• Survivor or Caregiver

TBI One Love Survivor Serena Formby-Condon

Some of you may remember this lady from her 15 years of service as a Computer Consultant with the Texas Legislative Council from 1995 to 2009. Serena served as a Computer Consultant during several Legislative Sessions. She began in November 1995 as a Computer Consultant for Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock’s Mac Support Group and was part of the transition team for then Lt. Gov. Rick Perry. Later, she became a Computer Consultant for the House Reproduction, Audio/Video and Photography also including Senate Media and Publications & Printing. Serena then later became the Web Administrator for the Council Support Center, where she designed and maintained the then CCCweb, now known as the CSCweb. Along with this position she continued to be the Computer Consultant for the Multimedia departments. During each Legislative session, Serena designed the Desktop background designs for each session from 1997 to 2007. Also, samples of her Calligraphy can be found in the Senate Chambers under several Legislation Senate Composites. Her graphics company was named “ExactoGraphics”.

After divorcing her husband and best friend of an almost 20-year marriage. Serena Formby decided to spend her Christmas Holiday with one of her girlfriends from High School, Sonja Guenter who was currently living on the Grand Cayman Island and working for a law firm as a paralegal.

A week prior to her to her trip, she had been experiencing severe headaches, only thinking it was a migraine from all the stress she had been dealing with. Serena arrived on the Grand Caymans December 21, 2007 and still nursing a bad headache. She began taking Ibuprofen to help with the pain of the headache, and trying to enjoy her time with her girlfriend.

On the evening of December 20th, Serena experienced a brief bout of nausea, but then it was gone? Feeling that was a strange incident, she thought maybe she was just overtired and later went to bed.

Around 5:30 a.m. December 21st, her girlfriend Sonja heard noises in the living room and went out to see what was the cause. She found Serena passed out on the floor and she had apparently gotten sick and thrown up all around the room. Serena had a broken glass in her hand and was slightly bleeding from the cut.

Sonja tried to wake her up, and she woke up for a few seconds to say “Make my head stop hurting” and then passed back out. Sonja then called 911. The EMS arrived within minutes, and took her to the hospital.

After all the testing was done, the hospital called Sonja in and sat her down and told her,

“Your friend is dying... she had blood in her brain. You will need to contact someone in the States, because we cannot take care of her here?” Because Serena’s Texas State insurance did not cover her out of the U.S. She was left at the mercy of whoever Sonja could contact. Sonja immediately contacted her ex-husband, Lee Formby who was in Blossom, Texas at his Dad’s house for the holidays. Sonja could hardly speak because she was so upset and told Lee she would call him back. She then called her Mother Geneva West and told her the story and was crying. Geneva said to her, “Sonja Maureen... you can cry about this later. You need to help Serena get to the States any way you can. So, straighten up and take care of your girlfriend.” After Sonja got off the phone, she collected herself and called Lee back, and in a calm and collected manner she told him the story and how Serena’s insurance would not cover her, and that the hospital had to be paid about $20,000.00 for the air ambulance plus the time she has been in the ER, approx. $9,000.00 of which she hadn’t even been there 24 hours yet. Before, they would release her to be flown to Miami.

Lee told her he had just paid all the credit cards off after the divorce, so 3 credit cards later all was taken care of. The hospital told Sonja to go home and pack a bag and get both of their passports and come back to the hospital.A few hours later, Serena along with a doctor and two nurses and Sonja boarded an air ambulance. They were given permission to fly over Cuba, and then stayed 500 ft. above the Gulf all the way into Miami, FL.As Serena, will tell you GOD had everyone in the right place at the right time.

During this time, her ex-husband, Lee (who hates to fly) decided to drive two hours West into DFW airport and get a flight to Miami. He then thought to call Serena’s Mother, Helen Farrer. When he called Helen, he found out she was in Winter Haven, FL. at her in-laws for the holidays. Lee knew they would be in Miami before he could get there, so he turned the car around and decided to drive straight to Miami, FL. Once the plane landed at Miami Regional Hospital, Serena’s Mother, Helen Farrer and her Step-Father, Lynn Farrer were there waiting for them. It was Christmas Eve.

Serena was rushed into the ER and finally given some pain meds as they attempted to intubate her to induce a coma, allowing them to shave her bald and drill a hole in her skull and place a drain to remove the excess blood in her brain. Only, Serena has a fear of choking and was fighting them. After 45 minutes’ past, the doctor came out and asked Sonja, who was her Power of Attorney, to authorize an Emergency Tracheotomy. Serena’s Mother was against this, but Sonja put her foot down and signed the order. The doctor, Dr. Pablo Acebal, a world-renowned Neurosurgeon, had just returned from a seminar in Austin, TX, where he learned this new procedure.

They could get her intubated without the Tracheotomy. Serena was then put in an induced coma for two weeks. Serena’s Mother, Helen and her ex-husband Lee took turns staying with her. Helen would stay with her during the day and Lee would stay with her at night. On the 12th day after filling 4.5 bags of bloody fluid, the bleeding stopped. They continued to monitor her thru the 13th day, and on the 14th day they began to bring out of the coma, Serena began to freak out and started to pull on her tubes and iv’s. Lee soon arrived, and asked why she was not awake yet? The nurses told him that she freaks out as she begins to awake and tries to pull out all her tubes? He said, let me try and talk to her? So, they let him talk to her and with a calming voice, he told her she would be OK and not to be afraid. She could be woken and calm.

A few hours after she awoke, she still could not talk, but recognized everyone and motioned to her Mother for a pen and paper. After hearing words of “bleed” and “hemorrhage”, Serena was concerned because her Grandfather had mini-strokes before he passed and his handwriting diminished. She quickly wrote her name and then drew a human eye. She sighed, and knew she was going to be OK, because she could still write her name and be an artist.nSerena will tell you that she doesn’t remember anything from the time she went to sleep in the Caymans, until she became cognitive at St. David’s Rehab Hospital in Austin, TX. That was a matter of two and a half months.

Once she was awake, Serena began some basic rehab work in Miami Regional Hospital for about a month, and then was later flown with her Mother from Miami, to Austin, TX. Serena spent several months in St. David’s Rehab Hospital in downtown Austin. Where an incredible team of therapists, John Cooper, Beth Bostick, Trish Ann Montoya, Stephanie Coker and several others worked with her daily to help her relearn to walk, talk, and help to become herself again! Serena suffered a Basal Ganglia Hemorrhage, and she is one of 3% of who have suffered this type of hemorrhage who survived! In Miami, her ICU nurses would come over on their lunch hours and visit with her Mother and hug her and were so amazed that she survived of what they know to be hundreds of people who never made it out of ICU. They named Serena, “The Miracle of 2008”! Serena will tell you, she wears it well!

Serena has not let this life event slow her down. She is now disability retired from the State of Texas and has become a member of the Board of Directors of the Texas Brain Injury Alliance, as well as a Committee Member of the Brain Injury Association of America’s Strategic Planning Committee. She also helps as Admin a Facebook Support Page, called Traumatic Brain Injury Support and communicates daily with thousands of people from all over the world that are survivors, caregivers and family members of those dealing with TBI’s in their family.

Serena has recently remarried to Mark Condon, and they live on 15 acres in Blue, TX. Her life dream is to create an Artist Retreat on her land, and call it “The Blue Magnolia”. She says, because she lives in Blue, TX and because she is a Southern Woman! Serena lost a considerable amount of the Left Ventricle of her brain, which means she has very little Short Term Memory, and has some balance issues. She continues to work on these areas every day.

Serena would like the Texas Legislature to take note from her incident, when it comes to reviewing the benefits of their State Employees. She hopes they will consider including an “Emergency Life Event” clause, so those who are in need when they are outside of the U.S. get the help they need to get back home to the U.S.? Serena would also like to have
March 18th, named as “Texas Traumatic Brain Injury Awareness Day”.

Serena thanks GOD everyday she wakes up to another day of LIFE, and tells her story whenever she gets the opportunity!

That she is alive by GOD’s grace and glory. 

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