Dan was knocked to the ground when an improvised explosive device (IED) exploded near his US Army unit in Afghanistan in 2006. He suffered back and neck injuries and- as later discovered- a traumatic brain injury (TBI).
Headaches, balance issues and disorganized thinking were compromising his performance. Following a medical discharge, he returned home to his family in Arcadia. Dan didn’t tell his wife about the IED, just that he was getting treatment for migraines. However, Lezlie knew that something more was wrong.
“Dan was different,” Lezlie remembers. “He was not comfortable being around people. He was angry. He was drinking more. I knew he needed help. Our kids had to deal with their dad and stepdad while I was at work,” said Lezlie. “The kids became the parents. They would say, ‘Dad, don’t forget to take your medicine,’ or ‘Dad, remember to turn off the oven’.”
Lezlie said that the strain of dealing with her husband’s TBI and post-traumatic stress injury nearly ended their marriage. “We almost filed for divorce three or four times,” she said.
When the family met Major Rick Briggs (US Air Force, retired), then the Veterans’ Program Manager for the Brain Injury Association of Michigan (BIAMI), Dan came to see that his issues were related to his encounter with the IED and his TBI. It was a trust issue that prevented him from seeking help sooner.
“Men and women coming out of the war zone are already in a precarious mental state,” says Dan. “You have to gain their trust before you can try to help them.”
Rick put the family in touch with Eisenhower Center, where his problems were finally addressed. At the BIAMI Fall Conference in Lansing, the couple met Dr. Debby Feinberg, of Vision Specialists of Michigan, who prescribed “prism” glasses for Dan, which he says “help the brain perceive the information that the eyes are sending it.”
The couple’s 13-year-old twins, Anthony and Kaona, were just toddlers when their father came home. Along with their stepbrother, Marcus, and stepsister, Jordan, they learned compassion by helping their dad. Anthony used to be sad that his father couldn’t play baseball with him “for more than about ten minutes.” He was frustrated to always have to remind Dan to do things. Now, Anthony enjoys spending time with his dad on his grandparents’ farm. Kaona had to explain her father’s behavior to her peers. “He’s just yelling at me because he wants me to understand something,” she remembers telling her cousin. Now, father and daughter enjoy drawing and making pottery together. “Dad and I are artists,” says Kaona. The teens say they would tell other kids in similar situations to “never give up on your parent, spend time with them, let them know you love them.”
Couples counseling has helped their marriage. “Go for counseling yourself, if your spouse will not go,” Lezlie tells other spouses. “Remember that the brain injury survivor needs more time to process information. Sometimes people think that the survivor isn’t responding, but he – or she – is just taking time to process. Don’t expect an answer right away.”
The family’s challenges are not over, but Lezlie says that they are grateful for the help they have received and that “we can always call on BIAMI for help.”