Before Severe Traumatic Brain Injury: Helena Part Two
In one of the great compliments that can be paid to anyone, Helena has lived an interesting life, the brain injury perhaps adding another diverse chapter to it. She was a twice divorced woman before severe traumatic brain injury, with little family who had made her way in the world on her own, carving a niche for herself and her talents. Who was Helena before severe traumatic brain injury. She explains:
I’m a professional singer. I’ve sung concerts all over the world, and I also teach, so when, when the accident, or for seven years I taught at Saint Norbert College. I was on the music faculty teaching singing, playing, etc. (until) June 2007.
I have a bachelor’s degree from Saint Olaf College, in piano performance, and then I went to grad school at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and got another, master’s degree, in music with a specialize in vocal performance, so I have this piano certification and this voice certification. A bachelor of music degree, BM, and a master of music degree, MM.
And then I went for professional development, I moved to London, England, to seek my fame and fortune as a singer, and little fame and no fortune, and but it was a perfect place for me to go, it really was. Then I, I got married; we, my husband was a professional musician as well, a conductor, and I, we moved to Houston, I was teaching at Rice University and I taught there for 12 years, and then I went back to school and got a master’s degree in counseling.
The core of my being is in music. It isn’t what I do, it is who I am. I mean I am some other things as well, but music is the air I breathe; it’s the language I speak.
What type of music did you do before severe traumatic brain injury ?
Early on folk music, whatever came on. In piano I was playing classical music; Chopin and Bach and Haydn, and then I, my studies pursued classical music, both in piano and then in voice as well. So the color of my voice, the size of my voice did not, at that time, lend itself to opera and, but there were enough places that I could make a living doing concerts.
I taught for three years at Carlton College in Minnesota, and then I thought, unless I do this thing, unless I risk going to make a living as a professional singer, I’ll regret that my whole life, and so that’s why I went to England.
Helena was 62 on the date of her accident and before severe traumatic brain injury, 65 the day we interviewed her. She had been divorced twice, with the most recent marriage ending about 10 years previous to our interview.
I was married twice. Once for ten years and the second marriage was for nine years.
Did you have children before severe traumatic brain injury?
No, I have two stepchildren, two grown stepchildren. I have very little family. I have a brother who lives in Pittsburgh, who’s two years older than I, and in Green Bay I have one first cousin, and I have a few cousins near Milwaukee, and that’s the extent of my biological family.
At the time of her accident and before severe traumatic brain injury, she was unemployed, having been laid off from St. Norbert’s College. Complicating her pre-injury and before severe traumatic brain injury income situation was a fall she suffered shortly after leaving St. Norbert’s. She explains:
I had a one-year contract (at St. Norbert’s) and they said – after that (one year) you don’t have a job. So I, I didn’t have a source of income, and I thought okay, well I will open a teaching practice, because I had had a studio of voice students, and I knew that I could have a cash flow that way.
In July (the year of her accident) then I fell at a job and broke both of my wrists, so that totally took that possible source of income away. I was taking some children to a pool for their swimming lessons, and I, I did not see a patch of tile that had some water in it, and I slipped and I just fell on both of my wrists.
She doesn’t remember whether she suffered a concussion in that fall. She also had other, what would be called in the medical community, “co-morbidities” other health risks. She explains why she was in the high risk insurance pool through the State of Wisconsin:
Asthma, allergy problems. They call it multiple medical issues. I’ve, I’ve been on depression medications for decades, and I think that combination, that’s what they said worked against me.
Despite these co-morbidities, in the 40 years before her car wreck and before severe traumatic brain injury, she had either been in school or worked in almost all of those years. Never had her depression, asthma or allergies interfered with her capacities or her music.