“Remember the old TV show ‘Gilligan’s Island’?,” said Steve. “Remember how Gilligan would get hit on the head with a coconut and lose his memory? Remember how the Skipper would take him to the Professor and the Professor would say, ‘Just drop another coconut on his head, and he will be fine,’ and sure enough, that second coconut brought Gilligan back?”
“That’s not what happens,” said Steve. “That is so not what happens.”
Steve knows the struggles of recovery from harrowing personal experience. He has fought his way back for nearly 30 years, ever since a youthful trek to Windsor, Ontario, left him with a traumatic brain injury. After his auto accident there, he spent 11 days in a coma and five months in the hospital and in therapy at the Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan at the Detroit Medical Center. He came home just before Thanksgiving. Despite his injuries, he appeared to be fine. It was hard for everyone – including Steve himself – to understand that his brain that had suffered severe damage.
After graduating from a vocational school in computer science, and marrying in 1988, Steve struggled to deal with stabbing headaches, vertigo, and mood swings into depression and despair. Stress of a job loss in 2008 and dealing with his TBI contributed to the end of Steve’s marriage. He had worked hard for many years to provide for his family, not fully understanding the scope of his own brain injury or how no-fault insurance works.
When his physiatrist, Dr. Sherry Viola, asked him who his nurse case manager was, it was an eye-opener for Steve. Until then, he did not know he should have a nurse case manager who would share expert knowledge about both traumatic brain injury and no-fault insurance with him. Linda Leone became Steve’s nurse case manager. She became the liaison between him, his care team and the insurance company. Having someone in his corner was a key to turning his life around and getting the help he desperately needed.
He was divorced, jobless and practically homeless. Linda Leone referred him to Community Links (now part of NeuroRestorative Michigan), where he found help getting an apartment, furniture and furnishings.
“People always ask me if I wish I had known more about auto nofault sooner,” said Steve. “I say ‘yes and no.’ It would have been easier if I hadn’t had to struggle for so many years on my own, but in some ways, it made me stronger.”
Steve is the former president of the Wayne-Oakland Chapter of the Brain Injury Association of Michigan, where he continues to share his “never give up” message with other TBI survivors and family members. Steve found that sharing experiences with other TBI survivors helped him understand what had happened to him. He knew that it was his turn to give back to other people who were suffering.
“Being part of BIAMI is awesome,” said Steve. “I never would have imagined that I would be a chapter president one day, helping people who are facing many of the same problems I faced. I volunteer for BIAMI because I can share what I have learned about brain injury and it helps me to help others.”