On November 22, 2009, while driving home from a friend’s house, the vehicle carrying musician Aaron and his best friend went airborne off the overpass of I-94, crashing down on the expressway below.
Aaron, a musician and producer just two weeks from his Specs Howard School of Media Arts graduation, was immediately rushed to Detroit Receiving Hospital, comatose with a traumatic brain injury. After two and a half weeks in that comatose state and with his condition stabilized, he was transferred to the Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan (RIM), where he spent over a month in recovery. At that point Aaron directly moved into outpatient treatment at RIM’s Novi facility, closer to his mother’s home in Farmington Hills.
Following four and a half months of outpatient therapy, Aaron moved in with his father and returned to his interrupted musical career – remarkably completing and releasing a 21-one song, two-disc project, “One Man Mafia,” while also becoming involved with a community outreach movement focused on neighborhood food and housing.
Notwithstanding the challenges of his brain injury and its physical, cognitive, and emotional toll, Aaron combined his musical, organizational, outreach skills and experience to build a successful company known as “7mile Showstoppa Tha King.” Artist management and development were his initial strengths, along with original song composition, all of which culminated in performing as an opening act for established artists from 2011 to today. For most individuals, let alone TBI survivors, that would be a satisfying accomplishment, but persistent on seeking even further challenges, Aaron became involved in the faith-based community movement “Motorcity Resuscitate,” which allowed him to reach new avenues combining music, philanthropy, and civil rights advocacy.
While clearly not held back by his TBI, Aaron nevertheless had to deal with its consequences, especially concentration, focus, and fatigue. To help remedy those deficits, he found that support groups and case studies helped him better understand his new circumstances and adapt to them. It was during this time that Aaron learned about and became involved with the Brain Injury Association of Michigan. After two years of active membership, he’s been installed as president of the Detroit Chapter Support Group and aspires to help other survivors on their road to recovery.
Aaron credits the BIAMI for their relentless work for and with the brain injury community. Clearly his own indomitable will, his commitment to serving others, and his powerful faith have also been key factors in his recovery. As he puts it: “A catalog of injuries could not deter my determination to better myself to help someone else.”
After surviving a serious motor vehicle accident in 2005, Baxter “Baba” life was changed forever. The crash resulted in Baba sustaining a traumatic brain injury and a spinal cord injury. As a result of his severe injuries, Baba suffers from residual physical, cognitive and emotional changes and must rely on a wheelchair for mobility.
Prior to the accident, Baba’s passion was rooted firmly in the world of athletics and outdoor adventure – not only as an avid athlete himself, but as a physical education teacher in the Detroit public schools and as a coach for both USA and AAU Junior Olympic Track and Field teams. Given his commitment to an active, athletic lifestyle, Baba had a lot of difficulty adjusting to his “new normal.” He became reclusive and susceptible to anger, blame, shame, pity, depression, and loneliness. Looking back, Baba indicated that his negative attitude toward life affected his progress in rehabilitation.
Fortunately, with the help of his doctors and loved ones, Baba began to adjust to his new lifestyle and decided to try and return to teaching – a process which didn’t end well after two years of diligent effort. Not just one, but three unexpected transfers between schools stressed his ability to cope. His job was eventually terminated under the State of Michigan Emergency Financial Management process. As a result of his termination, Baba was stripped of his earned seniority, and most importantly, lost his only source of medical insurance as it was tied to his employment.
Losing his job underscored Baba’s status as a Person With Disabilities (PWD), a situation marked by the harsh realities of ableism, inequity, and discrimination. As an activist and advocate, Baba feels these challenges parallel the inhumanity of racism. Specifically he was refused reasonable accommodations by his employer, denied representation by the teacher’s union, and felt complete lack of protection by any governmental “safety net” law, policy, or organization. His dire situation left him with no income, no health insurance, an inability to pay bills, mortgage foreclosure, loss of possessions and assets, and temporarily homelessness. It felt like every plea for help seemingly went unanswered.
In 2011, Baba applied for and was granted Social Security Disability and also qualified for Medicaid insurance. Two years later, he began receiving Medicare benefits as well. With some of his financial burden eased and the opportunity to receive medical treatment available once more, Baba was able to focus on learning how to reinvent himself — thanks in part to the community of activists and advocates who rallied around him, his medical caregivers, the Detroit Chapter and statewide support team of BIAMI, and his current caregiver Peggy Hong.
Baba now serves as co-vice chair of the BIAMI Detroit Chapter and vice chair of the MDPDC Michigan Democratic Party Disability Caucus. He remains a respected activist locally, regionally, and nationally, and is proud to be a brain injury survivor.
In Her Own Words…
I received my brain injury on May 22, 2017, when I was working at the Huron Valley Womens Correctional Facility. While on duty, I observed an inmate trying to hang herself with a sheet. The room was dark so it was hard to see, but when I entered the room, she was behind the door and began immediately hitting me in the head. She was hitting me all of over my body. Finally managing to pull her down. With the aid of another officer, I was able to take her to a holding cell. I didn’t realize how badly I was injured until the other officer kept saying to me, “Flemons, you got attacked and have bumps all over your head and body.” I kept saying, “I’m ok, I’m ok,” until I actually looked in the mirror and saw the bumps on my face and a dent in my skull. It was at this point I agreed to go the hospital. I went to the University of Michigan Hospital and had several MRI’s. The doctors said I had a brain injury and would have to go to rehab and be placed on Workers’ Compensation.
My brain injury has caused me many problems. I have outbursts, involuntary shaking, speech problems, difficulty concentrating, short-term memory loss, and suffer from anxiety and depression. I think a lot of people don’t really understand how serious a brain injury can be because it’s not visible. I had to stop physical therapy because I was told I was “all better,” but am still seeing a speech therapist because I get excited and my words don’t come out right. People look at me funny because of that. I am also on a lot of medication because of pain and nightmares and flashbacks. I never want to go back to working in that prison, and going back to work at all is something I just don’t know about at this time.
I became involved with the Brain Injury Association of Michigan (BIAMI) when I started going to the support group at RIM (Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan). I also go to the Downriver Support Group in Wyandotte on Sundays. I go to these groups because I “fit in.” Some people think I’m crazy because of the way I talk and the outbursts I sometimes have, but the BIAMI groups give me a sense of belonging and peace of mind.
People need to be patient, supportive, and understanding with brain injury survivors and survivors must have access to good treatment in order to get better. We want to be independent! I have learned I can’t depend on people like I used to because they don’t understand me anymore, so I have to stay strong and the groups help me with that. I’m glad that there are people like BIAMI who advocate for us.
In September 2000, Dee was about to undergo a craniotomy to remove a golf-ball-sized tumor behind her right eye. The neurosurgeon told her all the indications looked good — the tumor was benign and in a good location for removal. The major challenge, however, was that the tumor had calcified and broken into small pieces. That would necessitate the surgical team handling her brain during the procedure, which ultimately resulted in a brain injury.
At the time of her surgery, Dee was teaching High School Journalism, Creative Writing, and English. Since the courses were fluid in nature, depending on what articles the newspaper staff were writing and what fiction, poetry, and creative non-fiction pieces individuals were composing in Creative Writing, all the curricular details were stored in her brain! After surgery, neurofatigue and the inability to think of the words she wanted to use were significant challenges.
Dee’s family doctor encouraged her to return to teaching six weeks after her surgery, but when he stopped prescribing the steroids she was taking, she entered a period of deep depression. In December 2000, she returned a call from Lisa Masters and connected with the Capitol Chapter of BIAMI. Lisa also recommended that Dee contact Dr. Robert Fabiano of PAR Rehab, where she was subsequently tested and became one of his neuropsychology patients.
When she returned to teaching in January 2001, Dee realized the full impact of the brain injury on her life. Problems she encountered included the inability to concentrate, organize work, complete tasks, process sensory stimulation (especially sound, movement, and large groups of people), and difficulty with short-term memory. These setbacks were exacerbated in 2002 when Dee was exposed to strobe lights as part of the fire alarm system in her classroom.
Realizing the personal importance of sharing both successes and struggles, Dee became heavily involved with her BIAMI Chapter, producing a newsletter that was four to eight pages long, and participating in and often organizing social activities such as Movie Days and Game Nights. She currently serves as Chapter Secretary, where she enjoys both sharing her experiences and learning valuable strategies from others’ experiences. Dee notes that she finds the quality of speakers at chapter meetings to be excellent and that her BIAMI chapter has kept her grounded and sane!
Today Dee is writing again and is a member of two writing groups. Her current projects include a novel, a chapbook of poetry, and two books of creative non-fiction stories: Not My Frog, You Don’t about pets and other animals in her life; and Now That I have Your Attention about her years as a substitute teacher. She continues to mentor young writers, and although still plagued with limitations, she maintains a positive attitude. Her favorite quote, author unknown, is “No two of us are alike, but we’re all in this together; see possibilities instead of problems!”
In Her Own Words…
March 10, 2015 is a date I will never forget. It was a beautiful March day and I was on my way home from work. Traffic was stopped on the expressway and while I was waiting, I was rear-ended and forced into the car in front of me. The man who hit me had looked away and didn’t realize traffic was stopped. Taken to the ER, I was diagnosed with a concussion and whiplash, told to rest for three days, and then I could return to work.
At the time of my accident I was finishing my 25th year of teaching 6th grade for Farmington Public Schools, active on school committees and with my family. I enjoyed biking, reading, traveling, crafting, movies, and church with my family. After the accident I had difficulty reading and retaining information, so many of those activities had become a challenge.
When I didn’t improve after the accident, I was referred to a neurologist who diagnosed me with mild TBI, mild cognitive impairment, and post- traumatic migraine. I had to stop working and undergo more testing because reading, word retrieval, writing, speaking, and virtually all cognitive processing were difficult for me. I stuttered trying to recall words, couldn’t retain information, and became frustrated, which made everything worse.
I saw a speech pathologist for my cognitive impairment, a physical therapist for whiplash, and a physician prescribed medication for my migraines. Speech therapy initially helped, but when my progress stalled, the therapist suggested I volunteer to help build my vocabulary and communication skills.
When I Googled brain injury and jobs, I learned about the Brain Injury Association of Michigan (BIAMI). Through volunteering with BIAMI, I have been able to relearn how to use the computer, and also build up my communication skills.
Thanks to BIAMI, I learned about the outpatient rehabilitation center at St. Joe’s hospital where I learned new strategies for my processing and memory difficulties. From BIAMI conferences, I learned more about brain injury as well as new techniques to help with my migraines.
Since post-accident migraines have made reading impossible, I was fortunate to have someone at church help me relearn how to knit. For me, knitting has been an almost meditative activity and I ended up making numerous scarves where I don’t need to follow a pattern. As a thank you for a worthy cause, my scarves have been sold at BIAMI conferences, with all the proceeds donated to BIAMI.
I am so grateful for the support of my family and friends. They are always there for me in times I need it, to encourage me through the rough days and celebrate my successes.
In Her Own Words…
On my way to work the morning of September 21, 1998, my vehicle was T-boned by a semi-truck that ran a red light and knocked me into two other cars. I have no memory of that accident, but life as I knew it ended there. From that point on, life became about physically recovering while dealing with the added challenge of a TBI, a Traumatic Brain Injury.
I remained hospitalized for two and a half months. That’s a short run for some people who sustain far worse injury than I did, but still a long time. During that stay; I learned how to walk, swallow, dress myself, and the list goes on. Pretty much everything had to be relearned, so there was no question I needed to continue therapy at home. It was one of those therapists who told my stepmother about the West Michigan Chapter of the Brain Injury Association (WMBIA).
In early 1999, I started attending WMBIA chapter meetings with my father, my stepmother, and my son — who would do homework while he sat through the meetings. I also tried returning to work, but it was too much to handle given my challenges. To list just a few, my mom was still helping me shower, I had to schedule rides to work because I wasn’t able to drive yet, and my 9-year-old son would have to start staying at home by himself while I was at work. For a 9-year-old who had recently almost lost his only parent and was responsible for keeping milk in the house, I thought enough was enough.
From that low point on, I worked my way back to where I am today. I returned to school part-time to finish my degree then started volunteering at Love, INC, a Christian charity organization in Livingston County. By that time, I had my driving abilities back, had started attending the WMBIA chapter meetings again after about a 4-year lapse, and was ready to find a paying job! And it was through a WMBIA contact that I succeeded. I began working for Jim Petersen and Larry Paluch at Comprehensive Professional Services on a part-time basis in 2007. Jim was very involved in both the local chapter and the BIAMI. I gradually worked my way up to full -time employment and remained with the company through their purchase by NeuroRestorative Michigan . I recently began a whole new chapter of my life — utilizing the degree I received during my recovery and becoming a full-time bookkeeper. The good news is that the job is a 10-minute drive from home. The even better news is that, nonetheless post-TBI, I finished my degree with a GPA of 4.0!
There is hope and life is good!