I sustained a concussion in 2012 while training for the Ironman race and then battled concussion symptoms for 14 weeks. The single worst headache of my life, sensitivity to light, ringing in the ears, etc., I continued to train under the supervision of a physician and completed the Ironman 4 months later.
What I didn't know then and do know now is that even though I felt great physically at the time of my race, my brain had not healed. I began to experience intense pressure headaches, and have memory issues, emotionality.
Immediately following the Ironman, I felt invisible and decided to challenge myself with high altitude mountain climbing around the world. 15,000 ft., 17,000 ft. and finally over 19,000 ft.
Upon my return from Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa, my brain literally shut down. A victim of high altitude cerebral edema, I was admitted to ICU for nearly a week. Inpatient rehabilitation for a month and outpatient rehab for 3.5 months. Seizures, altered mental state, ataxia, short term memory loss, impulsivity, decreased self-awareness, inability to make decisions for myself. I was in a wheel chair and then on a cane. Out of work for months and then regained full time employment after 7.
It took a while to finally understand what had happened to me. I was lucky to locate specialists in Dallas who could connect the dots. I was not unique to them. They had experience with this type of injury in Olympians, NFL and NHL athletes, Veterans and people like me.
Today, I'm a survivor of TBI. My life like so many others is changed forever. I am not the same person. I don't watch television, listen to music, visit busy places, or process information at the speed I once did. I too have lost many friends who don't know what to say. I battle neural fatigue. I no longer climb or exercise in large doses. Social interactions overstimulate me easily. I have difficulty organizing, planning and continue to deal with TBI headaches.
But, what I do have is amazing connections with new friends; an increased spiritual growth, a tremendous team of doctors and specialists; a renewed relationship with family members. I have the tough days, the tired days and the days that remind me that I'm incredibly lucky to be alive!
I want to share my story for a few reasons. 1) to say thank you to all of the people who were immediately with me during my crisis; to those who have courageously walk with me daily since then; and to the new set of people who I meet every day who show compassion, support and love.
And 2) to all TBI survivors: you are not alone. We are here with you. Look for us. People can't see our injuries, but it is absolutely devastating. You are amazing.
I'm not sure if I will climb a mountain again. But honestly, I'm climbing every day. Stay strong my friends. Find courage and hope. I am inspired by you. All of you. Thank you for letting me share my story.