TBI One Love Survivor Valerie Dinges
Hello, my name is Valeria Dinges.
It was a beautiful Friday morning, October 22nd 1999, my husband, 3 children and I were on our way to his Grandparents house. My husband was driving and we were enjoying lighter traffic than usual for our area. (Just north of D.C.) Coming up on a car driving unusually slow in the far left lane, my husband gave a quick beep for him to either speed up or move over. There were 2 empty lanes to the right of him. The car continued driving slow, so my husband changed lanes and continued on. There was nothing aggressive about any of it. Our kids were talking away in the backseat and my husband and I were enjoying the radio.
I remember commenting on hearing my favorite song that had just come on...and the next thing I remember is hearing "there's so much glass...we need to cut it". I couldn't see anything and couldn't really feel anything. I don't remember talking but I was thinking "what happened?" And they responded, "you had an accident"...I must have gotten agitated because they said, "your kids and husband are ok". I remember feeling completely relieved and then there was nothing once more....until I was with my brother. Even though he had tragically passed away a few months before (Heroin OD), it seemed perfectly normal. There was only the most peaceful wonderful feeling being there with him
Even though I didn't "see" anything...I knew that I was somewhere very beautiful. We talked some and he told me that " you can't stay & that I needed to go back." He smiled and said "I love you". I had been in a medically induced coma for 5 days but I also heard a few things that my family had said to me as well. I heard my father pleading with me not to leave him... "your brother just left me, I can't lose you too".
When everything was said and done, after 10 hours of surgery, the Dr’s had given me a 50/50 chance of surviving. My husband had been told that I had a crushed right humerus, bruised Lungs that required a ventilator, severe whiplash, the left side of my scalp had been ripped almost off but repaired with over 1,000 staples and stitches and simply a closed head Injury. Not one Dr. Talked to my husband about the Damage to my brain and possible Brain Injuries and he didn't think to ask. He was just worried if I'd even survive. In 1999, TBI was not a focus. All my husband knew was that my brain was bruised and they were trying to control the swelling. When I had finally woke up enough to communicate, we found out that I "spoke like a 5 year old" and had no memory of the accident.
I had forgotten many other things like whether my daughter was potty trained or even the foods I liked or disliked. I couldn't remember new people that I had met... When I could stand, my balance was very poor and I didn't remember how to walk. Yes...I would say that I had a Brain Injury But even still, my husband wasn't given any information on the unseen, only the visible injuries. After 1 month in the hospital, they’ll sent me to a Neuro Rehab Hospital for 2 weeks. There I received physical therapy and saw a speech therapist...one time. I was released to go home and then seen as an outpatient at another Neuro Rehab center for 2 months. I finally received genuine Speech, physical, occupational and psychological therapies. After insurance decided that I was healthy enough, I was sent home with no further follow up. Sent home to a 3, 5 & 7 year old.... at this time I realized the finer details of my TBI like my ability to pay attention, my ability to finish tasks. I do have to say that being thrown back in the pool forced me to sink or swim. I barely floated at some points...but I made it 10 months after our accident and a lot of reflection, my family and I were blessed with the opportunity to move to Japan and we took it!
I still have issues with attention, memory, balance and speech but it's usually so minor now that no one really notices. But it was so difficult and scary in the early years. All this from the man who we had passed. I was told that as we moved forward, my husband noticed that the car was coming up from behind, changing lanes quickly, cut off cars to the right of us and cut in between us and the car in front....and slamming on his brakes. My husband swerved to miss hitting him, our tire blew and our Bronco rolled over 3 times and came to a stop upright. Witnesses could only report that the car that had been In front stopped and then took off. We were blessed to have had an off duty police officer, an off duty nurse and 2 Boy Scout Leaders there in traffic to help us.
It's always been a struggle for me....people (including family) treating me like "what's the problem?" You look just fine. They have minimized my pain and feelings because they couldn't see my TBI.
A side story of this is that I had never met another TBI survivor for 14 years! While living overseas in Germany, I heard about the TBI clinic in Landstuhl Germany and decided that it would be awesome to volunteer there...OH MY GOSH...BEST DECISION EVER! I not only met other survivors but also realized my passion...connecting with and helping survivors like me I'm now back in school...my goal is to become a Counselor for TBI survivors.
Thank you TBI One Love for all you do!