured, nobody believed that I was badly hurt.  They thought I was exaggerating my symptoms. My x-rays were not interpreted by a radiologist at first.  Instead, the emergency room staff sent me home with instructions to be careful.  The first thing the next morning, the hospital called and informed me that my neck was in fact broken.  They wanted me to return for surgery.  I was operated on for a permanent fusion of my t-1 and t-2 vertebrae.

Eighteen years into my disability, I received a second head injury.  It occurred while I was just walking across the road!  A truck driver hit me in the crosswalk and that injury gave me new neural deficits and PTSD.  At this point, I am rated by social security as 105% disabled.  Now I am totally disabled only because I walked across the street!

I am now 23 years post injury.  I have learned so much that I cannot even begin to describe what my journey has been like.  We, as survivors, need to negotiate trials that the average person may find overwhelming.  Little things, like deciding what to wear or what to eat, and even just talking to people, can be a challenge.  It sometimes feels like my own body is the enemy.  People misunderstand me all the time.  I am a loner, but not by choice.  It hurts me inside to be alone.  Being alone isn’t healthy, yet, many survivors of TBI are alone.  Relationships are hard for survivors, with many marriages ending in divorce.  As the saying goes, you don’t know what it is like until you walk a mile in another man’s shoes.

Regardless of the challenges I face every day, my favorite quotes are, “You are only as old as you feel”, “You only live once”, and “You won’t know unless you try”.  Never give up on yourself.  For if you don’t believe in yourself who will?  Time is the answer and patience is essential for a successful recovery.  There is no known correct prognosis or treatment.  It all varies and changes daily.  Take charge of your own recovery and ask that your treatment program be designed around what you think you need the most.  You will see dramatic changes if you hang in there and never give up.

DuWayne photo 2I wish you all the best,  DuWayne

Written by DuWayne H


Andy’s Story

You can also read Andy’s Story on Brainline:  http://www.brainline.org/content/2012/06/andys-story.html

It was well before dawn on a typically hot and steamy June night in New York City when my life changed in ways I could never have imagined.  Most people sleep through the ungodly hours between midnight and morning, safely locked in their homes and oblivious to the underworld that exists outside their windows.  For me, though, this was the time of night when I did my best undercover work. Yes, I knew my job was dangerous, which is why I endured weeks of intense training, learning all I could about how to keep myself alive.  But all the training in the world didn’t prepare me for the dire situation that awaited me on that fateful night in 2001.  Twelve years later, I am still baffled how a single event can spin a person’s life so profoundly out of control.  It is hard to understand, and even harder to explain, but my hope is that by sharing my story with you, I can pull together a few more fragmented pieces of what has become the puzzle of my current day existence.

People often ask me, “Have you seen the HBO show The Wire, Andy?”  Then they talk about the characters, the details of last week’s show, the difference between real narcotics undercover work and the fiction they see on TV.   Television characters engulfed in a world of greedy violence, undercovers trying to break up the scummy underbelly of a city gone awry…. “Is that what your job was really like?” friends ask.  I stare at them with a blank look on my face while I try to go about the impossible task of recalling what last week’s episode was about.  I’m sure I saw it and I probably liked it – I am guessing anyway.  But, no matter how hard I wrack my brain, I just can’t remember.  See, I can only retain memories for about 5 days before they drift away, lost in a fog of jumbled, irretrievable events that I somehow participated in – if only I could remember how.  I mumble something unintelligible back at them then change the subject fast. I want to talk about now, about today, before this day’s memories disappear along with the rest of them – into the vast sea of thoughts and impressions that I can no longer discern.

Yes, I have a pretty severe case of memory loss.  For reasons no one can explain, my brain’s electrical system is no longer able to imprint permanent memories.   It sounds like the work of science fiction – the fact that all of our memories, our joys, our sorrows, are nothing more than a fleeting bit of electrical impulses.  But that’s the way it is. Fortunately for me, my memories of the past are still intact, so I am able to tell you my story without relying too much on input from others. So, here’s what happened:

There were about 35,000 police officers in the NYPD when I started working as a patrolman. I remember patrolling the streets of Bronx, breaking up domestic incidents and chasing down petty thieves.  I just assumed it would be my life for a very long time, but, when my friend, Pete, asked me, “Andy, do you want to try something new?”  I responded, “Hell, yeah!”  Back then, I loved a new adventure.  A career with the elite undercover NYPD narcotics force would suit me just fine.

Undercover was totally different from anything I’d ever done before. I spent months in training before I could even begin, learning how to be less like me and more like the people I usually arrested. I was taught how to walk and talk in ways that didn’t give away that I was a cop. Ironically, I was even taught how to forget my name so I didn’t startle and fall out of character if someone recognized me on the street. It wasn’t easy – forgetting who I was and becoming completely immersed in a different identity, a character I would portray for weeks, if not months at a time.   I had to learn how to live two different lives, how to be unrecognizable, even to myself.  Little did I know that this new skill would save my sanity all these years later.  For then, though, I was just having a really good time.

Much to my amazement, I was a pretty good performer.  I remember working Harlem and Washington Heights, not an easy place for a 6’1” white guy to work undercover – but I pulled it off. Through the years, I created many different personalities.  I was a homeless guy, a mechanic and a junkie to name a few.  When I worked lower Manhattan, my job was to create the persona of a drug addict who hung out at after hour clubs.  I grew my hair long, dyed it black, and became a greasy and disheveled street level guy named Mike.  I wore black everything – pants, jacket, t-shirt and shoes.  I changed my voice and my gate and even my attitude.

I must have been pretty convincing, because one time, when I was jogging near my house, trying to lose weight so I could look more like a junkie, a man from the neighborhood drove by in a car with his wife.  I saw him look at me with disgust as I ran past him, my waist long hair dripping down my back, my beard unshaven and unshaped. He turned to his wife and just shook his head.  A few months later, I was in a meeting at work, when in walked that same guy from the car.  We stared at each other for a minute then broke out laughing.  He was a fellow undercover.  Neither of us knew what the other one did for a living.  He said when he saw me jogging that day all he could think was, “What the hell has happened to my neighborhood?”  We became great friends and co-workers from that day forward.

Being an undercover was a lot like being an actor, but with higher stakes. I knew I had to put on a great performance every day.  Bad acting might get someone bad reviews.  But a bad undercover performance would definitely get me killed.  Yeah, it was dangerous, but I loved every minute of my job.  It fit me well.

The downside of the job was my home life.  I would disappear, sometimes in the middle of the night, not able to tell my family where I was going or when I would return.  I’d be gone for days at a time, leaving my wife with the task of managing the entire household alone.   She was raising our two small children single-handedly.   She didn’t like my job – the erratic schedule, the difficulty arranging childcare, the fearful and sleepless nights. But she knew I loved it, so she hung in there for my sake, doing what she needed to do, doing her part to get along.

That night in June wasn’t dramatically different from any other. I was doing the clubs with my partner, a female master of disguise who could effortlessly transform her naturally sweet self into a loud, crass, tough girl junkie with the change of a hair-do and a skirt.  We were sitting in our little red Honda, parked in lower Manhattan, the last in a line-up of parked cars strung along the dark side of Broadway, waiting for the right time to go into a certain club.  Like most nights, our job was to open a case for drugs and weapons.  We both had our guns ready if something went terribly wrong.  This was typical of the job.  Everyone carried a gun, be it cop, drug dealer, or club owner – there were always guns involved when buying drugs.  Most nights, I tried not to think about it because, if I did, it would be too much to handle.  On this night, though, I was thinking more about the perfect hamburger I had just eaten from my favorite late night diner.  I fiddled with the car’s radio, but it didn’t work.  To kill time, my partner and I reclined our front seats toward the back and started telling knock knock jokes.

And that’s it.  A hamburger, a broken car radio, a knock knock joke. Those are the last things I remember before my life flipped upside down.

I was told that a car flew around the corner at a high-speed and hit us, the driver claiming he lost his breaks.  When the ambulance came, the EMT’s strapped me to a board then brought me to the hospital, afraid that I broke my back. My wife was called by my great friend, co-worker, and neighbor – the one I told you about earlier.  He was a saving grace for my wife and myself in the early days after my accident, and without him and his family, I’m not sure we could have held up through all that was to follow.

X-rays showed I didn’t break my back, and I walked out of the hospital that day, a bit dazed and asking the same questions over and over. By Sunday, my wife said I was acting dopey.  By Monday it hit me hard – I couldn’t remember anything at all.  By the end of the week, my wife said I had developed a stutter so bad that I couldn’t communicate with anyone. I cried a lot, had vestibular issues and balance problems.  The force’s doctor said I had post-concussion syndrome and recommended I see a neurologist.  I went to therapies 2 days a week and hoped it would all blow over soon.

Recovery was slow, but it was coming along, until weeks later, I was driving home from the store with my wife when my head felt strange and large, like it was too big for itself.  I pulled into the driveway, got out, and fell, face first, on the ground.  I tried to stand up, but I couldn’t stop from shaking all over.  Soon, I couldn’t walk, and for the next six months to follow, I lived out my days in a wheelchair.  I spent a month in a rehab hospital, but no one could figure out what was wrong with me.  “Just one of those weird neurological anomalies”, the doctors would say.  One sent me to a psychiatrist who decided I had conversion disorder, all because he couldn’t find an answer that fit into his narrow little diagnostic framework. I tried hypnotherapy, physical therapy, psychotherapy – you name it, I tried it.  I did learn to walk again, but shortly after I got out of my wheelchair my left hand closed up.  It hasn’t been the same since. What caused all this?  No one knows to this day.  I have no choice but to add this experience to the list of bizarre TBI things that have happened to me (and other people, I’m sure) without reason.  Post-concussion syndrome… a strange thing that does the unthinkable, making you feel like you’ve lost your mind, your sanity, and, worst of all, the life that you once took for granted.

As you can tell by my story, I never did regain my memory. I will be disabled for the rest of my life, but learning to adapt to the changes, learning to take life a day at a time, has saved me from the grips of depression.  For all the therapies, doctors, and treatments that I went through, there is one piece of advice that stands out in my mind.  My wife once said to me, “When you go to the top of the mountain and meet the guru who is going to tell you the secret to life, he is probably going to say, ‘Andy, don’t let things bother you so much”.  There is a lot of truth in that statement, and now, all these years later, I try to live by those words to the highest degree that I can.

My wife says I am quirky now, since the injury.  For example, clutter makes me edgy and I feel the constant need to clean. I keep post-it notes everywhere so I can remember what to do next.  I keep a journal that I read when I feel like I need a reminder that last week really did happen, a way to keep up with the memories I can no longer hold onto.

I think it was quite an adjustment for my wife to have me home constantly after being away for days at a stretch, but we’ve worked out a system and we’re happy.  My family is my driving force now, and I am proud to say that, for once, I am part of it.  My kids, their sports games, their homework, the grocery shopping – I can finally give my wife some relief from all the daily chores that she carried alone for so many years.  I am extremely grateful for the family time that most people are cheated out of.  My kids are my rock, my reason to get up in the morning.  I have a great set of friends, too – all my buddies from high school.  When the chips were down, they were there for me.  We get together every Thursday night and we go fishing on the weekends when we can.  They are my extended family now.

I wish I could say that everyone stuck it out with us through all the crazy hard times.  Unfortunately and to our surprise, many people weren’t there when we needed the help the most.  I’m not bitter for myself, but my wife really needed them and they didn’t come through. On the other hand, though, there were the others who deserve to be praised, even knighted. My wife’s sister went so far as to buy the house next door so she could be there for us, which brings me to another great lesson that I’ve learned because of my ordeal. Hang on to those people who come through for you, and hang on to them tight.  They are your true friends, the ones whose love is unconditional, and the ones who give you a place to plant your heart.  For the others?  Well, it is a shocking thing, realizing that people you counted on may not hold you in as high of regard as you once held them.  It hurts all over at first.  Just realize they are who they are.  Some people just can’t handle the changes they see.  They are easily frightened, controlled by their own fears and issues, caught up in their own existence.  This is not where you need to be after a brain injury!  You need the strength of those who keep a positive attitude, who love you regardless of the fact that you may not be the exact person they remember.  You can’t take it personally.  It is their baggage, not yours.  Just let it go.

Sadly, I lost my close friend, the neighbor and colleague that I told you about earlier on in my story.  He was electrocuted while helping another neighbor pump out his basement after a flood.  I’m not surprised that he died while helping a neighbor. That is exactly who he was.  He was truly someone whose life had purpose, a man who many others, not just I, felt they could hang onto.  I will miss my great friend.  So, what is my lesson here?  To be more like him.  It is as simple as that. I keep his prayer card hanging in my armoire so I can see it when I get dressed in the morning.  It is a something I have to do so I won’t forget that he has died and embarrass myself by going to his house for a visit.  That is how bad my memory is.  I would never want to hurt his wife in such a thoughtless way, so I endure the painful, daily ritual of remembering that he is gone.

So there you have it.  That’s my story.  You were probably expecting that it would be more dramatic, maybe ending in a machine gun clad shoot out where we nabbed the bad guy after a tense car chase complete with wild stunts and death-defying feats.  It is ironic, given my job, that a simple hit from an out-of-control car inflicted such havoc on my life.  But, that is exactly what happened.   Do I regret it?  Sometimes, yeah – of course.  Mostly, though, I am pretty content with how things have worked out.  I have a new life now, one where my family and friends fill my time, my heart, and my soul.  I am proud of the life I led as a NYPD narcotics detective. And I am just as proud of the life I lead now.  The puzzle of my life has a thousand pieces to it, and I am learning how to fit them all together.

Thanks for listening,


Andy and Patty

Andy’s Story, written by Andy W, Patty W., and Paula Schmidt for braininjurystories.org


Harry’s Story

Harry has an attitude so optimistic and positive that it is fun to be around him. You ask yourself, “How in the world can that guy be so happy all the time? Well this is his story of hope.

Harry was a very talented guy who had it made. A great career started, a new car, a great skier and tons of friends. He was extremely intelligent, had plenty of girlfriends, but things were never good enough – he never really felt good enough. He had started doing drugs at a very early age, trying to fill a hole that he didn’t even know was there. By the time he had finished eighth grade, he already smoked weed regularly, took uppers, downers, and even LSD. The guy smoked cigarettes and he drank whenever he had the chance. In high school he did PCP then, in college, he was still doing drugs only now he discovered cocaine. But something was missing inside. He thought it was cool being with all the pretty girls but that just made him lonely. What was he looking for?  Just how big was that hole?

On March 2, 1985, he was out with a good friend drinking and using cocaine. He was driving home to the condo he lived in with his aerobics instructor girlfriend. Her sister and brother-in-law had come for the weekend. What was he even doing out? How big was that hole? While driving through the intersection at Armstrong and Olive, a pick-up hit the right side of his of S-10 Blazer. The impact threw him out through the right rear window. Nobody was sure how long he was on the road. What they do know is that a man stopped and went to phone for help.  When he had returned, Harry had been run over by another car! He spent thirty-one days in a coma. He was on a heart and lung machine, being fed through his nose and breathing by a machine with a tube through his neck. The guy had a massive head injury.  His brain had been damaged and was unable to keep his body alive, leaving him dependent on machines. His mom never left the hospital and his friends, who he could never pay back, didn’t either. VMC (Valley Medical Center now University Medical) emptied the waiting room and then lined the floor with mattresses so his friends could sleep.

People in comas can hear. Hearing is the last sense to leave us. They ask people not to speak of bad things when visiting because of this. His brother said that he would come in and talk about things he did when he was young that really upset Harry.  His family knew that his brother could hear him because Harry’s heart rate on the monitor would skyrocket!

He says he had some powerful dreams and one dream in which he believes he was given a choice. He was lying on an operating table surrounded by doctors and nurses. A doctor was explaining to everyone what had happened and how he was hurt. The last thing the doctor said was, “It is all up to him.” Then, he said he was walking down a dirt road with wheat for as far as you could see on all sides. He came upon a handsome man leaning on a rake or shovel or something, waving for him to cross over with him. He has played that scene through his mind a million times, and that man was leaning on a sickle. He had been given a choice. Life was going to be hard. He was hurt very badly and he knew it. He could have given up, but he says he kept going and didn’t even look back. He says that was because he wasn’t alone! He never felt alone the whole time!
He spent month at Club VMC on a heart and lung machine to teach his brain to regulate. Next, he was transferred to Community Hospital where he began rehabilitation. He had to re-learn absolutely everything, like how to walk, talk, eat, care for himself, where he lived, who people were in his life – everything you could think of. After the hospital, he was in rehabilitation five days a week, 8:30 – 4:00, for ten months of neurological retraining. He had already learned in the hospital how to take care of himself.  This part of his recovery dealt with his being able to think, reason, and compute things with enough speed to use in real life. He had to learn how to feel and express emotions again, and to interact with others. He had speech therapy, physical therapy, cognitive retraining, and vocational therapy. He says these were his options: give 100 percent every day or be handicapped. It really wasn’t a choice at all. The guy gave his absolute best every day. Now that he was out in the real world, he said there was no reason in the world not to give life his very best! You’ll see that he does just that.
When he left CSUF in 1983, his grade point average was 1.9. Big deal! He didn’t think he needed good grades. He was good, but in his heart he didn‘t feel like he was worth anything. His ego made him so proud and nothing he did could satisfy the need is his heart. After rehab, he told his therapists that he was going back to CSUF to finish his degree. His therapists all said, “People that hurt their heads like you did don’t do things like go to school.” His grade point average to finish his degree was a hard fought 3.3! He has finished his master’s degree in cross-cultural teaching as well with a GPA of 3.6 and began looking for a job teaching in Kindergarten or 1st grade.
Before he hurt his brain, he had an I.Q. of 168. He was extremely gifted but really had no idea of how absolutely gifted he was. After rehab, he applied to an organization named MENSA, an organization you get into if your I.Q. is in the top 2% of the people in the world. He needed an I.Q. score of 158. He didn’t make it; he now had an I.Q. of 130. His psychologist in rehab said that the test that he had taken was a screening test.  After contacting Mensa about his circumstances and further testing, he was told that tests given by psychologists could be accepted.  He took the tests given by his psychologist that qualified him to be a Mensan!  He says that he struggles to fit in and he says the people here (his co-workers and the guests including the kids) at Wild Water have helped him a great deal. People think that because he walks and talks differently there is something wrong with him…NOT! He tells us that the world wants to tell him he’s disabled and he says that’s fine, he gets the best parking spaces!

To celebrate his accident every year, he runs the Los Angeles Marathon! 2010 was his ninth time! The marathon is a great time. He met and ran with Garret Morris of Saturday Night Live, he met John Tesh, he met and corresponds with Dr. Bill Burke, the president of the marathon. He’s met Danelle Folda, Tylyn John, Charlotte Kemp, and Pamela Bryant, Playboy centerfolds of the Playboy Running Team. He met Pat Connelly, coach of the USC cross-country team. He rode his bicycle to Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Parks, through Yosemite a couple of times, and from Cambria to Solvang five times. He does biathlons, step classes, and has even learned to Rollerblade. He says triathlons are the final frontier! He says that the most amazing thing he does is sing in the choir at Northwest Church, where he sings praises to Jesus Christ, his savior, guide and friend.

He says that a career for him has been a struggle. He didn’t know where he was supposed to be until he started substitute teaching. He says that he gets to help kids to become the best they can be, and can’t believe he gets paid for that. Right now, after finishing his master’s degree, he is now looking for a permanent teaching position.
His brain goes like the speed of light but the part of his brain that modulates how fast he thinks and how fast he talks has been damaged. He has had to relearn a sense of rhythm at a metered pace.  This enables him speak at an understandable pace until he gets tired. Life is still difficult for him and moving his body to walk, run and to speak is a conscience effort. That it’s not a ‘natural’ function any longer. Even after all this time, he just keeps trying. He doesn’t care for any other option!
He clings to Jesus as his only real hope and reason for having been given this life.  Like in his coma, he doesn’t see Him, but he knows he’s not alone. He was dead, but now he is more alive than he ever could have imagined.  The love he was looking for he found nowhere else but in Jesus. And, after what he has seen and experienced, he believes that there is something the Lord wants him here for. He says that all that has happened to him wasn’t for his benefit, but for God’s Glory to be seen by his family/friends.

He now functions on a level far above average, even though parts of his brain are dead. If you see him smiling all the time, too joyful to just be happy, know that he has joy.  He says that every runner wants to run a marathon, every bachelor wants to meet a Playboy Bunny (the girls he met now have this story), and everyone on earth wants to be able to sing. El habla Espanol tambien! Que Espanol es una lingua muy romantica! El dices que gente en el mundo piensen Frances es la lingua de amore. El dices lo es Espanol! He speaks some Hungarian and Romanian as well!

Chapter 2

Now, thirty years later, he has had a good life being active in church and around town.  Running, speaking, and moving correctly are still a conscience effort. He fell at times when he was training for marathons because he lost concentration.  When riding his bicycle with the clipless pedals, he sometimes stopped and fell after having trouble getting out of the pedals.  After injuring his back at work and falling many times, he has destroyed a few vertebrae in his spine.  He had a surgery to put in a brace to secure his spine and make up for the missing vertebrae.   After surgery he was limited by his walking using a wheelchair and then a walker.  He had to give up running and walking to stay fit, but he stayed active.  After his first surgery, his back was still bothering him and he found out that his spine did not heal properly.   He had to have another surgery, this time in San Francisco at UCSF.
The surgery was done using a rod to hold his spine together.  He had to rehab again sort of like before only now he couldn‘t lift bend or twist.  He had to learn to walk, get dressed like putting on his pants, shoes and socks, and his balance with the rod on his spine.  He was told before the surgery, “You will be sitting on the couch for a year.” to recover.  His life had been changed again.  In his mind, he’d ask what is the Lord doing now?  He had a difficult time just hanging around his house, playing Jungle Jewels on Facebook and solitaire on his computer.  He went to choir rehearsals but was unable to walk up on the platform due to his balance.
He had physical therapy for a few months after his release and worked on walking and strengthening his core.  After 6 month check-up with the surgeon, he asked about going to the gym.  He was still using a walker but he had a goal to get rid of it.  He got on the stationary bicycle to begin working his way back in shape, lifted light weights to gain some strength and finally getting in the pool to walk.  In the pool, he could walk without his walker.  Now after a few months of walking in the pool, he was hoping to run in the pool!   Now he is back at the gym and singing in the choir.  In the first week of February 2015, he had his one year check up with his surgeon and was told that all was good and to try running in the pool and lift heavier weights!  So he is running and getting in good shape again!

He can sing at church again and is able to stand solid.  He started singing in another choir called Hearts on Fire. What a fun group.  They sing some 60’s, 70’s and 80’s pop/rock and they just recorded their first CD!

Life is different now because living and moving without using his back has been a big change.  Getting dressed, how he moves, and other simple tasks are more difficult, but he continues to press on.  Life is a marathon and he just keeps going on praising the Lord with his life!


Work like everything depends on you and pray like it all depends on the Lord! Then give life your best effort and watch what He can do with you!
Life isn’t about what you can get. When a person dies, nobody remembers what a person has, they remember what one gave! Life is about giving!
Yesterday is history, tomorrow a mystery, today is a gift. That is why today is called the present!

If you have any questions, would like to talk with Harry about this or would be interested in having Harry speak for your group/organization you can reach him at harwee3@sbcglobal.net.again.

Maddog and Tish – Their Story

     I had been in quite a few relationships for a young woman of 19, the year I met Maddog, my Joe.  Our story isn’t that grand or different, but when we met, it was magic. 

    I had been around bikers and veterans for most of my life so it wasn’t strange that I happened into a biker bar called Bonnie and Clyde’s. Joe was in the bar, playfully asking for kisses from all of the woman.  That was back when it was safe to do that sort of thing.  I was drinking seven and sevens and not feeling any pain. Joe came up to me and said it was his birthday and asked if I would give him a kiss and the rest, as they say, is history.  Joe and I go married on October 4, 1975.

     Before we met, neither of us had an easy life. We both suffered from wounded spirits.  Joe was (and still is) proud to be a Vietnam combat veteran, but he had suffered both physically and emotionally from his time there – 1968, during the Ted Offensive and the heat of the conflict. When we found each other, everything seemed possible again.  Joe was my life-line and my healer. 

   Skipping ahead, the early years together were fantastic.  Joe had a life-long dream of becoming a photographer, but his responsibility toward his family was strong. He stayed employed as a waste water treatment mechanic in order to put food on the table, placing his dream to the side until our sons were grown. 

     By the year 2005, we were looking ahead toward retirement.  Our sons were older and it was finally time for us. We had an Electra Glide Ultra Classic Harley and we planned to travel the country, just us, our bikes and an Airstream. Joe had taken courses at the New England School of Photography and the Art Institute of Boston.  He would finally get to become the photographer he always wanted to be. Given his pride in the USA, I can only imagine the beautiful photographs he would have taken while we toured cross-country.  We both had dreams and plans, but, as so often happens, they were taken away from us by a senseless accident.

      On August 17, 2005, at 3:45 p.m., Joe was riding his Harley home from the Veteran’s Administration when our lives changed forever.  He had stopped his Harley at a red light, waiting patiently for the light to turn green. An elderly woman blindsided his Harley, throwing Joe 30 feet in the air. She later claimed she didn’t see him.­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­ Joe spent the next 2 ½ weeks in a coma, suffering from a blow to the head that caused a pseudo-aneurysm.  

     After he awoke from his coma, Joe spent a month in a rehabilitation facility then he was sent to a state nursing home to recover from his injuries.  This nursing home supposedly specialized in neuro-rehab, but they did a poor job.  The staff there didn’t deal well with bikers, either.  We are a different breed of people.  All they did was drug him up. It took me 16 months to get him out of that hell hole, but I fought every day until they finally released him home.  Fortunately for others, this nursing home has since shut down.

     We often live as shut-ins now, but, as my elderly friends say, at least we can rent a van and go places for the day.  As far as friends go, we have zip, nada, none.  Once Joe was injured, they all disappeared.  So we are alone again, like in the beginning.  Only, I get lonely for my Joe.  Joe was always a strong-willed man, and he still is, to some degree.  I miss the intimacy and the closeness we once had.  I have always had a hard time with other woman so Joe has always been my best friend.  When times are tough, I keep thinking in my mind what would Joe have done in this situation?  As a Vietnam combat soldier, Joe endured the horrors of the Tet Offensive. It took great strength and endurance, for which I am so proud.  I remember the Joe I used to know then I plod through, trying to take each day in stride.    That’s the influence Joe has had on my life. 

     Joe inspired his sons to be anything they wanted to be.  I guess you would call them successful.  Our youngest became a marine and a war veteran and our eldest son is a vice-president for a pharmaceutical advertising agency in New York.   We are proud of both of our sons.  Mostly though, our concern was that they grow into decent human beings.  The thing about life is, there is more to life than work, there is also your life! I think they learned this lesson well.

     My advice to caregivers is simple.  Take a deep breath.  It’s gonna be a bumpy ride, but if you love unconditionally, without reservation, and have faith in your own abilities, then you will be OK.  You will have to deal with state and federal morons – that is a given.   It is a very lonely lifestyle.  If you can handle the abject loneliness, then you will be alright.  You have the toughest job, but there are rewards. For me, my Joe is my world.  He healed me, and now I have his back.  My love for my Joe runs very deep.  No lousy accident will ever change that.

Jim’s Story

From physically fit to a physical wreck, Jim’s brain injury taught him that there is a lot more to life than bodybuilding.  Sometimes, you have to build your emotional self as well. 

Here is Jim’s story:

Before the accident …  I had already graduated from a pre-med program at college, but due to some social situations in my life, decided to become a physical therapist first then work my way through medical school.  I had always dreamed of becoming an emergency room doctor or neurosurgeon…how ironic! I  was on my way to play ice hockey the night of my accident in Lockport, New York. I had played hockey since I was 12 years old and I played right up to the night of my accident. I loved sports. I had also played Lacrosse for 2 years in high school, and for 4 years in college. I tried crew, an awesome conditioning sport for me; however, I lacked the finesse to use my strength. When I rowed I would thrust the boat side to side then I would ‘catch a crab’ … well,  it wasn’t pretty (lol)!  I started weightlifting at the age of 16, basically because I was one of the smaller kids in my high school class and I wanted college life to be different than my high school years. I was 17 and  a senior in high school when I started to see some changes in how my friends and others in my life were treating me…I liked it!! The soreness I felt the day after a workout let me know where my body stopped and the world began. It made me feel alive (more irony as you will see). I started to become obsessed with weightlifting daily …when I felt good …when I felt stressed …when I was lonely …when I was just about to go out (get my pump up)…this went on during the summer of ’82. I felt like a brand new me when I entered college. I cannot stress to you how different life in college was for me, as compared to life in high school -night and day – and I was loving it! To make a long story a little shorter, I matured and grew up during these next four years in college …living in the dorms …bouncing at bars …campus life …college sports …and the women! When I graduated in ’86, I took 2 summer jobs to support myself in my first apartment before starting physical therapy school. I was a part-time landscaper and I worked full-time teaching aerobics and being a fitness trainer at a ladies health club! It was a good time in my life…’nuff said there!! jim 21 b4 accident I started my second bachelor degree in the fall of ’86.  I did very well with all of the courses, to the point where I corrected the teachers when they made verbal mistakes in lectures and drove them crazy (after my accident, I found that they had developed a lot of respect for me, and they knew that I would maximize my potential during both the intellectual and physical portions of my rehab).

Fast forward to 12/87…  I had a nice fancy newer apartment and I just bought my first new car.  I lived with 2 girls …kicking ass in college …natural-bodybuilding  …hockey …work …$$$ … then…..BAMM!!!   jIM auto accident (1) Just 2 days before my 22nd birthday, I was exiting a shopping mall late at night during a light snowfall, when my life totally changed. At that intersection, a tractor trailer (18 wheeler) didn’t see that I had stopped in the crossing to merge with traffic, and before he hit his brakes, drove right into my driver-side door, sending me into a coma that lasted 5 weeks…Jim…   and that’s where the second part of my life’s  story begins, on 12/4/87.

The next thing I remember is opening my eyes…seeing my girlfriend looking over me, feeling all the tubes attached to me, unable to move, and the wierdest part – I had a vaccuum hose stuck into my throat, breathing for me.  I awoke on1/12/1988, unable to speak or move my left arm and leg. I looked at my girlfriend and gestured ‘what happened’? As time progressed, I worked very hard at rehab so I would be able to leave the hospital and start the journey toward rebuilding my life. I will stop for now, but this is only the beginning of the most awesome and yet heartbreaking rollercoaster ride any one person and his family could ever get on.

Lately, I have spent a lot of time reflecting back on all that I have been through over the last (almost) 25 yrs since my auto accident. I finally feel like I have 99.99% completed my rehabilitation process recovering from the damage done. I think I should title this experience “A Good Man…A Better Man…Still a Sinner”. I have done soooo much introspection and self-analysis, neurological rehabilitation, group/marriage counseling, medication, along with a lot of bible study and prayer to get me to this point of stability with peace of mind. I like to say I am now in a “good place”, now on to the next chapter of my life. Intellectually, I never suffered too much from the accident. I feel it opened my eyes to have a greater appreciation for the differences in others.  I see these as positive traits that I didn’t have as opposed to unnecessary traits, weaknesses, or faults. I gained an empathy for all people suffering from any affliction, be it emotional, mental, spiritual, or physical. Where I used to be judgemental and lacked tolerance, I have gained admiration and appreciation of others. Emotionally, my weaknesses are now with multitasking and the stress of overstimulation which leads to a feeling of being overwhelmed. This may happen to everybody, but my automatic response is to attack and get aggressive.  Eliminating conflicts and simplifying things….this all may seem like a good thing -unless you are the one causing me conflict…lol =).

Since I have dealt with sooo many problems in my life, I have learned how to be a problem solver.  I am a bulldozer in life…”I get s&#! done” when it needs to get done! That’s my way of living. And when something is finished, I relax and get mellow. This was not the way I was before my auto accident. It was how I grew up, but I developed a mental attitude after high school – a wall of aggression. Because of damage to my frontal lobe, this magnified after my brain injury. Initially this aggression was a positive thing. I relied on it during the early phase of my rehabilitation and the physical recovery of skills (learning to walk, speak intelligibly, and regain motor coordination). The next phase of recovery also went well and I succeeded early on. This was the intellectual component. BUT…The real deficits of my brain damage started to show later but were not identified as being caused by my brain damage. I started to experience problems with social interactions, explosive and violent outbursts to stress and emotional inappropriateness toward others. I started to experience extreme road rage, get into loud arguments, damage property, and even did some self -hitting!

My frontal lobe damage led to some serious issues and psychological inabilities. So, the first thing I had to do was change my focus and understand that the world did not revolve around me! This may sound weird, but having sooo much attention and focus put on my medical recovery from the coma and physical damages made me self-centered. I had to transition from a hospital environment, where all attention was on me and I received a lot of praise for my progress (and felt proud because of my progress), to the public realm.  Now, the focus on me was only because of my deficits and inabilities, mostly because of my abnormal gait pattern and speech. This was very contrary to the guy I was before, when I carried a confident and strong physical presence. I quickly reacted to any negative response I perceived as being directed towards me, to the point where I over-reacted to everything and became very confrontational. I also had this glassy eyed appearance from the brain damage (which I hated!!) as well as a tense tick on the left side of my face which became pronounced whenever I got emotional or stressed. Both things combined made me look “psycho” and did not help my emotional recovery.

I finally got diagnosed with frontal lobe brain damage as being the etiology of my emotional deficits in late 1995….7yrs after being discharged from the hospital with a pat on the back and an “atta-boy” for my amazing physical and intellectual recovery from a 5 week coma. But, this was only the beginning. Diagnosis is one thing, but knowing how to treat it and rehabilitate the injury was a hugely different animal! Nobody had a clue or any experience with this injury. I even went to a specialized brain injury school/rehab setting in New Hampshire for evaluation. Because of my size, strength, intellectual capacity, and vocal skills, they just interpreted my outbursts as me being an inappropriate a-hole and said they would not and could not help me. I learned more about myself from researching my own injuries and from introspection than anything they had to offer me. Back to my wife I went…still a broken man. It took many years, but, I finally found someone who had some experience with neuro-rehab. She helped me relearn basic emotional skills like recognizing the nonverbal cues of others, appropriate responses and behavior toward stressful situations of everyday life, and self -monitoring of my emotional status. I learned how to respond appropriately when I started to feel myself losing control. I also learned to change 1 small component at a time until it became a natural act or behavior. After 2 years of working with her and 15 years of practicing and remodeling, I felt like I finally had recovered.

But…this bulldozer injury left a path of emotional scarring that wasn’t going to be made pretty for awhile and without some effort! My poor wife was now going thru post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms from the emotional stresses of dealing with ME! NOW, after neurological rehabilitatiion training, I was ready to be part of a normal happily married couple, but she had become very defensive and emotionally guarded because she had to be so careful not to set me off or upset me.  I had become very routine oriented and didn’t handle change or stresses well. During my emotional healing process, Marie always told me that “women respond to how they are treated by their man/husband”. It took a year of me humbling myself and the thought of us having to go our seperate ways before she was finally able to shed the hurt and anger, forgive me (women never forget), and return to being the little southern texas flower I had originally met an fell in love with. This reminds me of another thing she told me once – that when I had started showing signs of having issues, she was torn. She knew I was a good man with a good heart from a strong family up-bringing and basic values. She saw that side of me and heard it in our conversations. She knew I loved God and wanted to have the bible be the plan for how to live my life. But, I was in emotionally rough shape. She said I was like a classic old home with a great foundation in a good location….but one that needed a lot of work! I was her “fixer-upper”. It might take some time and effort, but with a lot of work and a few bruises and scars, she could have a good husband!

We had our 20 year anniversary on May 26, 2011. We are both happy with the spouses we have become and are great friends! We have earned our happiness together and look forward to sharing the next 30 + yrs enjoying each other. jIM NEW WIFEY So, now I am a better man. I have gained so much from the healing process in regards to my increased awareness.  I have a greater appreciation of others, and can identify my limitations as well as strengths. My current status is that I am a whole man again. And, even with all of my self improvements, medication, therapies, experiences, and blessings, I am still a sinner separated from God! Without my acceptance of the ransom sacrifice of Jesus Christ, a free gift from God, I will never be able to attain eternal life. But, with my acceptance of this gift, along with the understanding and application of biblical truths to my life, I will finally be able to live as a perfect man with a perfect body forever. —jim


written by Jim for braininjurystories.org


Miranda’s Story: March 2015 TBI Awareness

Special thanks to Cindy and Miranda at Compassionate Care, Endicott, New York, for creating this video to highlight Brain Injury Awareness Month.  Miranda was one of the first stories published on this blog.  Miranda, and everyone at Compassionate Care, you have come a long way!

You can view Miranda’s Story here:  https://braininjurystories.org/2011/12/21/mirandas-story/

Unique Melvin’s Story

Thank you to Rachele at Unique Options for sharing this lovely video.  And, thank you to Melvin and Jeff for being “extremely passionate about shedding light on their unique perspectives with traumatic brain injury and would love to offer motivation to others who are struggling!”  Your positive perspective is truly motivating to all of us.