I apologize to my readers for the break in blog posts. We will be addressing the reasons behind it in the next post. Thankfully, I had the privilege of connecting with Jody via the wonders of the internet to bring you this incredible story about Brianna. I wanted to call her a Traumatic Brain Injury Survivor. However, I think referring to her as a Traumatic Brain Injury Thriver is better suited! I hope you enjoy this story of a mother’s love and a daughter’s courage to thrive!
April is Traumatic Brain Injury Month. In the United States, traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a major cause of death and disability. TBI can cause lifelong impairments involving memory, sensation, and emotional functioning. TBI does not only affect the individual but can affect family and friends as well. Recently my mom met Jody in a support group she belongs to for parents of adult children with disabilities. Jody’s daughter had a very significant traumatic brain injury and her story is AMAZING! I am so honored they are allowing me to share it. If you have never met a miracle before, hold on tight because you are about to!
A serious car accident changed Brianna’s life forever on October 28, 2012. Her car rolled over and Brianna, who was not wearing a seat belt was ejected out the back window. Brianna was transported to the hospital unresponsive. This was the moment Brianna and Jody’s life changed forever.
Initially, Jody had to process and cope with this news alone. Her emotions were” varied, believing first she was going to be ok, wake up and no problems. There was terror at the thought of losing her, many tears, more prayers, curling up on the consult room floor in a ball crying.” In the first hours, she was all alone. Jody felt that her son was too young to put the magnitude of this on his shoulders. Jody did not know the severity of the traumatic brain injury at that point and reported to family members that “it wasn’t that bad” However, Jody’s dad and sister came to the hospital to support her.
Brianna spent nearly 3 months in a non-medically induced coma. “As the days, months went by it began very worrisome. There were medical professionals who were very optimistic and then others who were negative and honestly, did not understand brain injury.” Brianna did not respond to medical staff during her months in a coma. However, she did respond to her loved ones. Additionally, Brianna fractured her pelvis in 2 places. Originally, surgery was the plan of action. However, “a new young doctor presented a 3D computer image of her pelvis and it was agreed not to move forward with surgery.” Also, the third brake light caused a deep laceration on her leg when she was ejected.
Over the course of several months, Brianna was transferred to three different hospitals. Her first three weeks were spent at the Wausau Aspirus Hospital in the intensive care unit. The care she received there was “phenomenal”. Jody and her family were there night and day.
Brianna was transferred to Specialty Select in West Allis, WI, where she would stay for the next two months. The purpose of her stay here was to wean her off the ventilator. This transferred transformed Jody from the role of mother to advocate. The unit lacked the experience and knowledge of traumatic brain injuries. Jody had to fight for OT, PT and speech therapy. She also had to fight with a nurse to give Brianna Tylenol and Benadryl, both of which was on her chart. The staff was not prepared for the well informed team of mother and aunt (Jill)! Jody and Jill made sure one of them was with Brianna before morning rounds and stayed throughout the day until about 1am.
It was during this time, Jody became not only a traumatic brain injury researcher, but also a caregiver. She and Jill put on and took off Brianna’s braces every two hours. They would place Beanie Bags in her hands when the braces were off to keep them from fisting. Jody and Jill would also monitor her temperature hourly, reposition her every 2 hours, monitored her urine output, respiratory rates, and heart rate. Most importantly, they questioned everything. Jody was able to catch an allergic reaction.
When Jody and Jill were not directly caring for Brianna, they researched everything there was to know about a traumatic brain injury. Jody even learned how to suction out her daughter’s trach to avoid the stress of waiting for the respiratory therapist.
Despite the poor quality of care, it was at Specialty Select where Jody received her Christmas miracle! Brianna began to respond to treatment. Her fever broke and her vitals stabilized. Jody recalls “Funny, I panicked and called the nurse because watching her monitor her heart rate was so low I thought she was dying-but turns out it was finally normal!” Brianna was weaned from the ventilator in early January and prepared for yet another hospital.
The Coma Stim Program at Scared Heart in Milwaukee was the next stop for Brianna. Brianna received a special visitor while there, her dog Bella! Bella became very protective over Brianna, even growling at the staff, “protecting her girl”! Jody and Jill’s dedication continued during this stay. They alternated weeks, so Brianna would never be alone. Jill is an RN and her training was implemented in Brianna’s recovery began on day one in the ICU.
Scared Heart was the beginning of intense OT, PT and speech therapies. Brianna was unable to speak and many times screamed throughout the therapies. Jody and Jill were by her side every small step of the way. Brianna learned how to “swallow, drink thickened liquids, talk small words and sit” while at Scared Heart.
Brianna has no memory of the multiple hospital stays, nor the accident. In fact she initially lost the previous three years of memories. When Brianna made enough progress at Sacred Heart, she made her final transfer. Her home for the next year was the Clearview Brain Injury Rehab in Juneau, Wi.
During the time at the rehabilitation center, Jody and Jill continued to work as a team. They rented an apartment within eye’s view of the center. Jody and Jill were with her from the time she woke up until the time she went to bed. Their role shifted slightly to teacher, helping Brianna relearn everything. They also were able to resume the roles of aunt and mother. They went on daily outings, to the park, shopping or just hanging out at the apartment.
During this time, Brianna was able to spend weekends back at home in Wausau. She was surrounded by family once again. Jody was disheartened by the number of patients and residents at the rehabilitation who did not have the family support and visits. Additionally, without Jill, Jody would not have been able to balance caring for Brianna, being a mother to her son and working to support them all. Jill had been an ever-present support for three years.
Brianna is a bona fide MIRACLE, it is a fact! She literally died twice, but was not ready to go. She fought against the odds to not only stay, but thrive. ”Her doctor also refers to her as her miracle girl. Her sheer determination and courage with unwavering hard work also makes her a miracle.” When Brianna graduated from the rehabilitation center, her PT stated “that when she first met Brianna she did not think she would walk” Jody says “Brianna is a strong and determined girl! She went from wheelchair, to walker using SFOs when she left there to now using a walking stick and many times walking without any assistance. Her balance remains an issue but she is learning!”
Brianna’s recovery continues today. Brianna participates in equine therapy at Stable Hands in Wausau. She also goes to aquatic therapy. Brianna has also assumed responsibility for her therapy, going to the YMCA to rides bike and do the circuits. She also continues with OT and PT when needed and prescribed.
One of the hardest adjustments for both Brianna and Jody was the fading friendships. With the exception of sporadic attempts, a couple times a year, her friends before the accident have “deserted her”. For Jody the hardest part is watching Brianna have to ”really think about everything she does from walking to talking. The things we take for granted she cannot. My life changed in every waking moment I am thinking what will help her and how can I help her progress.”
Jody went on to say a “Traumatic brain injury is a life long recovery.” Luckily and miraculously, Brianna has yet to plateau, which is not typical. Although she continues to have short term memory loss, it is still improving. However, when it comes to Brianna’s passion, animals,she has no memory issues! Brianna continues to struggle with cognitive issues and has slower processing. It takes time to get out what she wants to say sometimes. Brianna continues to work on balance and gait issues, as well.
There is one change post-accident that Jody and Brianna cherish, the family bond. Brianna’s traumatic brain injury has brought mother, son and daughter together. Jody also stated that the TBI has created “an unbreakable bond with my sister and parents.”
Over seven years later, Brianna continues to thrive. However, her is different than it was before the accident. Brianna is not as active as she would like to be. Horses are her constant connection to the life she once had. She continues equine therapy at Stable Hands. Every year, she attends the Midwest Horse Fair. There are also adventures and vacations.
Brianna continues to struggle to regain the social life she once had. Her treasured visits with friends are “few and long in-between”. Jody is her main social outlet. Brianna is a regular companion when Jody visits her own friends and family. “They have all adopted her and love her company. She is smart, witty and very funny”. Facebook is another social outlet that Brianna uses frequently.
Brianna’s lingering physical issues has not interfered with her passion for horses and riding. However, her hand tremors and other physical limitations has interfered with other interest in the past. She does paint and do pottery, but not very often. Photography is difficult for her with her hand tremors. Brianna continues to work hard on her goal to live an independent life.
Brianna’s accident has changed Jody in many ways. She is not the empty nester she once thought she would be at this point in her life. However, Brianna’s accident and recovery has changed Jody in other ways. “Before, people may have been invisible-a TBI makes one invisible. We are more aware of how kindness can change the whole course of one’s day and I always try to help those in need, make someone laugh, and make sure they are seen and don’t feel invisible! I have also become a very big advocate for those who cannot advocate for themselves when I am presented with the opportunity.” The traumatic brain injury brought about a positive change in Brianna as well. At the time of the accident, Brianna was 20 and more self-centered. Today, Brianna is very polite and thoughtful of others.
Brianna and Jody both have had to adjust to a new life, the life of a differently-abled individual. Jody and Brianna prefer the term differently-abled rather than disabled! Brianna went from “an independent child to one that needs essentially 24-hour care. That is difficult for both of us as Brianna doesn’t like my hovering or telling her what to do. But, we handle it with grace and a lot of humor. We know each other well which helps us move forward. But definitely humor is our biggest helper!!”
I asked Jody what advice she would have for others who are facing the life changing effects of a TBI. “If you are faced with a loved one with a TBI-do your research. Also reach out to someone who has been through a similar situation. These are the people who understand what you are going through. They know the feelings. Stay positive!! We prayed and were positive-we let absolutely no negativity get to Brianna! And, for that matter still do not allow negativity in our home. That doesn’t mean everything is always wonderful-we just choose to see things differently now. Our mantras have been-full recovery no options, survivor thriver-get out aliver (thanks for that one Dierks). Also, the first time she said ‘I can’t’ was the last time!! I told her ‘I can’t’ was not in her vocabulary. Rather it is, ‘I can and I will! Watch me!!!!’
Jody added, “Support your TBI survivor, they are a miracle. Be thankful, grateful and blessed as it could have gone a different way. Maybe you would have lost your loved one! With all that we have been through, I wouldn’t change a thing. We have all grown as individuals as well as a family. We have had many great experiences and met many wonderful people we would not have if not for Brianna’s accident. Again, we choose to be grateful! There are so many more stories I could tell about our experiences of Brianna’s accident and recovery. Everynight we end with I love you to the moon and back-times infinity… Brianna’s response I love you to imaginary Pluto and back! Just a touch of her wit and humor! Love my kids and there isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for either of them!”
I would like to thank Jody for taking the time to be interviewed for this important post. I also want to thank Brianna for allowing us to tell her incredible story of courage and thriving!
Until next time, Keep Rollin’ and Keep Smilin’!
Photo Credit: Jody