Jennifer says that love and support from her husband and parents were the keys in her recovery from the 1996 auto accident that fractured her pelvis, lacerated her kidneys and spleen and wiped out two and a half years of her memories. She couldn’t remember her college graduation, her new job or her wedding to her husband Mark two years earlier. She still cannot.
Waking up from a month-long coma, Jennifer introduced her husband as her boyfriend to everyone who came into her hospital room. Mark was disappointed, but unfazed. When the couple realized that Jennifer’s memories of their wedding were lost forever, they decided to make new memories, renewing their marriage vows at a second ceremony in 1999.
First at Hurley Hospital, and later at Willowbrook Rehabilitation Services, Jennifer worked hard to master the skills she needed to regain her independence. She spent three years at Willowbrook, relearning how to shower, brush her hair, use a toothbrush and walk. She credits her family’s persistent encouragement with motivating her.
“Mark would always say, ‘You are doing great, just do a little bit more now, just one more thing’,” said Jennifer. “I would get frustrated and angry. I would tell him, ‘don’t give me that B.S. It’s always just a little bit more’.”
Jennifer has recovered very well physically, but she still struggles with memory problems. She relies on her planner, a four-inch-thick binder stuffed with notes and reminders, to structure her days.
A few years into her recovery, Jennifer discovered the Brain Injury Association of Michigan (BIAMI), thanks to her mother’s research.
“My mom is a resourceful person,” she said. “She makes things happen. When it seems like nothing is out there, she finds something.”
The “something” that Jennifer Pilon’s mother found was BIAMI’s Flint Chapter and support group. The Pilons began attending regularly. BIAMI opened the door to educational resources such as the annual Fall Conference.
“BIAMI’s Fall Conference is a great resource for us,” said Jennifer. “I always return from the conference with loads of information and new ideas to try.”
Jennifer has attended every Fall Conference since 1999, except for the year of her daughter’s birth, only because Kimberly was due on the date of the conference that year. Kimberly is now a busy third grader. Like many children of BI survivors, Kimberly helps her mother significantly. Kimberly tells her, “Mom, you may not remember this, but I have Girl Scouts today.”
Previously, Mark was active as an officer of the Flint Chapter and on the Board of Directors. He sees BIAMI as “a terrific source of information and resources.” He advises caregivers to take care of themselves, too. Caregivers, he says, need to become advocates, by learning about the limitations of brain injury and possibilities for recovery.
“Family members need to see their role in brain Injury recovery as part of a marathon,” says Mark. “Slow and steady progress is best.”