Written By:  Tiffany Verzal @ Stand with Faith

I have spent a lot of time speaking to groups about shaken baby syndrome and brain injuries since Alexis was hurt.  I don’t like reliving the sad moments, but I feel like I have an obligation to share her story.  It was something Brandon and I were aware of early on, since we have a skill set to share this story in a compelling way.  It is one of the reasons why we took video and pictures while she was still in a coma, and it is one of the reasons why I write this blog.  I also feel lucky to be able to share Alexis’ story because I don’t know if I would be able to do this if we had lost her, or if her recovery hadn’t gone as well as it has.

Several months ago I got an email from a woman I really respect named Susan, who lives in Lincoln.  I met her when Alexis was two while she was at a Children’s Museum playgroup with her daughter.  We hit it off right away because her daughter fell into the “special needs” category too…her daughter Lily has cochlear implants.  Over the years Susan and I have ran into each other at various events.  She became President of the Rotary and helped raise money for one of the special rooms at the Alexis Verzal Rehabilitation Hospital at Madonna.  She was supportive of what we were doing for Alexis and I always watch in awe of her for what she does for her family and our community.

But back to the email.  She wanted to know if I would apply to speak at the TEDxLincoln Event that she was the emcee for.  I drug my feet, hemmed and hawed, and eventually missed the deadline.  Susan emailed me and asked if I had applied, and I said I had missed it.  Susan told me to apply anyway.  Again, I moaned and groaned about it and then talked Brandon into writing the application for me.

I really thought I would not get in.   I’ve watched the TED videos, and those people are awesome! I don’t put myself on that level.  I’m far from a brilliant mind, but I do have a passion: my daughter, brain injury education and rehabilitation…and lucky for me, the TEDxLincoln committee thought that it was important too.

However, my bad attitude and lack of confidence was getting the best of me.  I was in rare form while working on the speech a couple of weeks before the event.  When I say rare form, I was just awful.  I don’t know how many times I snapped at Brandon.  He has several apology texts to prove it.

I had fifteen minutes to tell Alexis’ story of rehabilitation and make my point of why it is so important for everyone to understand.  I wanted to get in statistics, talk about our soldiers coming home with brain injuries, healthcare reform, doctors, and insurance companies.  Yeah, this speech was going to last for days!

I struggled through my practice sessions and my powerpoint wasn’t working the day of the run through.  I was dreading taking the stage.  I was afraid that people who knew her story would be bored or annoyed by me.  I also knew that it was an honor to be picked, and there were a lot of people who had worked very hard to put this event on.  And again, I was lucky that I could share an uplifting story.

I started at the beginning showing my little girl who could do anything when she was 14-months-old.  I transitioned to her in a coma.  Said that medical professionals told us to take her home and see what would happen.  I said that she wasn’t supposed to see again, walk, talk, or eat by herself.  And then I showed slide after slide of her working in therapy.  I told everyone that people in our country are going home instead of rehabilitation.  I said that the injured and sick in our communities are being told that they have two weeks to recover, and that people that were hurt five years ago never get the opportunity to use the technology that has been developed because they are “done recovering.”  And then I put this picture up.

And I asked the audience to remember what that baby WAS NOT going to be able to do anymore….and Alexis walked by herself down the aisle to the stage.  There was not a dry eye in the room.

It was one of the most rewarding things that I have ever done.  My heart was full!  To think, I almost missed that moment because I feared that no one wanted to hear me speak.  It was a top ten moment in my life. However, the day was even better as I listened to others.  Forget about a moment, it ended up being a top ten day.

From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. I was in the presence of some of the brightest, caring, and most passionate people that Lincoln has to offer.  Each speaker shared a gift, whether it was a piece of art- or their bravery to talk about their struggle with OCD.  I soaked in the music from one of the most creative clarinetists in the world and then later watched the same guy in a musical duel with a beatboxer!  There was an aritist who is giving his art to random people across the world, and a cowboy who shared his guidelines for living a good life. I met new friends and created a bond with existing ones.  I will do my best to never miss a TEDxLincoln event from now on.

I’ve got a couple of points to make this week.  First, if you don’t have an event like this in your town- start one.  These TEDx events can be started anywhere.  The stories that people have will blow you away.  Everyone’s ideas and perspectives matter.  It is, as a society, how we all become better…by understanding others points of view.  Second, don’t drag your feet or not do something because you are afraid.  Sometimes others see something in you that you don’t. Listen to them.  Or you just might miss out on a top ten moment.

Watch Tiff’s speech right here.  

Tiffany Verzal

Tiffany Verzal was raised in rural Nebraska, and now lives in Lincoln, Nebraska with her husband Brandon and daughter Alexis (9) and Abby (2). In 2008, Alexis (then 14-months-old) was the victim of shaken baby syndrome at the hands of her daycare provider in Texas. Alexis suffered severe brain damage and has spent over 2000 hours in rehabilitation since her injury. Tiffany continues to raise awareness for traumatic brain injury, shaken baby syndrome and child abuse. Brandon and Tiffany serve as members on Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital’s Board of Trustees. Brandon is currently the Chairman of the Nebraska Child Abuse Prevention Fund Board.