March is Brain Injury Awareness Month > Jill's Story
An 18 year old with severe TBI as the result of a heart attack
I am Lisa Grady, a high school teacher at Rost School, a program of the Hamilton County Board of Developmental Disabilities. Jill is an 18 year old young woman in my class who sustained a severe TBI at the age of 16 when she had a serious heart attack that left her without oxygen for a significant amount of time.
At 16 Jill was a high school student with an above average intellect and a near 4.0 grade point average. She was active and had a love of bowling, choir, soccer, and her friends. All of this changed following her heart attack and subsequent severe TBI.
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Jill is a very receptive and alert 18 year old girl. She can say yes by smiling and no by pursing her lips. She will on occasion try to speak or initiate speech, however it is very hard to know what she is saying since she has little or no voice and limited ability to correctly form words. She tries to move her left and right arms and legs, but the movement is not functional since there is very little strength in the movement. Also, there is still a great deal of associated pain in her right extremities. She suffers from constant spasms that are controlled through medication. Also, as a result of the TBI, Jill feels pain when touched/moved unexpectedly, and she has an over-active startle reflex. Just changing her position must be a slow and methodical process. She is limited to lying on her back or sitting in her wheelchair. She has no ability to tolerate the pressure involved with other positions and has problems with spasticity that will not allow her to bend her body for other positioning options.
To add to Jill's difficult situation, her mom passed away one year before her illness occurred. Her dad has had to muddle through a tidal wave of loss and pain. His love and support for Jill is nothing short of amazing. She adores her dad and sisters and they adore her as well.
It is incorrect to assume that Jill is unhappy, despite her many challenges. She is a happy and expressive young woman. She is quick to mouth thank you for anything you do for her. Just recently she has become able to eat pureed food and this has become a new love, a new motivation, and a new joy in her life.
Jill has been fortunate enough to have a few recent blessings in addition to her ability to eat by mouth. She just got (through donation) a motorized wheelchair that she is learning to operate using head control. She has a sophisticated Augmentative Communication device that has just arrived. We are anxious to learn to use it so we can introduce it to her. She has also just received a non-motorized wheelchair to replace the "loaner" chair she has had until now. She now travels to and from school much more comfortably. Things are certainly looking up for Jill.
Although her academic/intellect has been severely affected, we are focusing her areas of strength on activities that will be useful in moving Jill closer to being able to control her daily life. She is able to compute simple math problems and we are gearing this skill toward managing her bank account. She is working on calendar skills so that she will be able to set up a weekly schedule. Working on telling time will allow her to apply it to her daily schedule. Learning to Google will help her entertain and educate herself. Jill is a willing student and she enjoys working on these academic areas.
Although the events that Jill has experienced seem tragic, she is not one to give up or to wallow in pity. She has a spirit that shines through each and every day. She gives one hundred percent at all times! She lets a bad day go by and never looks back, rebounding quickly to start over as soon as her difficulties pass. She loves life and people. It's easy to give Jill one hundred percent of my effort when she needs it. It takes people about one minute with her to feel the same way; she's that engaging.