My daughter’s Brain Injury

Years ago, my daughter Sarah wrote the following about her Brain Injury:

Brain injury comes when you least expect it. My straight A’s academic performance came under a great deal of challenge when suddenly, at age 12, I had a serious hemorrhage that spanned a large portion of my left brain. After days in the ICU, near coma, and a long stay at Children’s Hospital, I was confronted with long-term medical treatment and limited activities. My parents had to homeschool me the rest of the school year. Continuing soccer and basketball was out of the question. In the midst of all this, I was concerned about my academic performance and my career goal of becoming a pediatrician, a goal I have had since grade school. After 2 Gamma Knife surgeries to help malformed blood vessels obliterate, I was faced with a wait-and-see game. For me, this was one more thing to study and understand. How AVM is the lack of capillary beds in the brain. That oxygenated blood passes through to nourish neural tissues and that the lack of these capillary beds can cause increased pressure, which can cause vessel and vein burst, known also as a hemorrhage.

One thing I understood is that I was very lucky to come out of this with minimal deficits and no paralysis. Ok, I felt lucky and was eager to move on to do two things. First, continue my academic performance, and second, to find ways to play my sports and to continue to play and develop my flute skills under these new medical restrictions. I was starting my teens, and my determination to move beyond this was too ambitious. My parents stepped in to help me reach my goals without violating the medical restrictions. School was easy for me, and my brain was automatically programmed to do well. As for playing the flute and playing sports, I had to research, learn and master new short burst playing and breathing techniques, while not increasing the pressure inside my brain. Later, I joined the high school marching band, made first chair several times, and helped us win many contests and competitions.

Ok, having moved past this challenge, I was ready to forget this medical problem, and move on to my next challenge. As I continued to receive honors and awards during high school for academic and marching band performance, a new opportunity presented itself. I was offered an opportunity to become an Academy student, which is taking college classes while in high school. After studying this opportunity, I was excited to know that I can earn an entire year of college during my junior and senior years in high school. Now that I had a driver’s license and a car, I was able to work a schedule with my parents that allowed me to fit high school, marching band, college classes, volunteering at Children’s Hospital and working at JC Penny Department store into my schedule. When I graduated from high school, I started college as a sophomore in Biology Pre-Med and was inducted into the Honors and Scholars Program. I was happy and life was good.

During my transition to college, I was again presented with several challenges. One day, between classes, I could not see, and I had to call my father to come and get me. After a visit to the ER and batteries of tests over many days, we discovered that between the damage caused by the bleeding episode and the multiple Gamma radiation treatments, there were some changes in my brain. These changes included right superior vision deficiencies (top right quadrant in both eyes) and change in the way my brain processes information, including short term memory and word retrieval. Once superior in math and science, I found myself unable to comprehend those subjects the way I did before. Despite increasing my study effort and changing my study habits, I could not reach my standards of comprehension and performance. Also, it seems that the obliteration of blood vessels in my left brain was shifting some of my brain functions from left to right.

At age 19, a neuropsychological evaluation was necessary. This neuropsychological evaluation showed a full picture of pre- and post- AVM transitional issues. It seems that while the support I had received from my family and healthcare providers was awesome, no one understood or explained psychological or neuropsychological impact and effect. I had to find a way to help myself in this arena.

Basically, struggling to continue maintaining once mastered academic performance, I was surprised by the changes that were happening to my brain. Through this struggle, I saw a window of opportunity, which added to my goals of helping children and others with similar issues. This opportunity is all about the brain’s neurology, from the medical and psychological aspects. The goal of becoming a pediatrician was expanded and enhanced. Not only that I can study all of this, but I lived and felt the experience. Through my own struggle, I can better understand brain functions, brain injuries and brain deficit. I also have experienced brain transformation from one side to the other and became familiar with tricks to improve memory function. My understanding has started to pay off. During the last year at OSU, I returned to straight A’s again. That was a good feeling.

After starting grad school, I thought that I had enough knowledge and understanding to combat my challenges. I did well until my professor informed me that my verbal presentations showed more talent and understanding than my written ones. While this was not very surprising to me, as I felt some struggle with writing, it once again made me face my deficiencies. I pulled my old neuropsychological evaluation, and started looking for clues. It seems that at age 27, and with advanced studies, I am facing yet other challenges. For example, overcompensation for my deficiencies in the field of vision triggers my migraine problems. In the mental arena, my mind tries to reconcile what I see with what I know. This explains my struggle in reading comprehension, writing composition, and verbal expression. In the emotional arena, I am louder and tend to have social inhibitions, despite being an introvert in my younger years, indicating that my brain injury is not completely healed.

While I face my challenges as adventures, and feel the road to overcoming them is near, I am finally ready to admit two things. First, I am overly anxious and worn out from the excessive effort of trying to overcompensate for those deficiencies. Second, I think it is time to seek some needed academic help for learning disabilities.