Thursday, February 11, 2010

Oh, the places you’ll go!

 You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.
You're on your own.
And you know what you know.
And YOU are the one who'll decide where to go.

What is Traumatic Brain Injury?
A traumatic brain injury (TBI) is caused by a blow or jolt to the head or a penetrating head injury that disrupts the normal function of the brain. Not all blows or jolts to the head result in a TBI. The severity of a TBI may range from “mild,” i.e., a brief change in mental status or consciousness to “severe,” i.e., an extended period of unconsciousness or amnesia after the injury.

How many people have TBI? 
TBIs contribute to a substantial number of deaths and cases of permanent disability annually. Of the 1.4 million who sustain a TBI each year in the United States:
  • 50,000 die;
  • 235,000 are hospitalized; and
  • 1.1 million are treated and released from an emergency department.
The signs and symptoms of a traumatic brain injury (TBI) can be subtle. Symptoms of a TBI may not appear until days or weeks following the injury or may even be missed as people may look fine even though they may act or feel differently. The following are some common signs and symptoms of a TBI:
  • Headaches or neck pain that do not go away;
  • Difficulty remembering, concentrating, or making decisions;
  • Slowness in thinking, speaking, acting, or reading;
  • Getting lost or easily confused;
  • Feeling tired all of the time, having no energy or motivation;
  • Mood changes (feeling sad or angry for no reason);
  • Changes in sleep patterns (sleeping a lot more or having a hard time sleeping);
  • Light-headedness, dizziness, or loss of balance;
  • Nausea;
  • Increased sensitivity to lights, sounds, or distractions;
  • Blurred vision or eyes that tire easily;
  • Loss of sense of smell or taste; and
  • Ringing in the ears.

At the age of sixteen, Julien Modica was an Olympic hopeful.  His sport, pole-vaulting. In 1976, Julien was the Virginia State Champion pole-vaulter and was on his way to greater heights when an accident during one of his practices left him in a coma for thirteen days.  The severe brain injury he suffered left him paralyzed on the left side, unable to walk, and an attention span of a couple of minutes.  But with perseverance and hard work, he completed a BS in physics from  American University in 1987, a Masters in Public Heath from Eastern Virginia Medical school in 2003, a Masters in Public Policy from George Mason University and has gone on to become a tireless advocate for people with brain injuries.
Q:      Tell us what your process involved in the early days of your recovery?  
JM:     Very early recovery was me trying for months (hours every day) to straighten my left arm through various “home made” techniques and while using the wall for balance I stood for minutes and then hours trying to shift my weight from the left side to the right side and then back again.
Q:      When did you know you had “recovered” from your brain injury?
JM:     I fully recovered on three levels: physically, cognitively, and emotionally. After each level, I just instinctively felt whole again. After I fully recovered emotionally, I felt more whole than I had for each of the previous two levels. I can describe my feelings each time through a sense of relief, and each time the feeling was so overwhelming it brought tears to my eyes. I can also remember precisely where I was each time full recovery happened.
Q:      How has your brain injury made you a better person?
JM:     I was very lucky in the sense that pre-morbidly I was a good student and good athlete. After my injury, I had lost everything, from my ability to perform academically to my ability to perform athletically. The path to full recovery I accepted within weeks of my injury is a path, I don’t believe, many people would have attempted. The act of following through on the promise I made to myself has made me a stronger and more mature person than I probably would have been simply because I have now experienced the very, very bottom and managed to pull myself back up.
Q:      Do you have any regrets? 
JM:     Things you knew you would have been able to accomplish if the brain injury hadn’t occurred? My God, I have hundreds of regrets, but the one thing I don’t regret is having my two daughters with their mother. My daughters have grown to be as academically talented as their mother (a developmental pediatrician) and as athletically talented as me. Without my injury, I would have never met their mother and we would not have had our children.
Q:      Nearly all of us who have experienced the devastating effects of a brain injury have had to cope with very dark, hopeless days.  How did you get through yours?  What helped you to keep going?
JM:     Interesting question. The pure challenge of recovery has kept me motivated and out of necessity I quickly learned how to thrive off that challenge. Consequently, I have had very few dark days.
Q:      I know you’ve just begun the long, difficult work of a congressional campaign in the 10th district of Virginia.  Tell us about that .
JM:     I believe the community where I was injured and where I have recovered, the 10th District of Virginia, has been essential to what I have accomplished. My recovery has been touched by Virginians throughout  the 10th District in ways that I will never truly understand and will never be able to repay. It is this sense of community that has made America strong. As a member of Congress, I will bring this same sense of community to the legislative process and, again, make government work for the 10th District of Virginia.
Thank you Julien.  We'll keep following you and touch base again.  To find out move about Julien Modica, please contact him at 703-788-6636 or visit his website or his blog
 You’ll get mixed up, of course, as you already know. You’ll get mixed up with many strange birds as you go. So be sure when you step. Step with care and great tact and remember that Life’s a Great Balancing Act. Just never forget to be dexterous and deft. And never mix up your right foot with your left.

And will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and ¾ percent guaranteed.)
Kid, you’ll move mountains!
So…be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray or Mordecai Ale Van Allen O’Shea, you’re off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So…get on your way!


Oh, the Places You'll Go! (ISBN 978-0-679-80527-4), written and illustrated by Dr. Seuss, 1990.