Learning Without Borders

Brain injury awareness month brings up so many thoughts and feelings for me. According to the Brain Injury Association (BIA), someone sustains a brain injury every 9 seconds in the United States. In an instant, their lives and the lives of their loved ones change.

Our son’s life and our lives changed forever when the car he was driving hit a patch of black ice on the road. It was an accident, he sustained a traumatic brain injury, and in an instant, we went through the door that only opens one way. For others, it could be a stroke or a fall. 5.3 million people in the United States are living with a permanent brain injury-related disability, according to BIA. However, until it touches our own lives, that is just a statistic.

After our son’s injury, I found powerful feelings well up when I could see a preventable accident in the making. For example, when I see people choosing not to wear a helmet when they are riding their bikes or motorcycles, I want to tell them to pause and think again before they go on that ride. You have no idea how your life could change! Go visit a rehabilitation unit at the hospital and see what life could look like after a head injury.

I feel even worse when I see a family biking along and notice that the kids are wearing their helmets and the mom or dad isn’t. For many years, much to my daughter’s chagrin, I used to want to stop my car, roll down my window, and shout, “Who do you think will take care of your family when you can’t work because of a brain injury?” Now, I shake my head and say a silent prayer that they don’t become one of the estimated 5.3 million people who sustain a brain injury each year, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

We are grateful that our son has made a remarkable recovery with a lot of therapy and support. However, his life and our lives are definitely not the same as they would have been pre-TBI. Although we have all acclimated to our new normal, we all still miss the old Chris, especially Chris. He is now 1 in every 60 people in the U.S. who live with a permanent brain injury-related disability. Some people believe the myth that it needs to be a severe TBI to change your life. Sadly that is just not accurate. As the statistics from falls and sports-related injuries of all ages are finally being shared, a series of concussions over time can have a negative impact on your life, and the younger the concussions, the more damaging they are to the forming brain. I often think back to the many children I’ve worked with who struggle in school because of learning differences and disabilities. Before our son’s accident, I only asked in passing if they had fallen out of a tree, been in a bicycle or car accident, or had a disease such as Lyme which often causes inflammation in the brain. Now, I ask that question at least 5 times.

Often in brain injury recovery, the individual may seem perfectly fine and on top of their game one day, but physically and mentally worn out the next day. Thus, individuals can experience discrimination from family, friends, co-workers, teachers, and others and suffer from feelings of inadequacy due to physical and social isolation. It is crucial to remember that those who have sustained brain injuries are valuable members of our communities and deserve the utmost respect.

We must create a dialogue to help bring awareness to brain injuries. The BIAA recognizes March as Brain Injury Awareness Month. This presents us all with an opportunity to reflect on this topic and address the harmful stigma surrounding brain injuries. Every brain injury is different and comes with its own range of difficulties, including compromised cognitive function, speech, language, perception, sensory and motor issues, and paralysis. This has resulted in extremely dangerous and disrespectful stigmas.

People with a brain injury want to be recognized for more than their brain injury. Each year the Brain Injury Association has a theme to create awareness of the prevalence of brain injuries in our society. Hopefully, #MoreThanMyBrainInjury will accelerate the discussion and empower people to overcome labels of limitation and stigma. This is not a job a person who has sustained a brain injury or their caregivers or family can do alone; it takes an inclusive community.
Accidents do happen, and illness can strike any family. However, so often, with a bit of forethought, the risks can be mitigated. So the next time you are tempted to take the chance, please ask yourself if not wearing the helmet, standing on an unsteady ladder, texting while driving or a myriad of other actions is worth the risk of having your life and the lives of those who love you changed in an instant.

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