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TBI Survivors Reveal Their Successes

January 21st, 2020|Blog|

BIHF vice president Joanne Cohen, back, welcomes Jeffrey Therrian and Dr. JoAnne Silver Jones to the January 2020 Survivor Series Luncheon.

Six brain injury survivors revealed their tips to thriving after a TBI to kick off the 2020 series of the Brain Injury Hope Foundation’s Survivor Series Luncheons on January 10 at the West Metro Fire and Rescue Event Center in Lakewood, Colorado.

“Overcoming Obstacles to Create a Better Life and a New Normal” gave survivors in the audience an opportunity to garner various methods, including unusual therapies to just smiling to use in their recovery from a brain injury.

The panel included:

  • JoAnne Silver Jones
  • Lauren Fortmiller
  • Richard Garde
  • Deb Finegold
  • Sheila Traister
  • Jeffrey Therrian

“I recognize now that every day I’m better than what I was,” said Traister, who suffered multiple concussions. “It’s good to see how far that I have come. I had forgotten my baseline.”

Traister is currently working with Dr. Manny Nunez of the NeuraPerformance Brain Center and is incorporating vision therapy, Dynavision, and Gyrostim therapy into her routine as she recovers.

Deb Finegold, left, Richard Garde and Shelia Traister are more than happy to share their tips at the BIHF January 2020 Survivor Series Luncheon.

Therrian said he “now knows himself” after suffering a fall at work in 2008 that sent him to the hospital where he was in an induced coma for six days.

“I was in denial for four to five years,” he explained. “I’ve seen what I lost, and it was hard. … I’ve had to redefine success and change the level of success. I now set smaller goals.”

And setting those smaller goals has allowed the former carpenter to cope as he still recovers from a TBI.

“I had to start looking at my problems. What are they?” Therrian explained. “Once I had the problems on paper, I could do the research. And because of that, I could work on one piece of the puzzle at a time.”

Garde, a former chiropractor, said he lost a lot of his memory after a car accident 2.5 years ago, along with math skills and vocabulary. He had to relearn how to play the guitar, and noted that music/sound is a healing energy.

“Playing music and neurology work together,” Garde said.

And it’s not just playing music, which helps stimulate the brain function controlling movement, cognition and speech, but listening to music also helps TBI survivors. For more information on music therapy, here is a link to one study.

Garde along with others on the panel experienced ringing in the ears aka tinnitus after their injuries, and suggested ear filters to help with the “noise.” Here’s an article about hypersensitivity  after a TBI. And here is where you can buy ear filters at Westone in Colorado Springs, Colorado. (SKU# 77701 was recommended by Dr. Mary Ann Keatley to Eliza Marie Somers. Also try SKU# 77703 or 77704, which were on sale at the time of publication.)

Finegold uses ear filters her audiologist, Dr. Kristin L. Rankin, suggested and said the ear filters help her tremendously as she negotiates life in restaurants, movie theaters, etc. Here is an article by Rankin.

Garde cited several therapies and other helpful hints that he has used in his recovery. Here are a few of his suggestions along with links to handouts or websites:

Become the Baby or the Brain Dance

Cross Crawl Exercises


Sleeping in a Hammock. Study 1.

Study 2

Meditation and a Good Night’s Sleep 

One free app to try for meditations is Insight Timer, which offers more than 24,000 free meditations from guided meditations to just music, from Christian to Buddhist, along with Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) meditations. MBSR meditations were cited by Silver-Jones as helping in her recovery.

“Find out what works for you,” Garde said. “And you have to move. Life is motion, and motion is medicine.”

Motion also increases oxygen to the brain. Speaking of oxygen to the brain, Garde mentioned a University of Colorado study he was involved in which it was revealed that sitting in a hot tub increased oxygen to the brain. Here is a link to volunteer for a study. And here is a link for studies with the Integrative Physiology of Aging Laboratory.

Silver-Jones, who just published “Headstrong: Surviving a Traumatic Brain Injury” after surviving being attacked with a hammer in a random violence incident, said that writing was a way to remove herself from the injury.

“Writing found me,” she said. “It was not my intention to write a book, but I just kept writing. It was personal and intimate. After years of recovery, I was tired and this was a way to focus on something else. You have to engage your brain in something else other than your injury.

“You need to find your bandwidth, and honor that,” she continued. “Find where you can function. … What can I deal with, without getting angry. I would yell at people: It wasn’t an accident! I was attacked with a hammer!

“I live a bounded life, now,” she added. “I need rest. I have to take medications to control seizures. I do what I can to keep things in control.”

One of those things she cited is MBSR meditation, and here’s a link to free meditations and course study.

Fortmiller, a former teacher and activist, uses  her dog Bogo to help her throughout her day.

Lauren Fortmiller and Bogo.

“Most of my life people told me to snap out of it,” said Fortmiller, who suffered numerous TBIs since childhood. “It wasn’t until I had a CereScan that gave a complete picture of the brain that I finally had proof that I had a brain injury.”

Fortmiller now credits her injury with bringing her to music, along with giving her freedom from expectations.

Finegold used trauma therapy after a fall down some stairs.

“I was terrified of stairs and riding in a car,” she said. “I didn’t know who I was. I had all these antennas up in my head. Trauma therapy helped me to get unstuck.”

Traister said TBIs now allow her to distance herself from toxic people and situations.

“I don’t have the energy or time to put up with other people’s (crap),” she said. “Before the injuries I was probably to most wonderful enabler, now I have very little time for toxic situations.”

All the panelist indicated that caregivers need to use patience when helping a TBI survivor.

“Patience is the most important quality a caregiver can have,” Fortmiller said. “We are doing the best we can. Also don’t over help. I know it’s hard not to help someone you love, but always ask if they need help.”

Traister added it’s important to respect the wishes of the TBI patient.

“People are trying to be helpful and want to do things their way. Respect the way we do things,” she said. “And it’s OK to say, ‘I don’t understand.”

  • The BIHF Luncheon Series on March 13, will feature six caregivers, who will explain their methods and will reveal tips they use in caregiving for a TBI loved one.

Therrian gave an analogy on dealing with TBI survivors.

“Imagine you are driving to New York City and about three-quarters of the way there you pull over because your windshield and rearview mirror are filled with muck. I am unable to see the world in front of me or behind me,” he explained.

Finegold added, “Life doesn’t end after a TBI. Life can be just a rewarding. Find people you enjoy being with and love the life that you have. I’m thrilled about learning how to crochet again!”

It’s little successes such as crocheting that can make a difference as a TBI survivor recovers. So celebrate your accomplishments, and smile.

By Eliza Marie Somers

The Benefits of Counseling After a Brain Injury

September 20th, 2019|Blog|

While most survivors of a mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) keep a laser-like focus on the physical  healing of the brain, one aspect of the therapeutic process is often an afterthought and usually  forgotten and overlooked. That important aspect is a person’s psychological and emotional well-being.

To help survivors and their families understand the importance of the mental side of recovery the Brain Injury Hope Foundation’s Survivor Series on September 13, 2019, featured a panel of experts at its “The Benefits of Counseling Following Traumatic Brain Injury” luncheon at the West Metro Fire and Rescue Training and Event Center in Lakewood, Colorado, facilitated by Board President and Executive Director, Gayann Brandenburg.

The following experts shared their insights:

Rita Coalson, MA, LPC, NCC
Psychotherapist (Grief Therapy, Trauma, Boundary Issues, Life Transitions)
Aloha Counseling Services

Ricardo Esparza, Retired
P.O. Box 17145
Boulder, CO

Sharon Kocina, MA, LPC
Helping You Go From Surviving to Thriving
Website: Sharon Kocina

Valerie Stone, Ph.D., Psy-C
Licensed Psychologist Candidate

“When you go to counseling you should expect to be in a safe space to be whom you are, where you
are,” Coalson said. “If you don’t have a safe space you will not open up. Interview your therapist so that
you can be you and trust that person.”

“Yes, a safe space is extremely important,” Stone said. “You should feel supported in being who you
want to be and be treated with respect.”

After finding the right therapist Kocina emphasized celebrating the little successes in your recovery.
“Look for changes, even if they are baby steps,” she said. “And take time to rest before and after your
appointments. You will need to have energy going into therapy.”

“And when you are in an appointment take notes and ask for handouts.”

“Having a patient write in a journal is extremely helpful,” Esparza noted as it is easier to go back and
chart your progress as you recover from a TBI. “And talk about a strategy.”
Part of that strategy includes having hope that you will get better and surrounding yourself with loving
and kind people, Esparza explained.

Another facet Esparza stressed is sharing your recovery with your spouse and family members as he
related a story of one gentleman who would not open up to his wife as he felt he was protecting his

“It’s very, very important not to be stingy by hogging up the injury and not allowing someone to be
compassionate to you,” Esparza said. “This is a life-changing event, and it’s life changing for them, too.”
One of the first steps to mental recovery is a grieving process.

“Don’t be put into the immediate category of depression,” Esparza said. “The grieving process has to be

“We just happen to live in a grief-deprived society,” Coalson explained. “No one listens to you; they just
want you to say you are OK. You look fine, why aren’t you fun anymore. … You need to build and create
a new support system. And allow time to grieve.”

“You have to accept that you are already different,” she continued. “There are stages of grief. Getting
grief education can help you feel calmer. And you should not try to rush it. It’s a discovery process.”
“And you just might discover a new life purpose and/or career path that you would not have taken if you
didn’t address the changes in your life after a TBI. Another positive from grieving is that when you are
triggered, say a year from now, it will not be as intense of an emotion and you will move along,” Coalson

Kocina stressed the necessity of quality sleep in your physical and mental recovery process. She also
explained the energy Reserve Model. (Link to attachment.)

“It’s more difficult to deal with grief and trauma when you are not sleeping well,” Kocina explained. “If
you can take care of your sleep, you can take care of this injury better.”

Along with grief and sleep deprivation there is this “disbelief” about the injury.

“What is the emotional injury of the TBI?” Esparza said. “You have to get to the core of who you are and
eventually you will have to ask this question: What is the meaning of this injury in my life? How are you
going to adapt to this change in life? What we do know is that life continues in this riptide of change. In
the midst of the most terrible circumstances what is the next step? It doesn’t have to be catastrophic.”
Stone stressed that psychologists “don’t have a magic wand, but it’s inspiring” to work with members of
the TBI community. “It’s an incredible privilege to be on this journey with you.”

“We are here to support you,” Kocina said. “Let the therapist know what you need and tell them what is
not working. You are not going crazy. You are the same person, but your future looks different.”
Coalson noted: “It’s an ongoing journey. Do the self-care. Don’t’ fight yourself. You can like yourself,
even if you don’t like what is going on.”

Download Limited Capacity Model

A Path to a Paycheck After a TBI

August 25th, 2019|Blog|

So much of “who we are” is linked to our employment. I’m an electrician, a fireman, an accountant, an attorney, a teacher. Yes, we all have a deep attachment to our occupation. So after a mild traumatic brain injury, a part of our “identity and purpose in life” gets a jolt of the new reality we now face. 

After months, maybe even years, of rehab and therapy we are ready to test new waters, but we are stuck in a stream of … where do I start. 

The Brain Injury Hope Foundation’s free Survivor Series luncheon Aug. 9, 2019 at the West Metro Fire and Rescue Center, gave participants a sort of blueprint for starting the journey back to employment. 

Facilitated by Gayann Brandenburg, the audience sat in small groups and discussed various ways member found employment, along with some of the resources used on their journey to a pay check.

One of the first topics discussed was disclosure – whether or not to tell your employer about the mTBI. This is a totally personal decision. If you need special accommodations at work, some say it is imperative you tell your potential new employer about the disability and that it’s a must if you are still employed with the same company before the TBI. By doing this, the company cannot fire you for your medical condition, some participants said. 

One group suggested you do not reveal the mTBI during the interview process, but discuss it during the “intake” process. 

Researching the company to see if it accommodates people with disabilities and finding out the corporate culture are essential, said one group of participants.  

If your disability is “invisible” then it’s important to disclose it because it might be hard to convince your employer you have a disability after you are hired, said one group. 

The disclosure issue is an in-depth topic the BIHF took up during a luncheon in March 2018. Here is a link to the blog about that series, if you would like to explore it. 

Resources are Available

The task of looking for a job can be so daunting that it can delay the process of getting self-sufficient. However, there are resources available, including many state and county entities. Below are some avenues to explore. 

The public library system. Do NOT be afraid to ask a librarian for help. They are more than willing to answer your questions and steer you in the right direction, including free online courses.  Below are some links to county library systems in Colorado.


Arapahoe County

Douglas County

Jefferson County

Broomfield County

The county business and workforce centers are an excellent resource as they hold free classes on computer programs, including Excel, Word, along with classes on interviewing, resume writing, and accessing resources. The workforce centers also hold events linking companies with potential employers. Below are links to some state and county resources. 

Links and map of Colorado’s workforce centers

Colorado Division of Labor and Development

Division of Vocational Rehabilitation

Colorado Small Business Development Center Network

Goodwill Industries was cited numerous times as an option for finding help in looking for work, along with a place of employment. In June 2019 the two Goodwill organizations in Colorado merged. Link to story

The new company is discussing whether to take on a new name, but for now it is operating under two names: Goodwill Industries of Denver link here  and Discover Goodwill of Southern & Western Colorado. Link here 

Volunteering is a good way to find out what has changed with your work abilities. For example, you can test your stamina, your ability to deal with lots of people or noise, and other variables. Volunteering may be an option if you would like to work for an organization, along with being a great place to network and maybe even securing a job as you get to know the people and the company culture. 

Part-time work and temporary work are great ways to finding full-time employment. Remember you, too, are testing out the company, just as it is testing you. 

Should I Stay or Should I Go Now

The topic of staying with your old company or moving on to something totally different and maybe even more fulfilling was discussed. 

The reasons cited for remaining with your old company are:

  • You know the company and the culture.
  • The company may be willing to place you in a new job in which you can succeed, along with meeting your accommodations. 
  • The benefits, and who doesn’t want to keep their benefits. 

Moving on to a new career and source of income can be quite empowering once we are dedicated to the change. Here are some reasons for a change:

  • You might discover a hidden talent. 
  • Doing what you love can bring happiness. 
  • A fresh start may give you renewed energy and motivation.

Applying for jobs in person or online

It seems as if technology is everywhere and the only way to get a job is through the online process, but Brandenburg said “Do not stop with the online process. After submitting an online application, you must go in person or contact the company via phone to make sure they received your application, draw attention to your application, and express your interest in working for the company. There are too many online applications submitted – you need to stand out if you want a viable chance of landing a job.” But she did caution against contacting a company that specifically states: Do Not Contact. 

Some online job resources




And here’s an article that details its top 10 online employment sites.

Alternatives to Employment

The traditional way of commuting to work and working for an employer is going to the wayside as more and more employers are allowing people to work from home, along with people starting niche businesses. Here are some options to the tradition workplace model. 

Turning a hobby into a paying career can become liberating and enjoyable. Don’t sell yourself short and keep your options open. 

Take classes and seek out support groups. Health and fitness classes can be a way of testing to see if you could become an instructor. 

Finding employment after a mTBI can be difficult, but remember there are people and organizations out there that are willing to help you become independent. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help. 

In September 2018, the BIHF held a series on finding employment in which it dispensed additional information on the process. Here is a link to the blog. 

70th Birthday thoughts – Richard Garde

August 16th, 2019|Blog|

Well I certainly don’t suddenly feel wiser as I’m older — actually it doesn’t feel any different than yesterday. Remember those adult stupid […]

Denver Filmmakers Spotlight TBIs and Medical Cannabis

July 25th, 2019|Blog|

Takeda, Allred relate their experiences after traumatic brain injuries

After actor Scott Takeda suffered numerous concussions and remained stagnant in his recovery until he found medical cannabis to alleviate symptoms, he then found himself facing the stigma and shame of turning to medical marijuana along with being a TBI survivor. 

Cohen writes Book to Help TBI Survivors

July 5th, 2019|Blog|

Joanne Cohen is a board member of the Brian Injury Hope Foundation and a survivor of numerous brain injuries. The June 2019 Survivor Series was possible through a full grant donation from her family:   Dr. Steve and Debbie Cohen

A different vibe filled the air at the Survivor Series Luncheon on June 14, 2019, at the […]