In 2002 at the age of 45 I sustained my 6th concussion while skiing in Colorado. I fell on powder covered ice while actually standing on the hill looking back at my fresh tracks in the snow. I'd never before been the 1st one down a hill. I thought I just "rang my bell' but over the next week things continued to get progressively worse.
Despite being a Family Physician for 16 years, I'd not known of the consequences of repetitive concussions. I was told during my rehab that your 1st concussion makes you 3 times a likely to sustain a 2nd, your 2nd makes you 8 times more likely to sustain a 3rd. and after 3, you have a 50% chance of permanent cognitive deficits. I'd have never taking up skiing if I'd known the risks, my medical career and aviation hobby were too important to risk losing.
As I labored through the initial difficult weeks and then months until I was "found" and hooked up with a specialist skilled in dealing with TBI and an outpatient rehabilitation program, I wondered how I had seen so little about BI and TBI in the medical literature for primary care physicians. I had completed a Family practice residency and sat for the Family Practice Boards in 1986 and then renewal exams in 1992 and 1999 and didn't remember any areas of those exams or my training covering traumatic brain injury. If I, a physician, knew so little about the condition and had such difficulty getting adequate care for it, how did the typical non-medical patient deal with it?
That began my journey educating myself about TBI and trying to help raise awareness about Brain Injury as well as pass on information to others on the same journey. I also participated annually until moving away from Colorado in the Pikes Peak Challenge. I climbed Pikes Peak for the Colorado Brain Injury Association annual fundraiser from 2002 through 2008 ,raising funds for their programs to help those with brain injury as well as their families and caregivers.
After my 2002 Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) I was continuing to have difficulty dealing with the losses I'd had, both in my own personal functioning abilities and the related loss of my career. In 2005 I had a near fatal car accident, with resultant injuries that were potentially life-threatening. As I recovered from these injuries, my father had a near fatal accident and suffered a TBI. Almost the entire year was wiped out in dealing with these issues. Just as I was getting my feet under me in 2006, my 12 year old Boston Terrier was found to be at risk of dying due to a faulty heart valve and my younger, and I thought much healthier Boston Terrier developed a brain tumor. Fortunately, it was a type sensitive to radiation treatment and he responded well. When I asked his veterinarian what might be the consequences of the tumor and treatment in relationship to his cognitive function, I was told "He only has to be a dog." This gave me a start, as he would likely be as happy as before, even with cognitive changes, because he didn't expect himself to be more than just a dog.
I began 2007 with a new attitude, that being a doctor and a pilot was what I did, not who I was. I also came to realize that in the scope of life, being alive and in pretty good physical condition, as well as having the ability and means to take care of myself and more, was a pretty good thing. I also finally realized that in life, the journey is as important as the destination. I decided to travel, visiting the last of the 50 states, I'd yet to visit, and while traveling to resume work on the Brain Injury Tools book I'd started before my car accident and had set aside. This 2007 journey eventually led me to visit all 50 states in my 50th year and to meet many wonderful people along the journey, many with personal or family experience with brain injury.
The book I had labored to start, seemed to just write itself and after I submitted it to Demos Medical Publishing and became Brain Injury Survival Kit. 2007 was the year I finally found peace, I was able to accept the new me and leave behind my medical career and the person I had been before my accident. I came to realize that I am where I'm supposed to be. I now know that with my background in medicine, administration, community education and aviation, as well as my personal and family experience with brain injury, I can be a resource to others. I hope as I continue my journey, that I can help others dealing with brain injury to better understand and deal with the changes in themselves, their family members or their friends. I also hope to help remove the title "Silent Epidemic" from brain injury by speaking publicly wherever and whenever possible, to raise the knowledge and understanding of this topic among the medical community as well as the general public.
Let the journey begin!
Before my TBI I'd set a goal to fly an airplane in every state. I flew my plane or flew a rental plane in the following states: Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, South Dakota, Illinois, Kansas, New Mexico, Arizona, Hawaii, Montana, Alaska, North Dakota, Massachusetts, and North Carolina. I also flew in the following Canadian Provinces: Alberta, British Columbia and the Yukon Territories. Lastly I flew in New Zealand. Below I've included a few photos from my flight to Alaska. I flew solo from Boulder county Colorado to Anchorage and back but caravanned with 2 other airplanes piloted by women, both with second pilots aboard. We were flying to a Ninety-Nines International Meeting in Anchorage.
Since I had to give up flying and my airplane the goal of flying to every state has been transformed to presenting about BI/TBI in every state. The journey has begun! I've so far presented in Colorado, Michigan, North Carolina, Washington, West Virginia, Tennessee and North Dakota. I was asked to present in Montana in 2020 but the state conference was cancelled due to COVID-19. I hope to get there when things settle down again as well as to other new places.