Growing up, my whole life was competitive cheerleading. I was a flyer and loved to tumble, so I stuck with it all the way to high school and was very proud when I made the Varsity competition team as a freshman. When it came time for my physical during my sophomore year the results were not as I had expected, and the doctors would later diagnose me with scoliosis. This had never been detected before so I wasn’t sure what this meant for me as someone who just turned 15. Neither could I have imagined what I would be going through next.
My life continued the way it always had. I cheered Varsity my sophomore year and tumbled and flew like I always had. Every six months I got reevaluated with x-rays and measurements of the curvature of my spine. My case of scoliosis was more extreme because I had two separate curves to my spine, looking like a backwards S. After sophomore year, I moved to Alaska. I had vowed not to cheer at another school, but that didn’t last. After an intense week of tryouts, I was gladly welcomed on the Varsity team at my new school.
Now 16 years old, I am on my third check up. My scoliosis got drastically worse over the course of the last six months. I was in excruciating pain, taking up to 3200mg of pain reliever multiple times a day, yet I was given no relief. A normal day at school was not so normal anymore especially with the amount of pain I was in. A few months later when school was over for the time being, I was brought in for surgery.
I never imagined that recovery would be that painful, the most most pain I had ever gone through. The surgery lasted 7.5 hours, but I was in the hospital for 7 days, and I was only just beginning the journey of recovery. I wasn’t able do anything on my own; bath myself, use the restroom, change clothes, or even eat or drink without help. After the first month I weighed under 100lbs. They took bone from my hip to help fuse my spine, I grew 2.5 inches from the straightening of my spine, and I have a rather long scar down the length of my back. After 3 months I was able to walk normally, my muscles began to strengthen to support the weight of my upper body, and my core hurt constantly because that was the main source of stability.
The final stages of healing lasted another two years. Having quit cheerleading, I felt like I lost part of myself. There was a lot I felt I missed out on, but here I am 9.5 years later and I’m thriving. I’ve learned how to push past the pain when it comes. I stay physically fit and keep my back strengthened to help support the rest of my body. I learned a whole new strength about myself and I rarely think about my back these days. Just by looking, you’d barely even notice the scar. I still face challenges with not being able to bend my spine at times. It makes activities and life difficult sometimes but I’m thankful I’m not in the pain I was in before the surgery. That’s what keeps me positive about all the things I miss out on now.
I’ve told you my story…what’s yours?
For my friends and family, I can’t imagine what it was like for them to drive all the way to the hospital to see me hooked up to all the machines, clinging to the thread of life. This made an impact on everyones life. But the story isn't over. I fought and pulled through. My memory started to recover once my mind wasn’t clouded from the pain killers prescribed.
Almost fully recovered, I knew I would never be the same. Losing all ability to hold a conversation or even remember short term information for more than 60 seconds scared me, made me angry at the same time. Giving up and allowing this to run my life was not an option for me. I had bigger plans.
Rehabilitative therapy was the best for me, improving my cognitive function and basic motor skills: finger dexterity, flexibility, and balance. This went on for months and if it wasn’t for my supporting friends and family working with me outside of those classes I would not be here now to tell my story. To those who were there for me through parts of my recovery, or those who were there through it all, thank you.
The short term memory loss still affects me today, but I have learned how to manage it. I've learned to always strive to be the best version of myself, knowing what it is that hinders me at times. You can do it too, and I hope my story comes to you in the form of encouragement.
I've told you my story...what's yours?
Brain injuries are unique.
They can come in all shapes and sizes, from mild concussions to open head injuries, they come with a wide range of symptoms.
My name is Derek and I suffer from a traumatic brain injury. This is my story...
On April 2nd, 2011, I was passenger in a single cab truck that rolled three times and struck a tree just after midnight. I don’t remember any of the events that came after this but the driver and police reports paint a chilling picture.
After the wreck I was found by first responders in the road, in shock and bleeding from my head. Initially I was responsive but after being examined by medics, I went into a Grand Mal seizure with violent muscle contractions and loss of consciousness.
Medics had me air lifted to the Mercy Hospital in Springfield, Mo where I was on life support for the next 17 hours. Now, if you're not familiar with the Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS), a number fifteen is the best response and is attained by testing eye opening, verbal response, and motor response and adding the three values together. The best results yield a number fifteen. Doctors scored me at a seven, comatose. If I was below a three I wouldn't be here writing my story for you.