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.