By:  Tiffany Verzal

Brain injuries are frustrating. Alexis had a serious enough injury to remain in a coma for over a week, and doctor’s couldn’t tell us what her abilities would be if or when she woke up. Even today, we don’t know when we will run into another brain injury hurdle.

Brain injuries are tricky for many reasons. Even when you see Alexis at first glance, without her walker, you probably wouldn’t notice that she has anything wrong with her.

I want to share some of the issues about Alexis’ injury with you. However, I want to be really up front and say that in terms of what we deal with, it’s minor compared to what others live with. This is not intended to be a list of complaints.

We are very lucky, and I mean that sincerely.

Alexis has tone or muscle tightness on the entire right side of the body, some in her left side too. Basically it is an overflow of information that gets sent from her brain to her muscles that makes them all “flex” at the same time. Because of that, her right arm and hand are considered paralyzed, as well as both of her legs (medically she is a triplegic).

She gets botox injections every three months to try to control her problems. Yes, I said botox. I’ll save you the medical reasons behind it and let you google it.

Often you will see Alexis with her arm, hand, and legs with kinesio tape on them. Again, google it. She also has a brace on her right hand to keep it open and avoid skin breakdown. She wears braces on both legs too.

Several times a week since her injury, she is hooked up to an e-stim device to work on all of these tone issues. Again, I’ll let you look it up if you are interested. But essentially she lets us hook her up to electrodes and shock certain muscles. But the results have been good for her and its brought movement back to her hand that she would have never had.

Medication for tone seems to affect her thinking, eyes, and talking. So we don’t use it. Eventually we may have to think about surgery, but for now, we will just rely on miracles and therapeutic interventions.

She has to be properly positioned when she is sitting or it is hard for her to swallow or eat. She deals with constipation and sometimes will not be able to urinate for over twenty hours. We don’t have to deal with these problems on a daily basis anymore, but it happens and we don’t know when or why it does.

It’s not uncommon for Alexis to lose her balance and fall off a chair for no reason. It’s hard for her to play by herself because she can’t use two hands. She often gets words mixed up when she talks and stutters. Sometimes when she starts to cry she can’t stop, her brain won’t let her. I am pretty sure that after she woke up from her coma over four years ago she has not had a full night of sleep. All of these things improve, but there are days when they are worse.

Bottom line, it’s frustrating.

These are just a few things that came to the top of my head, it doesn’t demonstrate what Alexis’ life is like as a whole. Nor is it an example of what other people with brain injuries have to deal with. That is one of the things about a brain injury, there isn’t a single one that is the same. You can’t replicate it from one person to the next for the purposes of comparison or research.

More than 1.7 million people every year in the U.S. suffer a traumatic brain injury. They range from mild brain injuries (concussions) to major ones that are worse than what Alexis has. They can be traumatic, such as a blow to the head, or it can be anoxic which happens from a lack of oxygen to the brain for a significant amount of time.

All 1.7 million of these injuries are different, and each one of these injuries has impacted a person significantly.

Brain injuries are not always physically debilitating, many are hidden. Only the person who has it knows what they are dealing with. In some cases, they may not even know what is wrong with them.

I know a soldier who served two tours in Iraq, and was in a Humvee accident, but thought he had just hurt his back. When he got home he turned to drinking, and it wasn’t until two years later, after he got sober, that he realized alcohol was only masking a brain injury.

I know another young woman who went from being an honors student to failing classes in a matter of months because she had suffered several concussions over an extended period of time. It took months of rehabilitation in order for her to get back on track. She’s had to learn how to study in a different way.

So what is my point? How does this affect you and your family? Approximately 75% of brain injuries are caused by accidents. No, we can’t control every accident that happens. What we can do is our best to provide our family and friends with encouragement and information that keep them safe.

These summer months are FUN. But they are filled with bike riding, water sports, baseball, softball, and soccer to name a few. They are all times when head injuries come into play.

When you go for a bike ride, make sure everyone is wearing a helmet. This includes just riding up and down the sidewalk, and the little ones on a tricycle. If a person hits their head, take it seriously. If someone loses consciousness, even for a few seconds, they need to go to the doctor.

More and more states are passing concussion laws that set procedures for the coaches of youth sports, and what they are to do if they suspect an athlete has a concussion. If you are the parent of a child who participates in sports, familiarize yourself with the symptoms of concussion, and make sure your child’s coaches know the same.

This blog isn’t met to scare anyone into action. But there are dozens of families we have met who wouldn’t have gone through life changing events if they were armed with this information.

Alexis’ life is not easy, and the fewer children that have to deal with even a fraction of what she does, the better.

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.