Rachel's Miracle

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Rachel's Blog

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Posted on March 8, 2013 at 5:50 AM Comments comments (1)

I realize that I’ve written about my memory problems in the past, but I think it is an important enough topic to devote an entire blog to it.

This brain injury has severely affected my memory. My memory from before the injury is mostly intact and I’m very thankful for that because everything I learned up until my injury is still there. But now making new memories is quite the challenge! My memories, as a result of the injury, are truly intriguing. When I woke up the other morning, I was lying in bed and a random memory suddenly popped up in my mind. It was so vivid. Even though this recollection wasn’t important, it’s the way my mind used to work pre-TBI. My brother would always tease me that I would remember such random, trivial things! And what's interesting is, it was a post-injury memory which was from four years ago; a time where I didn’t think I was capable of recalling anything, much less remember something as insignificant as this particular memory may be. It just goes to show that I AM able to recall bits from the past. The strange thing about all of this is, there are things that happened earlier in the day that I can’t remember, even if someone reminds me! I realize how upset people get with me when I don’t remember, but nothing compares to the frustration I feel when my memory fails! My memory is fragmented at times; I recall bits and pieces of events but struggle to put it all together. It’s really aggravating! I challenge myself to remember but in case I forget, it’s important for me to write things down. I utilize my cell phone, my iPad and my journal and a lot of repetition to assist with memory compensation. I feel very fortunate that my memory works well enough where I can remember to utilize these strategies. But I never know when my memory will surprise me! I have heard that “memory is the diary that we all carry with us.” Well, I literally carry my diary with me! I’ve been through years of speech therapy to teach me techniques to overcome this challenge. But if anyone has any suggestions, I’m all ears! In the meantime, bear with me! :)


The Year in Review

Posted on January 1, 2013 at 5:40 PM Comments comments (0)

As I look back at the year 2012, it was full of both triumphs and disappointments. Early in the year, I fell and broke my left hand. I was casted for six weeks and this started the chain of events for the year. During the summer, I started a rigorous type of therapy called constraint induced therapy (CIT). These ten weeks consisted of outpatient therapy, as well as five hours of constraining my good side to work only with my left hand. At the conclusion of this CIT, my left hand showed much improved strength and functionality. Just days after completing the CIT, I tripped, fell and broke my left hand . . .  again!  It took these events for me to finally realize that my life is not “normal.” I realized that for safety reasons, I had to forget about what other people think and needed to go back to wearing an AFO and retake physical therapy to work on balance. My balancing continues to improve so much that my therapist would like to continue with these sessions. Work continues to go well and my boss acknowledges my efforts by adding additional tasks. My New Year’s resolution for 2013 is continuing working on what I’ve learned in therapies, in the hopes of improving functionality in my left hand even more and working on my balance. Hopefully one day get, sooner than later, I'll get rid of this cane! I have received many private emails over the course of the year from well wishers, as well as others who either have or know of someone who has a similar injury as mine. I just want you to know that your stories inspire me more than you can ever imagine. I wish everyone a very Happy and Prosperous New Year!

Safety or Vanity?

Posted on November 17, 2012 at 11:20 AM Comments comments (3)

After falling and breaking my left hand for the second time in six months, leaving a permanently crooked pinky finger, I’ve come to the realization that vanity isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. In essence, I was trying to cover up the fact that my brain is injured and opted to ignore the advice of professional’s and others stressing safety first. I hated wearing the AFO (ankle-foot orthotic) because it was so big, bulky and noticeable, not to mention the stares I got from people! I wanted to appear normal and look like everyone else, the way I used to look . . . wouldn’t you? Now, I know that normal is NOT breaking my hand twice in one year! I’ve finally learned my lesson the hard way. Safety must come first! Due to my frequent mishaps, it was decided I needed to go back to physical therapy and be re-evaluated. The therapist introduced me to a new type of AFO (called a walk-on), which is much lighter and less conspicuous than the old style. I like this brace because it’s lightweight and fits inside any shoe with a back to it, giving me many more shoe options than I’ve had in the last six years; which is every woman’s dream! Everyone has now commented how much my gait has improved! I decided to continue in physical therapy, working on my balance. After all, practice makes perfect. After a month of PT, the evaluation showed that my balance has improved. So, I scheduled additional sessions through the end of the year in hopes of further improvement. I can’t afford another fall and break to my left hand . . . a girl can only take so much! :)

Left: old bulky AFO - Right: new lightweight walk-on

Well . . . I did it again!

Posted on August 30, 2012 at 6:05 PM Comments comments (6)

Yesterday, I had just gotten my hair done and was looking pretty good. As I was walking towards the Kohl's department store, admiring my new hairdo in the store's front window, suddenly, a curb came out of nowhere and down I went; breaking my left hand in two places. Yes, it's the same hand I broke in a fall just six months earlier. I was told that my head was only inches from the pavement when suddenly I jerked it up. You don't suppose that maybe, the ten week "constraint induced therapy" that I just completed for my left arm, improved my strength just enough to catch myself before hitting my head? Or was it my guardian angel? Or maybe a combination of both. Either way, I'm very thankful that it's only broken bones and not another brain injury. Poor lefty seems to be taking the brunt of it all to protect my head. . . thank you lefty! I need to start taking better care of her! I realize that things like this happen to everyone, but sometimes it doesn't always feel that way! I'll just have to regroup, refocus and keep moving forward!

The Six Year Update

Posted on August 22, 2012 at 6:50 PM Comments comments (4)

Well, it's that time again, another year past since that life changing night. It's hard to believe that it's been six years!

I'm still making abundant improvements in my life. Not only do I continue to work at a great job with people I respect and love being around, but my boss continues to add on more responsibility, which I’m more than happy to accept! On my weekly day off, I continue to volunteer at “A Kid Again” an organization which improves the lives of children with life threatening illnesses and their families. It feels good to make a difference in people’s lives by helping with whatever needs done in the office. I really love doing whatever I can to help these families, even if it's just from the office.

I just completed a ten week program called "Constraint-Induced Therapy" for my left arm. It was an intense program, which they often referred to as 'boot camp'. I went to therapy three times a week, and in addition, had my strong hand “mitted” for five hours a day, seven days a week. This forced me to use my left hand for ALL activities (this was very difficult and frustrating, but I managed). When I was tested at the end of the program, my left limb showed improvements in almost all areas! I plan on continuing on my own everything that I learned to even further my improvement.

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, I spoke at Columbus State Community College for Disability Awareness Month last October. I really enjoyed this experience and I hope public speaking is in my future. I would love to be able to share my experiences with others.

When I recently saw my Neurologist, he could not get over the improvements that I’ve made in this past year. He wasn’t just talking about my physical improvements; he was astounded by my cognitive improvements as well!

I continue to see a Neuro-Psychologist regularly. It's nice to have someone to talk with and help me cope with my day to day challenges. She really understands where I’m coming from. And at times it seems that she's the only one that does.

I am finding myself becoming more independent daily. More and more people are finally starting to trust my judgments and decision making. Sure, I’m not quite at a complete recovery, but just seeing all of the advancements I’ve made over these last six years is great motivation for me! Thank you to my family, friends, doctors, therapists and everyone else who’s been part of this recovery. I truly appreciate all of your guidance, patience and understanding and the role you each have taken in this journey. But most especially, thank you God for making this all part of your plan.

I don’t want you to dwell on this date and feel sorry for me. When you look at this day I want you to think Rachel not only beat the odds but she continues to fight to improve. I want to be known as a fighter. I do realize, especially after six years that there’s no quick fix, so I have to stay positive and keep pushing forward in order to accomplish my goals.

In a weird sort of way, what happened on this day will always keep me and my friends connected. Today, mass texts were sent out between us, reminding each other how grateful we are to have one another in our lives. The bond that we share is one that I can’t describe. Our friendship is just that special!

I love you girls!!


Thank you and please keep praying!


Everybody Needs Somebody Sometime

Posted on May 3, 2012 at 9:15 PM Comments comments (5)

If there’s one thing I’ve realized throughout the last five and a half years is how important being supported and being supportive is. Everyone needs to feel encouraged by others around them in order to overcome the obstacles they face. Within the last couple weeks, I met with a survivor of a gunshot wound to the head, a survivor of a Hemorrhagic Stroke and old rehab buddies from Children’s Hospital.


I met a woman for lunch who was a victim of a gunshot wound to the brain, much like mine. Hers occurred in August 1998, eight years prior to mine. She contacted my family just days after I was injured to provide a source of hope. It was nice talking to someone who truly understands what I'm dealing with and perhaps is the only one who is actually aware of my struggles. I look to her as an example of just how far hard work and determination can take you. I have found, especially more recently that I need someone to look to who has been through a similar experience.


I then visited a gentleman who suffered a Hemorrhagic Stroke, in December of 2010. Impressively enough, even though he suffered his brain injury fairly recently, he is already back to his job, doing what he loves and believes in. This gentleman, being a man of God, prayed relentlessly for my survival and recovery when I needed it most. So when his secretary called a couple weeks after his stroke, asking if I would visit him and share some hope and inspiration, I was more than willing to return the favor. Hopefully, he was able to see firsthand what might be in store for his future and was given the boost of confidence needed to continue to recover. My only wish is that I’m half the inspiration to him as he is to me!


I attended the annual Children’s Hospital rehab prom where I ran into many of my old therapists, and fellow patients. These people provided me with the inspiration and support I needed to get through that tough part of my life. Additionally, I came across others with similar injuries to mine who I’ve visited these past few years in  hopes of offering them support. These people are such a big part of my life now, I consider them friends.


I want to thank each and every one of you for the strength and encouragement that we’ve shared. Not sure what we would do if we didn’t have each other to share our triumphs and struggles with. I want you to know that you all have been quite the inspiration to me. And we will continue to complete this journey together.

God is good . . . all the time!

Time to Slow Down

Posted on February 23, 2012 at 8:00 PM Comments comments (8)

These last five years I have taken so much pride in the fact that I've learned to slow down; not only to gather my thoughts but also to keep myself physically safe. Well. . . last weekend I didn't quite adhere to my own advice. I found myself rushing through the house, not paying attention to my surroundings and tripped over the dog, falling onto my weakened left side. The good news is, I was miraculously able to break the fall with my challenged left hand which stopped my head from hitting the floor and may have prevented another brain injury. Unfortunately, I fractured my left hand in the process. I'm now casted from my fingers to my forearm for the next three weeks.

Before this happened, I never realized how much I really used my left hand to help me do so many things each day. Things like holding the toothbrush while I put the toothpaste on it, holding papers down while I write or even using it to scratch my right arm. I've had limited feeling on my left arm since the injury, but now I wonder just how limited the feeling is anymore because with this darn cast my arm is itching like crazy!

Because I consider this such a setback, it has been difficult for me to keep a positive attitude. I find myself feeling very frustrated for many different reasons. I've come so far in this recovery and now something like this takes place and I feel defeated. I find myself thinking...Great! What else can go wrong? But, I know I need to be thankful because it could have been so much worse.

I think this might be a wake up call for me to start slowing down. What do you think?

Grocery Shopping Challenges

Posted on January 11, 2012 at 5:55 PM Comments comments (5)

Grocery shopping can be a challenge for anyone;but for someone with a brain injury, the problem is greatly magnified.


My shopping challenge begins with taking inventory in my Ipad grocery app which is a continuous process taking days or even weeks before the actual shopping trip. The app not only assists my memory by organizing the groceries I need, but it also keeps track of the running cost which helps me stay within my budget.


The next step, is the planning stage. The non-brain injured person can get up and go to the store whenever they want, but for me it takes much more of an effort. Most people do their grocery shopping when it fits into their schedule. Shopping not only has to be at my convenience, but also at the convenience of the person willing to take me. The only request I have for this person is to let me shop independently, no matter how long it takes. Today was one where it was convenient for both of us. Because repetition is instrumental for my memory, shopping at smaller stores, where items are always in the same area, minimizes confusion and frustration. But because I’m typically at the mercy of other people, I ended up at the mega store…Wal Mart… so let the challenge begin.


After setting up my Ipad in the grocery cart, which is now being used as a replacement for my cane, I’m off in search of the first item on my list... deodorant, but since I’m at a new store, it’s not in the spot I thought it would be. Deep breath Rach, it’s okay. So I stop, look around, think logically and go on to do this with each item on my list. It’s difficult for me to bounce around on my shopping list, I have to search for items in the order that I have them listed. And of course this takes me to one end of the store and back to the other end multiple times. Sometimes I wonder what this looks like to others; Oh well, their problem I guess! Perhaps down the road I can figure out how to better organize my grocery app so I can locate items by aisle. But for now, it is what it is.


After I’ve found all my groceries, it’s time to checkout... OH BOY! Most people look for the shortest checkout line, but I look for a lengthy line to ensure giving myself the extra time I need to secure my payment. Due to my left arm impairment, I have to open my purse, wallet and dig out my credit card or money with just one hand. After the checkout is complete, I have to hurry to get out of the way so as the people behind me won’t get impatient. You see, it takes just as long to put everything back in my wallet as it did taking it out.


Now it’s all done, or is it?  Nope, I still have to find the car. Fortunately I’m parked right in the front. Thank goodness for the handicapped spot, well at least something good came out of all this.


Now that it’s all over and I've had time to reflect on the experience I feel a great sense of accomplishment. . . not to mention relief! I realize this will only get better through practice.

Gabby Giffords: A comparison

Posted on December 1, 2011 at 8:05 PM Comments comments (6)

A couple weeks ago, there was a special on 20/20 about Gabby Giffords’ amazing recovery. I dvr’d it and started watching it again which inspired this blog. It’s amazing how similar yet different our injuries are.


Gabby and I were not only both shot in the brain but we face many of the same challenges. For example, we both have hemi paresis, meaning weakness in one side. Mine is on the left, where Gabby’s is on her right this is due to which side of the brain was damaged at the motor cortex. Mine on the right, Gabby’s on the left. I have left side weakness because the bullet damaged the right side of my brain. And Gabby has right side weakness because the bullet damaged the left side of her brain. Are you confused yet? It was interesting seeing her smile while in the hospital bed because it looked very similar to mine while I was in the hospital. The only difference is my half smile was on the right side and her half smile is on the left. (See photo below) .


Gabby suffers from Aphasia, which is a language disorder due to damage to the left side of the brain.. She has difficulty finding the right words and expressing herself. Even though the bullet entered the right side of my brain and crossed over into the left hemisphere, it missed the speech center therefore sparing me any language or speech disorders. It’s interesting to note that her husband, Mark Kelly stated on the special the doctor told him if the bullet would have crossed hemispheres it would have killed her. Well I’m here to tell you that I’m living proof that that notion isn’t always correct.


I don’t know how much Gabby’s memory has been affected by her injury but mine was significantly impaired due to the bullet crossing over both hippocampi, the memory centers. I would guess that we’re both dealing with similar executive functioning problems due to the fact that the bullet in my brain went through my left frontal lobe and permanently rests above my left eye. And Gabby was shot in the left frontal lobe, above her left eye. Seeing Gabby in the helmet took me back to that time in my life. We both wore helmets for months to protect our brains because a portion of our skulls were removed to allow our brains to swell.


I really feel a connection to Gabby as well as other TBI survivors. I’m glad that Gabby has decided to bring awareness of brain injury to the general public because everyone needs to be aware of the struggles that we face and there’s no better person than Gabby to bring attention to this. I really hope someday I have the chance to meet her and perhaps we can share our experiences with each other. Gabby’s survival and recovery is really nothing short of a miracle. I wish her all the best and will continue to pray for even further recovery.


Disability Awareness

Posted on November 3, 2011 at 7:05 PM Comments comments (4)

I was asked to speak to Columbus State Community College for disability awareness month, this speech took place on October 31st. My goal was to give strength and hope to others while helping them overcome their own adversity. One of the greatest reasons for this presentation was to show others how you can. I want to be a source of inspiration, strength, motivation and hope while helping others live their life to the fullest. I trust that I achieved this! I believe this injury happened for a reason and if this reason is for me to be an advocate for the disabled then it’s all worthwhile. In life, it’s all about doing what you can to help others. Use your own experiences as a guide. Maybe this will be a stepping stone for future opportunities. :)  Click here to view the news broadcast.