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A Story of Resilience: Recovery After Traumatic Brain Injury

“I know an injury is certainly not easy. It may feel slow and there are many moments where you feel discouraged and alone. I know it feels hard a lot of the time. I know what it feels like when nothing seems to be going right. I suggest doing your best to be thankful for the good things in your life. Even when it feels like a big mess, find the hope. Finding hope is the key to getting better. I find my own hope and joy when I write and now when I speak. I hope my story will be encouragement and help in your own life. I hope it will help you see your life from a different perspective. I now see life from a different viewpoint than I did before my accident.

I am 28 years old. Over four years ago, I was in a horse training accident. In December 2019, I was working as a horse trainer and something must have frightened my horse, causing me to fall off and hit my head so hard my brain was severely injured. My memory from that time in my life has disappeared. I only know what happened during that time because people had told me. Immediately after hitting my head, I was taken to Honor Health Deer Valley Hospital by helicopter! That’s how serious my head injury was. It is a miracle I am still alive. I had a one-third chance of survival. Thankfully, my life was saved by Dr. Murphy who performed emergency brain surgery. After surgery, I was in a coma for over two weeks and in the ICU for over a month.

When I was in a coma, my family was told I was pregnant. This part of my memory is lost, but now I have a son! Thankfully I survived, so my son did, too. As much as the pregnancy was unplanned and it was a lot of work for the people around me, being pregnant was a protection for my TBI. Women naturally produce progesterone in pregnancy. An important role of progesterone is that it protects the brain from damage and promotes repair after injury. I may have recovered better because I was unknowingly pregnant! My brain injury made being pregnant the easiest it could have been for me. My mom and sister took care of my son as a newborn when I couldn’t.

After I left the ICU, I stayed at Barrows Neurology Inpatient Rehab and then moved to Neuro-Rehab care of Scottsdale. In June 2020 I moved in with my sister and my child was born. I have so much thanks for the support and help I received! I needed help with almost everything. When I moved in with my sister, I started outpatient rehab at SWAN Rehab and took speech therapy, physical therapy, and occupational therapy. The therapists there did so much for me. Speech therapy helped me learn how to talk again. It was my SWAN speech therapist, Janet Smith who, after working with me, got me to talk again! I still have trouble with my speech, but it’s gotten a lot better. I have been giving speeches to therapy university students and several times to the church class I volunteer in. I have to say that now being able to give speeches to help other people has helped me start to find joy and purpose again!

My physical therapists helped me relearn how to physically function again and walk closer to normal. For a while I couldn’t walk at all. It takes a lot of work, but I’m encouraged by my physical therapists to put in the effort. At the start of 2023 I began leaving my wheelchair at home when I went to SWAN Rehab and then I was able to begin walking into Highlands Church! Another great achievement my physical therapists helped me achieve is getting on my own horse and being able to ride again.

My occupational therapists have helped me relearn meaningful life activities. Because the right side of my body no longer works it has been difficult to perform certain life skills. No one thinks about doing activities until you can’t. You don’t think that walking or using two hands is special until you have a reason where you can’t. I’ve had to learn different ways to do things that most people do without thinking.

Now I must do everything with my non-dominant hand because my dominant hand doesn’t work anymore. When I am sitting, I now use my legs, knees, lap, and mouth sometimes to act as another hand. When I am standing, I use my hip. What I am trying to hold, I lean it against my hip. Therapists helped me be thankful for doing again the things I can do. I didn’t pay attention to or be thankful for the things I can accomplish until my physical therapist, Michael Daneker, urged me to have that mindset. His encouragement to think ‘I can’ has helped me keep the motivation to continue improving. My advice is to be thankful for all the things you can accomplish.

In November 2020, I started hippo therapy at Horses Help. It is important for you all to know how much I love horses. Even though the outcomes of my accident are hard, I would not have stopped riding horses. My brain injury came from riding, but I still love them. God has blessed me that I was so fortunate to have had three horses given to me before the accident. I am so grateful that I still have them.

The injury process started out mostly bad, but now I’m starting to find hope and joy in my life. The fact I can stand, and talk is a miracle. I wrote a short autobiography, titled Finding Joy, that shares my full journey through May 2023.

Here is a quote from the book I wrote about my journey after my accident. I had written this quote two months before my accident, little did I know the meaning it would have! ‘Life is fragile. We are reminded of this often, but just as often we slip so easily into our routines and our checklists that we take this life for granted. We don’t stop as often as we should to appreciate every moment. We don’t get absolutes or guarantees for living. As much as we can plan our futures and prepare, when it comes down to the moment, we really can only live it one moment at a time. Count our blessings for the time we are given with what we hold most dear. We would do well to remember this life, and the lives of the people and creatures we give our hearts to, are a gift, not an entitlement. We open our hearts. Feel deeply. Love unconditionally. And count each moment for the blessing it is.’”

 – Rebekah, SWAN/RWW Patient

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