Top Finalists for Our June 2017 Scholarship for Brain Injury Victims & Their Caregivers

In our law firm we have seen the life-changing effects traumatic brain injuries take on TBI survivors and their caregivers. We have represented several brain injury victims and know how often they become dependent on family members while trying to overcome everyday challenges. Many victims and their caregivers also dream of pursuing or continuing their college education, but the financial burden of ongoing medical bills can make this goal seem unattainable.

Jim Dodson Law wanted to make this dream more possible so we created a $1000 college scholarship offered specifically to brain injury victims and their loved ones. Below are the top essays we received from some of our recent applicants. After reading these compelling stories, we think you’ll be as inspired as we are. To find out more about our scholarship and the application process visit our scholarship page.

My World, Quite Literally, Came Crashing Down - Our Scholarship Recipient!

On a warm spring day in my last week of high school, stopped behind a line of cars waiting for a bus to turn, my world came quite literally crashing down as I was rear-ended at 60 miles per hour.

A distracted driver came flying around a bend in the road so quickly that she went underneath my car, causing me a traumatic brain injury, a herniated spinal disk, spine misalignment, and years of pain, headaches, and migraines.

Everything that I had known about myself, from my positive outlook on life, to my intelligence, to my faith, was turned upside down as I landed into a world of hurt, headaches, and loss of memory.

Unsure of how else to continue my life, I started college, unable to remember new friend’s names, my schedule, or the notes that I had taken that day in class. I learned calculus with the help of seven separate tutors, unwilling to let math, a subject that I was once a favorite, slip through my fingers. In my mind, my accident was an enemy, and I was fighting a war. I refused to let it win.

I spent all of freshman year going to doctors five times a week. In between my classes and tutoring, I went to physical therapy, chiropractors, neurologists, and pain management specialists. My mental state was one of constant tension, stress, hurt. I was exhausted from the physical toll that constant pain, headaches, daily doctor’s appointments, and a learning disability can have.

Despite the circumstances, I refused to give in. While I had my dark days, I chose to be positive and keep my faith. Through everything, I made the effort to see how supported I was; by my church, by my parents, by my sister, and by the friends that had stayed by me through everything.

When faced with the choice of giving up, I chose not to. Working hard was how I managed to succeed my entire life, and I refused to change my belief that anyone can succeed if they try hard enough.

In my mind, I couldn’t fail; it meant losing my scholarship and my chance at an education. I had spent years working hard in school to go to college, and I didn’t want to throw my dreams of being a CEO away.

I didn’t discover until now, two years later, with my pain down from a nine to as low as a three and my doctor’s appointments down to only once a month, that the accident had shaped me without my control. Ultimately, I learned sacrifice, discipline, hard work, persistence, the value of a pain free life, and how lucky I was to have good health before the accident.

This accident, in some ways, has made me stronger, and taught me that I am capable of anything. Now, when I am faced with a challenge, I remember what I have gone through and how I have come out stronger. I know I will be able to handle anything that comes my way.

Lessons Learned

I cannot remember my first helicopter ride.

From the first semester of freshman year to October of 2015 I was valedictorian of my class; however, this all changed on October 18th. Three friends and I were leaving a church concert that evening; I was riding in the rear driver's side seat of the car. Because of a distracted driver, we were t-boned by another vehicle going 60 mph, right where I was seated. My friends walked away from the car, but I was pinned inside and knocked unconscious. The first responders to the scene thought that they were dealing with a fatality, but fortunately I had buckled my seatbelt.

The Jaws of Life extracted me and I was life-flighted to our trauma center. I had a double fracture to my jaw and a concussion, causing me to have my jaw wired shut for six weeks, missed weeks of school, and lost my valedictorian status. I was not able to play in our varsity volleyball State Championship Tournament (I was a starter on the team). And while there is no "good time" for a concussion, just prior to the SAT taking months of my junior year was horribly inconvenient, as I had suffered all of the symptoms typical for concussion (memory loss, fatigue, lack of concentration, migraine headaches). The concussion greatly hindered my SAT taking concentration, which hindered my ability to obtain higher levels of university-based scholarship funds.

So enter one of my mom's favorite sayings: "Nobody gets through this life without hurting." It seems that we don't get to choose when or which "hurts" are served to us; we only get to decide how we will handle them. I realized that I had a choice to make: I could wallow on the sidelines in self-pity or get back up. Thanks to my faith, family and friends, I got back up. I learned to be thankful for what DID NOT happen in the accident. I could still walk, talk, and breathe. I learned firsthand about the dangers of complacent and distracted driving, and I'd NEVER, EVER text while driving. After six weeks, my jaw was unwired, and I didn't have to "drink" my food anymore. With the help of my teachers, I caught up with my schoolwork by Thanksgiving. And with the encouragement of my teammates and coaches, I trained and was back in shape for my senior year of volleyball. Most exciting of all, I was accepted to my first choice of college, Sanford University.

The accident taught me many things, but perhaps the most important lesson I have learned is how to deal better with "life's hurts". lt has equipped me with a deeper understanding of how to handle the obstacles that may come my way; and (more importantly), a deeper empathy for the "hurts" that may come to others. Nietzsche has it right, but I might add to it: "That which does not kill us, makes us stronger (wiser, and more empathetic)".

The Average Skull Thickness for a Male is About .25 Inches...

As the middle child in a family with 8 siblings I have never felt without guidance. I have been lucky enough to see my older brothers and sister grow to become successful and educated adults but what I found the most encouraging was their level of contentment within their career fields. I had begun my first year of college in hopes to become a childhood educator as my parents and grandparents had done before me but little did I know a baseball game would change my future plans.

The average skull thickness for a male is about .25 inches and in order for the surface to be compromised it takes a weight of at least 429 pounds, normally. Although impressive, the skull is still susceptible to other factors such as range, velocity, and angles in addition to the weight. For example, a baseball only weighs about 5 to 5.25 ounces which is much less than the 429 pounds needed to fracture a skull yet when thrown at 78 MPH it generates enough force to create a depressed fracture in the skull, easily defined as a fracture that extends into the brain cavity.

From the moment I saw a baseball fly toward, and hit my father’s head at my brother’s high school championship game I knew there were going to be dramatic changes within my family's and my future. I saw my father lose his ability to talk, his memories, and his motor skills due to his traumatic brain injury, but with months of therapy I also witnessed him gain most of those skills back despite losing part of his brain. The feeling of gaining your father back is overwhelming and inspiring. Since then I have changed my major to Neuropsychology in hopes to better understand the relationship between the physical and emotional brain to better educate individuals and families such as mine who face these misfortunes.

This field of study is more to me than a job or a degree, it is an entire life path. Within the next 6 to 7 years I hope to gain my Doctorate and work in a clinical field; all being well my education will give me the tools I need to work towards regenerating the parts of the brain that can be lost in the case of a serious injury that results in psychological damage such as personality deficiencies or memory loss. As humans we are gifted with not only a complex brain but the means and drive to use it to help improve upon the quality of life for everyone around us. I truly believe that receiving this scholarship will help me become that much closer to doing my part in that. Although I gained valuable knowledge in my first year under the Early Childhood Education program my new career path has given me many goals to aspire to over the course of my personal and professional life.

My goals with my future degree will include my previously mentioned long-term goal of brain regeneration but also to educate as well. The hardest part of my father’s accident was not only the unknown but also the struggle of trying to keep up with what doctors were saying. I spent countless hours trying to Google the terms and how to best help with his recovery but it was almost to no avail. I have become extremely passionate about my major and am thankful every day for the knowledge it has brought me so far and the path it is taking me down. After my many years in a clinical setting I plan on then after becoming a professor to pass the knowledge I acquire onto a later generation so we can improve throughout the future.

The Girl with Another Traumatic Brain Injury

On October 14, 2015, the life I had been living would forever be changed. I was crossing the street to attend church and was struck by a vehicle.

At that very second my whole life came to a halt. I was rushed to a trauma unit hospital to assess my injuries. My brain was bleeding and swelling, and the pressure in my brain would continue to rise to extremely dangerous levels. At this point I was taken to the operating room to have my skull removed. The injuries to my head were traumatic, but I also suffered a fractured sinus cavity, three pelvic fractures, and a punctured lung. The next three weeks in the Intensive Care Unit was a critical time for my family as they waited for me to wake up from a coma like state. This very moment would eventually come, but from a girl with very little memory of who she was before. I was now labeled as the girl with a Traumatic Brain Injury, one of life’s most invisible injuries.

I would now begin the process of learning how to walk, talk and swallow again. This process in itself was probably the hardest part of this whole journey, as this is where the emotional side of things kick in that nobody truly prepares you for. The extent of my brain injuries would show in everything I tried to do, and my emotions would eventually begin a downward spiral. How are you supposed to know what you are working towards when you can’t remember who you were to begin with? However, I choose not to consider myself a victim, but merely a determined individual who overcame what was thought to be impossible.

Some would say this is the story of a lifetime and a place where this story should end. However, it’s not. June 11th, 2017 was just another typical day. My friend and I had decided to go get ice cream at one of our favorite places. This is the moment where I have no memory of the chain of events that would occur next. A reckless driver crossed the center median of the interstate and struck us head on with no warning. I was flown to a trauma center due to my injuries. Upon waking up from another coma like state, I would now be labeled again as the girl with another Traumatic Brain Injury, two brain bleeds, and a fractured neck. As much as I tried to put my previous accident behind me, I am now undergoing rehabilitation to rebuild my life all over again. While I am still enrolled for the upcoming Fall 2017 semester at Illinois State University, I will now attend the University with academic accommodations due to this new brain injury.

I could go on and on about all of the ways these two accidents have changed my life, but I choose not to dwell on these unfortunate circumstances and make every attempt to not let this world define me.

Pink Matter

Growing up I always loved school. Participating in class, reading new material, and in class discussions were some of my all time favorites. I loved hearing others’ perspectives on different issues and how they think to solve problems. It was always a pleasure going to school and learning something new, not only from the teacher but also from the opinions of my peers. In high school I suffered two traumatic brain injuries or TBIs. The first was when I was walking home from school one day and was attacked from behind by two men. I did not know the attackers, but they robbed me of my phone and my health that day.

After the attack I went to the hospital and was diagnosed with a concussion and head contusion. School was never the same after that. I remember feeling very out of my body after being assaulted. The residual affects were even worse; PTSD and anxiety. However, this was nothing to compare to the brain injury that happened my senior year of high school. I slipped and hit my head on hard, wet tile. Losing consciousness brought me back to my first head injury and made me feel so uneasy. I was diagnosed with several different head injuries and the most prominent being a head contusion along with many MRIs and CT scans showing other damage to my spine and nervous system.

It took months to start to feel better and to this day my memory is not the same. I used to read the dictionary in elementary school and always had a strong vocabulary. Yet, after that fall my word recall suffered and words that I had been saying for most of my life became a struggle to release from the tip of my tongue. My attention span lessened and my senior year became the biggest obstacle to overcome. However, my TBI in a way made me more motivated to excel. After seeing a multitude of doctors and specialists my condition went from hopeless to hopeful. I went from getting a lot of B’s and a couple of A’s to getting all A’s my senior year and for the first time in my life I had a 4.167 GPA. Doctors told me to take it easy and not strain my mind, but to sit back and watch myself fall below par was not an option.

Today, I am a first year college student still am trying to overcome many of the repercussions of my TBI, but I will not let my condition affect who I want to become. I aspire to go to Law School and obtain my Juris Doctorate. I want to become a living example that though a situation may set you back for a while, it will only set you back forever if you allow it to. Living with a TBI is not easy and takes a lot of effort and brain exercises to start to feel better. But with a lot of dedication and diligence my TBI will not define who I am.

I Want to Be the Role Model My Children Deserve

Life has obstacles that occur and affect our path. When I thought of the obstacles that might come my way I had never dreamed it would change the lives of my children and me. Four years ago my youngest son, Kadence, was only three months old and he became the victim of Shaken Baby Syndrome, by the hands of his father. At such a young age my baby had emergency brain surgery that left him connected to machines and enduring seizures. After this moment my life began to revolve around medication for the seizures and the worry of how to handle life as a sudden single parent of two boys.

It has been almost five years and I can say that life has been different. Kadence no longer has seizures but is now classified as having incident induced Autism. The brain injury has impacted my family to the extent that it continues even after so many years. While Kadence is a smart little boy that strives to learn new things all the time, he has trouble writing and speaking as others do. He also has uncontrollable rage that creates tantrums similar to a two year old. The hardest part is the way people look at him in public. They do not see the sweet boy that his older brother and me know and love. They look at him as if he is an animal. The judgment of my parenting and snide comments of how “childish” he is creates an anger in me. I could let this anger take the better of me, but instead I focus it into my education. I have the hopes to become a Special Education teacher and be the voice for students that are in the same light as my son.

When the incident occurred years ago I had to stop my education to care for my children. I have recently returned to this path and while at a community college I achieved not one, but two Associate Degrees with high honors in both. I have been at the Nevada State College for one semester since and already have become the Vice President of Kappa Delta Phi honor society and have been on the Deans’ list with a 3.88 GPA. I will not pretend it is easy to go to school with more than 15 credits a semester, work, and work with my boys as they both are in or entering school themselves. Each day is based around the feelings of Kadence. If he has a fit or bad day I cannot do homework till late hours. It is difficult, but he has taught me to get through it. If he can overcome a brain injury and still have drive to learn, then I can make it through school and achieve my dreams. I want to be the role model my children deserve.

Kadence’s traumatic brain injury was an obstacle in life. The difference is how we learned from it to move forward to better things.

Jim Dodson
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A Florida injury lawyer, family man and avid cyclist who clients have trusted for over 25 years.