Carolyn’s Story

Carolyn’s story of brain injury.

Before my injury, I was active in my role as a busy mom and wife.  I was enjoying the last bit of my maternity leave before I was to report back to work as a dietician at University of Richmond.

When our youngest son woke up in the middle of the night on July 6, I went and laid down with him to help him sleep; I then went into cardiac arrest.  We are unsure how long I was unresponsive–possibly 10-12 minutes.  When my husband found me, he called 911 and gave CPR until the paramedics arrived.

I was at Chippenham Hospital for 3 weeks, but I don’t remember being there.  I was unable to sit up, stand, walk, or do anything on my own except speak.  The severity of my brain injury is unknown because it went undiagnosed.  Although both sides of my brain were injured, the back of my brain was the most affected, causing significant vision impairment. Due to the extensive injuries of my brain, we were told that if I survived, I would be in a long-term care facility. I was then transferred to UVA HealthSouth in Charlottesville for rehab.  During this time, my family and friends were my biggest support system.  I couldn’t have gone through this time without their help.

In Charlottesville, I received PT, OT and speech therapy.  I worked to help my memory by writing letters, and to help with balance and strength, the staff would stand me up on parallel bars. I had to re-learn every movement to complete simple tasks like putting on clothes.

When I was released from rehab, I moved to Ashland with my in-laws. In addition to my mother-in-law and husband’s assistance, I went to a day program at Sheltering Arms for a few months where they helped me learn how to be a mom again: changing diapers, hanging laundry, and learning how to cook were all daily tasks I struggled with.

When I wanted to learn to walk better, I went to The Gait Center/Lawrence Rehabilitation Center – it was the best thing I did!  I saw Mr. Lawrence for almost a year, 3 times a week; he helped me learn to walk in a step by step process that helped me develop a more “normal” walk. I am still continuing to improve my walking skills to this day.

Currently, I’m happy with my life!  I don’t see myself as being disabled, but I still face challenges like reading and driving, however my abilities are consistently improving. For example, when I went to my first college football game after the injury, I could only see a green field; the next year, I could see players on the field; the following year, I could see the numbers on their jerseys!

To continue improving my functioning, I exercise for 20-25 minutes a day on the elliptical machine; this increases blood flow throughout my body and brain, giving me more oxygen and energy. I also think my diet positively impacts not only my overall health, but my heart and brain health, too. Since my injury, I have written a memoir and children’s e-book, and hope to develop a motivational speaking platform so I can share my journey with others.

Carolyn Powell