Coast Guard Veteran Recovers, With Her Family’s Support
Posted by Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center on Jan. 31, 2018
In 1998, Coast Guard veteran Alexis Courneen was hit by a buoy crane during her first weeks of duty. She was treated for an arm injury and other physical ailments, but potential concussion injuries were not addressed. Alexis received an honorable discharge in 2000.For 10 years after the crane incident, Alexis experienced blurred vision, speech and balance problems, and persistent headaches. She was confused and frustrated by these symptoms, and her husband, Jason, was equally frustrated that Alexis showed no signs of recovering from whatever was ailing her. The symptoms persisted and caused a great deal of marital stress and tension.After years of agony and countless appointments with doctors who were treating each symptom separately, one of them finally suggested that Alexis see a polytrauma doctor – a doctor who specializes in traumatic injuries. When she did — 10 years after being hit by a crane — traumatic brain injury (TBI) finally came up.The polytrauma doctor ordered a neurological test for Alexis. He also gave Jason a list of TBI symptoms and asked him to point out those experienced by Alexis. Jason started crying when he realized Alexis had suffered with many of the symptoms listed, including mood swings, vision problems and headaches.The results of the neurological test confirmed the doctor’s suspicion: Alexis was diagnosed with a moderate TBI. The diagnosis changed everything.Alexis and Jason reflect positively on that appointment. Having a diagnosis allowed Alexis to receive therapy by a TBI specialist. Instead of taking shots in the dark to guess what caused Alexis’ symptoms, she and Jason could take an informed approach to treating her TBI — improving not only Alexis’ health, but also the well-being of their family as well.Throughout this process of diagnosis and treatment, Jason has supported Alexis as a caregiver, a role he shares with their two teenage daughters. Jason said that to prevent caregiver fatigue he stays active by running, mountain biking and skiing, and maintains some autonomy so he won’t “lose himself.” He added, “Every day is different. I remember my limits and take breaks as needed so that I can center myself and be the best husband, dad and caregiver possible.”As one of his wife’s biggest advocates, Jason consistently stays abreast of TBI resources to make sure he understands what’s going on prior to going with Alexis to doctor’s appointments. Such family support has brought unexpected benefits: When Alexis sustained another moderate TBI in a skiing accident in 2014, the whole family was prepared. They knew what the recovery process would look like and the steps she needed to take — beginning with getting plenty of rest.In 2016, Jason served as a Dole Caregiver Fellow through the Elizabeth Dole Foundation. Through that role, he has been able to support fellow caregivers – especially male caregivers – by sharing his experience with policymakers, community leaders, health care professionals and other caregivers. To learn more about A Head for the Future and partners who share Defense Veterans and Brain Injury Center resources, click here.Visit Stories on the A Head for the Future website to hear more compelling personal accounts of recovery and hope from other service members, veterans and caregivers. Have a story to share? Submit yours by email today.
Posted by Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center on Nov. 17, 2017
During retired Marine Corps Capt. Wally Blair’s deployment in September 2007, his convoy hit a roadside bomb. Health care providers treated him for chemical burns and told him he had a concussion.In the years that followed, Wally began to experience a variety of issues. He struggled with memory and speech functions, and at times he would lose feeling in his arms. During a deployment in 2015, Wally was medevaced home to Camp Lejeune to have an operation for a degenerative disc disorder. That’s when he was referred to the traumatic brain injury (TBI) clinic for the injury he sustained in 2007.Before the referral, Wally’s wife, Jasmin, sensed that something needed to be addressed. A former Senior Airman in the U.S. Air Force, Jasmin said: “I started looking up the symptoms [Wally experienced] because I noticed a lot of different things after he came back from his incident in 2007. As time went on, they just continued to get worse.”It was the combination of Jasmin’s insistence and the visit to the TBI clinic that convinced Wally to take time to learn more about TBI symptoms and recovery. He was referred to the Wounded Warrior Clinic at Camp Lejeune, and his recovery truly took off after he received memory and speech therapy.Jasmin played an instrumental role in Wally’s recovery, using her own research and lessons from Wally’s health care provider to help him cope with his symptoms. She and their children did small things to assist Wally — like keeping various items stored in specific spaces and making sure he got enough sleep at night.Wally is not shy about crediting Jasmin’s role in his TBI recovery, but she remains humble: “I don’t necessarily view myself as a caregiver. I view myself more as a spouse that wants to help her husband lead a fulfilling life,” she said. “Every day is a different day. … My goal every day is just to know that when we close down for the night to go to bed, that we have let him lead a normal day and be productive. … Letting him know that we’re here as his support and to help him through the day.”Wally has shown tremendous progress since his TBI diagnosis, thanks in part to his supportive family. He continues his neurology and psychology appointments through the Department of Veterans Affairs and hopes to talk to and educate others in the military community about the symptoms they might be overlooking. Fittingly enough, Wally is now in school to become a teacher.As for Jasmin, she wants to let other caregivers know they should remember to care for themselves, in addition to their loved ones. “If you’re a caregiver, continue to be patient,” she said. “Make sure that you’re supporting yourself as well as your partner, and know your limitations.”Visit Stories on the A Head for the Future website to hear more compelling stories of recovery and hope from other service members and veterans. Have a story to share with our team? Submit your story by email today.
Military Spouse Acknowledges Limits as Caregiver, Value of Self-Care
Posted by Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center on Nov. 15, 2017
Every morning when Lisa Colella wakes up, she asks herself one question: “What can I control today?”As a caregiver of a veteran with a traumatic brain injury (TBI), she knows much of the day’s developments are beyond her control. Instead, she prepares to help her husband cope with his TBI symptoms, such as forgetfulness, which can change in severity daily.“The person you wake up next to one day might be different the next,” she said.Colella’s husband, Marine veteran Staff Sgt. Rick Colella, sustained TBIs during a combat incident in 2003 and a military training accident in 2005. For two years, while he remained on active duty, the injuries were undiagnosed. But, Colella noticed something was off with her husband. He was irritable, at times hostile, and showed a decreased interest in and understanding of daily life events.“None of us knew what [TBI] was, so we didn’t know what was going on,” she said. “Though he was physically well, he had major personality changes. He had increased irritability and lots of ups and downs.”Colella convinced her husband to seek help. He saw medical providers at Naval Hospital Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and received both a TBI and post-traumatic stress disorder diagnosis. He started treatment with his wife by his side.In her new role as caregiver, Colella supports her husband as he continues treatment and copes with symptoms. She helps him remember appointments and tasks, and she is a calming presence when he experiences symptoms of anxiety. But, she also understands the importance of taking time for herself.“I get up before my family is awake for ‘me’ time, to do things for myself where I won’t be bothered,” she said. “I also take walks, set aside time to be social, schedule routine physical and mental health checkups, take classes available for caregivers, and exercise.”As for coping with the daily uncertainty of her husband’s symptoms, Colella said that it helps to know what she can control and to have patience with the things she can’t. “I can't control his actions or reactions, but I can control my actions and reactions,” she said. “In those moments, I take a time out, show grace and remind myself this is hard for him as well.”Visit the Stories section on the A Head for the Future website to read or watch more stories of recovery and hope from other service members and families. Have a story to share with our team? Submit your story by email today.