Posted on April 9, 2011 · Posted in TBI Voices
This entry is part 1 of 14 in the series Gina

Brain Injury Survivor: Gina Part One

One of the hot topic debates in brain injury circles has always been: Who is it that survives? Some brain injury survivor’s talk about the death of themselves and being reborn as a different person. I have always shied away from such characterizations, it is usually who the brain injury survivor was before that shapes the recovery as much as the severity of his or her injury.

Gina is a brain injury survivor. Despite being a brain injury survivor of a severe injury – the drive, ambition and personality traits that allowed her to excel as an insurance agent before the accident, made an early return to work possible for her as a brain injury survivor. She went back to work only six weeks after her skull fracture. With accommodations, she has returned to a job that involves enormous memory and multi-tasking challenges that can be very difficult for brain injury survivors. This brain injury survivor’s recovery occurred despite a shockingly low commitment to care, both in terms of her initial discharge from the trauma center and out-patient rehabilitation. Fortunately, an extraordinarily committed boss allowed her to use the workplace as her out-patient therapy and she is not just a brain injury survivor, but a winner.

The Accident That Caused Gina to Be a Brain Injury Survivor

Gina was hurt while sledding January 21, 2006. She explains:

Well, I decided to go tubing with my son and four of his friends. A tubing hill had opened at a local ski resort and my son was after me and after me and after me to bring him, because there was TV commercials and stuff. I don’t remember the day. I don’t remember what I did.

In fact I, I remember the night before looking online to get some directions on how to get up to this place. And in the – this happened on a Saturday. And Saturday morning I had told my son he could call three friends. I apparently went shopping, grocery shopping, and said we will leave at noon.

This place opened at 1:00 and we will be home by 4:00 because it was only open for three hours and just have fun with the kids. Of course, the other kids’ parents knew I had picked them up and that was the plan. My husband didn’t know at all because he was working. He had no idea what I was doing, where I was going; just started out as something to have fun doing with the kids. I used to be a really fun mom. I liked doing stuff like that.

In a surprisingly common occurrence for an injury which involved severe brain swelling, she was conscious after the accident. The pathological explanation for this is that it is the secondary injury to the brain from swelling and bleeding that may cause the greatest injury, even if the brain injury survivor is lucid after the injury. In one large study of 1,300 people, 32% of those with fatal TBI talked after the injury.

Gina explains:

Apparently, I was in and out a couple of times. Apparently, I told the guy that was helping me my age, which was 40 at the time, and I gave him – I didn’t know where I lived. I said I lived up at a previous address, which I don’t know why that came out. And, and complained about my shoulder hurting. That was about it.

Gina’s husband tells his story:

I was at work and one of the parents of the kid that was with her came to my place of employment and told me that Gina was involved in an accident and that she hit her head and they were taking her to the hospital. At the time, I thought that, you know, I was going have to leave work and didn’t think that it would be a serious issue.

And so, I left work and went to the hospital to, to locate her. Unfortunately, she wasn’t at the hospital that I thought that she would have gone to. They actually had flown her down to a trauma center further south in the state. So, we had to actually locate where she was.

I guess I made an assumption what hospital we would normally use; that she would be there. She wasn’t there and they called other hospitals in the area and they couldn’t locate her. Finally, one of the Ski Patrol people actually contacted me. They got my cell phone number from another one of the parents that, of the children that were with her, and told me where they were flying her. And I made arrangements at that time to pick up my son and then drive down to the hospital where she was flown to.

Initially, I, I didn’t think it was real serious and I actually had talked to her parents on the phone on the way down there, and they were going to come down. I said, “Well, it’s probably nothing.” As we were getting closer, I realized that they don’t fly people in a helicopter for minor injuries, that this must be pretty serious.

She was flown to Theda Clark Hospital in Neenah, where a craniotomy was done on her. Her husband continues:

We found out where she was and at the time she was in surgery, and that’s when I realized that this must be pretty important. The surgeon, the trauma surgeon and the neurosurgeon both came out and talked to both my son and myself, and said that she had to return to have another CAT scan done. Because, they couldn’t complete that before they had to rush her into surgery to take care of her brain injury.

They told me that it was quite serious and that they didn’t know what the long-term effects were going to be. They did not know at that time even if, you know, if she was going to survive through, you know, the next you know 24 to 48 hours.

Gina was in a coma for eight days. Her husband explains what that time was like:

It was pretty hard. I’d go in and see her. My son never did see her in that state. He just didn’t want to go see her in the condition that she was in. Well, she was intubated. They had her head wrapped up, monitors, and a lot of different devices hooked up to her and pretty much just laid and didn’t really do a lot of moving.

What were the doctors telling you during this time?

At first, they said they didn’t know and I remember talking to the trauma surgeon on a Friday; that must have been the following Friday. And they said that if she doesn’t come out of the coma by Monday they were going to do another surgery and place an A-feeding tube and a trach so that she could breathe rather than being intubated.

Did they go ahead and do that second surgery?

No, they didn’t do it as I’m using that Monday; over the weekend she came out of the coma and the doctors were quite surprised about that as well.

Right after she, she came out of the coma I was there. It was a gradual thing, and when she did become responsive she really wasn’t her own person. She was talking a lot of nonsense.

Gina explains the injuries she suffered:

I fractured my skull in three different places. I think I did something to neck, but I’m not quite sure. Apparently, I had gone over – I was going down, it was my third run and had flipped over a beam, a berm, and the hill and hit a tree. My son said that some – another guy had come up and I had woken up a few times and said my shoulder hurt. Now, I never hurt my shoulder. I’ve never had problems with my shoulder. I don’t know why I said that. And my son does remember coming up to me and he said, “You broke your glasses and there was blood coming out of your ear,” which we found out was blood and CSF fluid.

I know I had a frontal lobe injury. I’m partially deaf in my right ear, because it was my right side of my head. One was I know my right side. It’s all caved in. I have got where they cut from here all the way around my head and as far as that, like I said frontal lobe; something in the back. I do have the burr holes, but apparently those were put into measure brain pressure.

Gina’s brain injury survivor story is different than other brain injury survivor’s as the severity of her injuries could have been catastrophic but her speedy return to work is a great example of how ambition can help those who have suffered a brain injury.

Next in Part Two, Emerging from the Coma

by Attorney Gordon S. Johnson, Jr.

About the Author

Attorney Gordon S. Johnson, Jr.
Past Chair Traumatic Brain Injury Litigation Group, American Association of Justice :: 800-992-9447