Can your rehab attitude change your life or your progress? One woman with a relentlessly positive attitude is living proof that a brain injury doesn’t have to stop you. And it might just help you get well.
We sat down recently with Heidi as she was just about to graduate from Pate’s outpatient program. Heidi wanted to share her story so other people experiencing a brain injury could learn a little about what it’s like. We wanted to share her amazing positivity. Heidi’s rehab attitude was inspirational to everyone around her.
The Brain Injury
Heidi was an elementary school teacher for thirty-three years. She’d just retired and as a naturally high-energy person, Heidi was enjoying life to the fullest. Like most people, Heidi never planned on a brain injury. But that’s what happened when Heidi was riding her motorcycle one day and suddenly wiped out, rolling over three times. Heidi was air lifted to a trauma center where doctors said it was a miracle she survived. She hadn’t been wearing a helmet.
Heidi was hospitalized with extensive injuries including broken bones and herniated discs in her neck. When she was discharged from the hospital, Heidi began intensive physical therapy.
Heidi made physical improvements but she didn’t feel like herself. She was having memory issues and felt like she was repeating herself. Her normally outgoing and energetic personality seemed to be changing.
Doctors overseeing Heidi’s recovery were focused on her physical condition. But Heidi was becoming depressed. Beyond the depression, she felt there was something else amiss, but she couldn’t pinpoint what was wrong.
Five months after her accident, Heidi’s depression had worsened. She was still in physical therapy for her injuries. But now she was contemplating suicide. Her old life seemed irretrievable and she didn’t know who this new Heidi was. Was she going to be like this forever? Was the old Heidi just gone?
Heidi rarely went out now but she made herself visit a relative at a nursing home. While chatting with a nurse about her accident, the nurse suggested that Heidi’s symptoms sounded like she might have sustained some brain trauma. The nurse told Heidi about brain injury rehabilitation and mentioned Pate as a place Heidi could investigate for treatment.
Shortly after, Heidi confided in her best friend that she didn’t care whether she lived or died. Heidi was shocked when her friend said, “Have you thought about Pate?” It turned out that Heidi’s friend knew someone who’d been through brain injury rehab at Pate. With two people mentioning Pate, Heidi felt it was a sign. She and her husband scheduled a tour. After her visit to Pate’s Dallas center, Heidi decided to begin rehab with us.
Finally, the pieces started falling into place, Heidi says. She learned how an undiagnosed brain injury can disrupt a life, and all her symptoms suddenly made sense. Heidi says she knew she was now in the right place to get the treatment she needed. “I knew it from the second day,” Heidi says.
Heidi was struck by how quickly she felt at home. “One thing I noticed was they knew me by name in no time. As a teacher, I know how hard that is. Everyone did it and it made a difference. Even people in the cafeteria are so nice. I’ve never seen any kinder people anywhere and I really notice that kind of thing.”
Heidi continues her physical therapy every day at Pate, but also receives targeted therapy to retrain her brain.
“I love how every day is different,” says Heidi. “You might have individual therapy, occupational therapy – I didn’t realize how neat that was! – speech therapy then meditation and process group where a bunch of us talk about a topic. I love all the therapies, especially physical therapy. When I was doing PT before, it’s just you and the therapist so you don’t socialize, but here you can.”
She’s been amazed at the difference in her life that rehab has made. “My progress has been leaps and bounds. Everyone notices, and says you don’t even sound like the same person. Everything has changed.”
Heidi feels incredibly lucky. “Had I not come here, I would not be where I am today,” Heidi says. ”I have no doubt. I know that I would not be functioning like I am. I’m so grateful. If I’d stopped at physical therapy I’d still be sitting at home, unhappy. Pate gives me hope. Everyone is phenomenal.“
It’s not just her own progress that is meaningful. “It’s so cool to see other patients improve,” Heidi says. “I love every single person I’ve met here. We’re planning a reunion when we graduate. We’ve gotten to be best friends. I miss them when I’m not here. The staff knew me so well I could hardly wait until Monday. I love it so much and my husband is thrilled. I look forward to it so much I lay out my clothes the next before. I have never experienced anything like this. It’s beyond anything. It’s been the most amazing thing.
I have a mission now. This is the greatest place that ever was and I feel it’s my calling to tell people that.” Heidi’s advice for people experiencing a brain injury is simple. “Life will continue. Maybe a little differently – but you’ll be OK.”
Thanks Heidi, for inspiring us all and showing how far a great rehab attitude will take you.