Claudia’s traumatic brain injury (TBI) experience began during a bicycle ride in 1986. When her bike was struck by a car, Claudia was thrown into a parked vehicle, then against two parking curbs. She remembers suffering a seizure on the hot asphalt of a driveway and, soon thereafter, treatment for TBI at William Beaumont Hospital. Released shortly after her injury, Claudia recalls that no one informed her of her rights or the resources available for TBI survivors. Though she was eligible for Auto No-Fault benefits, she received no rehabilitation treatment or other services.

Two years later, Claudia’s dentist asked if it was all right to give her contact information to another patient — a fellow brain injury survivor who was also a member of the Macomb County Chapter of the Brain Injury Association of Michigan (BIAMI). This survivor reached out to Claudia and offered her a ride to the next chapter meeting. That ride ultimately began her journey along the road of lifelong advocacy for brain injury survivors and her active involvement with the BIAMI.

As a brain injury survivor, Claudia faced issues that were both new and challenging to her. For example, when she first moved to Rochester, MI, the police approached her because, based on the way she was walking, they believed she was drunk. She successfully explained to the officers that she was not intoxicated, but instead was exhibiting common difficulties of a brain injury survivor. The experience however, underscored to Claudia just how much work there was to do in educating people about brain injury; work she decided to tackle head on.

Thus, Claudia became an active change agent — speaking at conferences and elementary schools, and ensuring that doctors’ offices, dental offices, and businesses in her area were supplied with literature on brain injury. She went so far as to speak with community mental health officials to highlight how brain injury and mental health are often linked and how often brain injury can be mistaken for a mental illness. For her tireless efforts on all these fronts, BIAMI awarded Claudia its 2006 Prevention Award.

Claudia indicated that she especially values the informational and supportive role BIAMI has played in her advocacy efforts and in the community at large. While there’s no shortage of relevant, useful information available online, she sees special value in personally handing out brochures, as some people do not have access to computers. For her, as well, “it really helps for the communication process” to provide people with physical brochures rather than directing them to a website.

Claudia’s advocacy efforts now also serve the Michigan Disabilities Housing Work Group, which seeks to ensure more Section 8 housing vouchers are available to people with brain injuries. With so many accomplishments under her belt, one that she holds closest is raising her children and serving as an advocate for her eldest daughter, who lives with the effects of a bipolar disorder, and her twin brother, who has cerebral palsy.

When asked what she wants others to understand about brain injury survivors, Claudia explains, “People should be aware that brain injury is a very difficult disability because it’s hidden.” She wants people to know that when survivors struggle to speak or comprehend, their brain injury is the cause rather than an excuse. Her favorite way to explain brain injury comes from a fellow survivor and past treasurer of the North Oak Chapter, Pat Chard, who told her, “Brain injury survivors are the walking wounded.” Claudia knows she has accomplished much with her efforts. She also knows that she will continue to always advocate for herself, her loved ones, and all people with disabilities.

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