Please read Erica’s story…she was a senior in high school in 2002 when she suffered a traumatic brain injury in a car crash. She works hard every day to continue to regain strength, skills and adapt to life with a TBI. Erica is now taking drawing lessons with an instructor who is patiently working with her to find ways to make (re)learning this art form enjoyable and productive! If you would like to support Erica and others, please consider a donation to SVF today.
“I was a senior in high school when I acquired a brain injury. Before this I was an athlete, I wouldn’t call myself an artist, but I did like to draw, and I was just very free spirited, I was an Artisan so I just went with it in life. I didn’t really have any definite plans, but I figured that one day I would make it to be a professional wrestler……yes, we’re talking WWE!
It’s a little hard to think back and remember what I liked to do for fun, I guess it’s because things are so different for me now. A fun day or night for me would be just hanging out with friends, going to the arcade downtown to play video games, or my friends and I would just cruise around downtown. Like I said, I was very free spirited so things changed for me from one moment to the next, there was never any definite plans.
I was in a car accident December 22, 2002. It was really bad. My car hit a tree and flipped. I was a passenger and I didn’t have an air bag so I just went everywhere. When my car hit the tree I went forward then back really hart. My head hit the back of the seat and I think that’s how I lost the good part of my vision. Then we flipped and the top of my head hit the top of my car forcing my head to go down and my neck broke, C1-C2. It was really bad for me. The doctors thought if I did make it through this I wouldn’t be able to walk or talk again, but you know doctors always have to relay the worst possible scenario. I had some strokes, during or after the accident, they didn’t really know when exactly or how many.
I was in the hospital for three months; I think I was only coherent for the third month. I was in a medically induced coma, but I’m not sure how long I was in one. Being in the hospital, there was always something wrong with me. It seemed like I could never get better. I think I couldn’t wake up because I had water in my brain. They had to put a shunt in my head to drain the water, Finally, after they put the shunt in I was coherent again, but shortly thereafter I developed blood clots. At first the doctors didn’t know what was wrong with me. Soon after I begun to vomit, everything I tried to eat, I would vomit. It got so bad, I stopped eating, but even with no food in my tummy, I would still vomit, but only bile would extract. That was all that was left. My weight dropped close to one hundred pounds. Also because of the blood clots, I would get these crippling headaches, when I say crippling; I mean it felt like getting hit in the head repeatedly with a sledge hammer. I can honestly say I have never known pain like that.
I went into rehab after that third month. I guess I did rehab for a year, it’s been so long I don’t even remember. Of course I was in a wheel chair, but by the time I was discharged I didn’t use anything to walk.
I still have left arm issues, it still doesn’t want to do much and I have drop foot on my left leg, but I use the Bioness brace that helps a bunch with my walking. Still, I’ve never been as strong as I once was. My right arm that does work isn’t very strong. I can barely pick my arm up to hold out in front of me, I haven’t been able to get it to go up past my head since before the accident, and I do try to work it out with weights.
I was doing really good when I got out. Sure I would have to do some more therapy when I found myself going back, but I could always get back up to the best I could be with a little more therapy. A few years ago something happened that set me way back. I couldn’t really tell you what it was, I don’t even know. I’ll try to paint a picture of how good I was doing. You know in cartoons when you see one of the characters slip on a banana peel? Yes, that did happen to me, but I never hit the floor. Somehow I caught myself. Once I stood myself up I bent over to pick up that dang banana peal and threw it away. Another thing……well, we have wooden floors and I use to be able to just walk around in my socks, without anything, all by myself. So now I have to have shoes on, which I do not like. I still get around ok now, but when I’m by myself I like to have my little cart. When my parents are home I try to walk on my own, but I still need that line of sight thing. I would love to be able to walk around on my own again, with nothing but my own two legs to steady me, but……I went to CORE healthcare for about two and a half months most recently. I was almost back to walking around with nothing again, but my insurance denied me the time to stay until the end of the year, even though all my therapists were very impressed with all the progress I had already made. I’m still hoping to get back there, but I just really want to move on with my life. I just feel like I’ve been stuck doing the same thing for so long, I just want to live my life now.
The first time I went to CORE was in 2007. I was there for six months. Well going back to my free spirit, I got bored being at home all day every day and wanted something to do. I went to DARS and they just wanted to throw me straight into ACC. I am newly blind, have no blind training, and they wanted to put me in college full time. yeah, that was a no. so then I went to Criss Cole, school for the blind to see how their program was. Well it turns out that I would have to live there while they were giving me blind training. I’m disabled, never been away from home and my mamma, and they wanted me to just move in. yup that was another no. so, back to DARS I went. Thankfully this time they gave me a really helpful counselor. We told her the situation and she recommended going to CORE Health Care.
Core is an inpatient care facility for those that are brain injured. I would get to live there in my own little room and receive some type of therapy daily. Yes, this includes occupational, physical, and speech therapy, but they also had everyday life kind of therapy. They also had staff there around the clock, so there was always someone around. CORE was exactly the intense type of therapy I needed. When I left CORE I walked with nothing but my sited cane. I was ready to go to Criss Cole!
By the time I got to Criss Cole (CCRC)I no longer needed to stay in their facilities, so I lived at home and traveled their daily. At CCRC its mandatory that if you are not fully blind you must use a blindfold. Now, with my brain injury it is literally impossible for me to walk In the dark, so at CORE they gave me a walker to use so I could feel safer. Eventually everyone decided that it just wasn’t practical for me to use the blindfold so I was excused from wearing one. I still needed to use the walker there though, it turns out blind folks just walk around full speed not really knowing what’s in front of them……I was tripped, bumped into, and had head on collisions, all of which would have Shirley had bad consequences if I had not had the walker.
The more I used the walker the more I started depending on it. I could feel myself deteriorating. At first when I got there I would leave my walker there and come home with my sited cane, but then I needed the single tip cane. Then I broke my ankle. I used a wheel chair for a few days, but when I could put pressure on my leg without pain I just went with the walker, and this was all day every day.
I started at Austin Community College in 2009 and I continued using the walker there too. I was still at CCRC when I started ACC, but it was just for my first semester. But still, I was very busy for those five years in school, so busy that I couldn’t keep up with my physical health. I did do some therapy in-between, but I was just so busy and on the go all the time that I couldn’t take the right time to focus on all my physical needs.
I graduated ACC May 2014 with a degree in Hospitality specializing in Meeting and Event Planning. I almost didn’t, not because my grades or anything, I had a 3.8 GPA, but because I had a hard time finding an internship. It seemed that nobody wanted to have a visually impaired disabled girl interning with them, but of course they won’t say that. I had to drop my internship class that semester. I eventually got an internship, but I had to go through family and my doctor’s contacts.
My parents have always been here for me. I guess they kind of had to be, but my family has been very supportive of me. I’ve learned a crappy, some might say a good thing about life…… Always, life goes on. If you’re going through something bad, sad, painful, life changing……life doesn’t wait for you to be ok again, it just keeps going. People move on, everybody moves on with their lives, with or without you. I had my best friends be here for me, but eventually they moved on. Everyone got married and had kids. Those that aren’t married yet are in serious relationships. I know they still care and think about me, but everybody moves on. My most recent friend, He was great! He was my friend, my best friend for the past year and a half, it was never anything more, we were just friends. He took me out and showed me what Austin was all about. Music, Live music! It was great and I actually felt like the old Erica, my 17 year old self, well, me but more mature. My parents I think were the most grateful for him. But everybody moves on, he met a girl and fell in love with her, but I would still say he made a big impact in my life and my recovery.
My life now, well I guess it’s kind of the same, I mean I’m still kind of stuck. I’ve just been here, like this for so long now, you can say that I’m used to it. I mean I have tried moving on, but there’s always some obstacle in the way. I did therapy and got myself going good, but then I had set backs. I try to learn how to live with my vision and disabilities, I graduate from ACC with a degree, but no one will hire me because I am disabled.
With Small Victories I’m looking forward to seeing if I still have some sort of artist inside of me. I’ve already done some paintings and my family has been very impressed with the work I’ve done. I’m just looking forward to hopefully figuring out how to make something beautiful that makes sense with the vision I have. I’m also hoping to take dancing lessons. One thing I miss doing is dance. I grew up cumbia dancing and I was very good at it! I still try dancing every now and then, but I just don’t move like I use to, but hopefully with some lessons I can start moving a little better. Also I’m thinking dancing could help with my walking and balance issues.
I always wanted to do something awesome with my life and I don’t mind sharing my story. I just want everybody to know how hard it really is when you have a disability. It’s doubly harder for me and people like me that have multiple disabilities. I’m one of the ones that works so hard to try to have a normal life, I got blind training, I went to school and got a degree, and I try to get my physical health back up to good, but insurance and then between DARS and DBS, no one really knows what to do with me. I still hope that one day I might have a normal, or at least close to normal life like everybody else, but like I said, I’m just tired of being stuck and I want to move on. With Small Victories, it’s something new, something else I can work towards.”