Saturday, April 20, 2013

Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI): A Success Story

Jo Murphey
The Murphey Saga
April 20, 2013

Our youngest daughter has it from a trauma that occurred when she was three years old. By the time we got her to emergency room, she was lethargic and hard to rouse. Between the injury to her brain and the drugs the medical staff gave her, she spent three days comatose. She awoke on the third day and was her old self or so it seemed at the time.

Being just three years old, we didn't expect much from her. She was a baby in our eyes. It wasn't until she went to kindergarten that the true nature of the extent those three days wrought. She struggled with every task put before her. The teachers kept saying she was a late bloomer and there were many children just like her. I wasn't too concerned. I factored in a possible cause was my divorce from my husband. It was suggested that she repeat kindergarten again and I agreed. She was just a late bloomer.

By the halfway point through kindergarten, I was helping her with colors, numbers, and the alphabet. She just wasn't getting it. Her writing was squiggly lines, she could remember her numbers past five, and the alphabet was nonexistent to her. I started consulting with the school psychologist, her counselors, and teachers thinking there could be a learning deficit involved. I was placated and told there was nothing wrong with her that time wouldn't fix. It was suggested that she be promoted to first grade with half her time back in kindergarten. I wasn't sure what to think at this time. Her IQ scores were skewed. Her reading math, and comprehension scores came back low, but her speaking language skills were pegged at 4th grade level. When it was averaged out, her score wasn't low enough to warrant special help. My baby was failing! To top it off her frustration levels being so high she started acting out with temper tantrums. I understood her frustrations and wanted to throw a few too.

By the third grade, there was still no forward progress and she is almost ten years old. The counselor I was seeing told me in no uncertain terms the school system was not allowed to hold her back again in the hopes she might bloom. Yeah, I was still getting that line, but I knew something was wrong with my daughter. I went to the school board and threatened to sue them for neglect.

Her angry outbursts were getting so violent I couldn't hang pictures on the walls because she'd pound the reverse side knocking them off the wall.  Everything breakable was stored in the attic. The more we yelled the worse her outburst got. She was actually throwing herself on the floor like a two-year old. We tried the time out. It actually worked. In her room, by herself, and with no radio or television seemed to calm her. Sensory deprivation to quiet her over stimulated mind. It was then I realized these outbursts were more than frustration.

I sought answers somewhere else. I called her psychiatrist because at this time they were all thinking ADHD with violent tendencies. She was given all sorts of medicines to try to fix the problem, but none of them worked with any success. She suggested I take my child to the Medical College in Augusta to find out what was actually going on with her. We did. Three days of extensive testing were performed. Each day was a revelation. At the end we got the full results.

The results were startling. Our child was marginally retarded when spoken words were taken out of the equation. Given her parents were graduate studies graduates and never talked down to their children accounted for her high verbal skills. She had a 60% hearing loss, visual deficits, and had scar tissue in her brain (basal ganglia). The scars were causing tremors in her hands which I hadn't noticed but they did. The tremors were a precursor for latent seizure activity.

I couldn't understand this because she was normal when she was born. By three years old, she was giving my husband and me a run for survival in chess. How could she retarded? It was a 50-page report was on what was wrong, a course of treatment, and how to educate her as well. Those doctors and specialist were thorough. It wasn't cheap to have these batteries of tests run, but it was worth every penny. That's when I first heard the term traumatic brain injury as the root cause of her problems. It made sense to me because all of this cropped up after her hospitalization.

Armed with the data, I approached the school system again. Our daughter was armed with new glasses and hearing aids; it was up to the school to follow the guidelines the psycho-educational department set (by this time ADA was passed which allowed more than 504). By the end of 4th grade, she knew all of her numbers to 100, could do simple math, and read and write on a 2nd grade level. Talk about gains!

I was pleased with her progress. She was achieving goals!  The only wet blanket to my joy was the school psychologist. During a parent/school conference she laid out my little girl's future. She would never be able to drive a car. She would never go to college. She was best suited for minimum wage employment and would probably end up in a group home when we could no longer care for her because her maturity level was pegged at 12 years. Did I really want this stigma to follow my daughter for the rest of her life? I answered without thinking, "Yes, if it helps her achieve. Label her."

I HATE the word NEVER. I've haven't accepted the word my whole life so I set a plan in action. My new husband became her biggest cheerleaders. No accomplishment was too small to be celebrated with ice cream or a special celebration of some kind. Over that first summer, I had been commissioned for three weddings. My daughter watched with interest as I planned and designed the cake, made the flowers, and the fifty million other things that went into catering a wedding. We started cooking together. She read the recipes, measured the amounts and cooked. We played what-ifs games. What if I substituted this for that, and we tried it. Some of them now are our favorite recipes.

By high school my daughter was entering dessert categories in competitions and winning! She went to a special high school after graduating high school with a special ed diploma with honors. That's right, she aced all her high school classes. She obtained her GED and her driving license from the specialty school. She was even the class valedictorian.  She turned down a culinary scholarship to Johnson & Wales and instead was chosen out of 700 final cut applicants for an apprenticeship at the local 5 star-5 diamond resort. She was one of the seven chosen. Oh, and she went to college also. She was on top of the world and had her choice of restaurants and corporations that wanted her. I believe she was considering the offer as executive pastry chef for another 5 star resort with a starting salary of $95,000 plus all sorts of perks and benefits at 25 years old. So much for never!

This is not the end of the story, but the beginning of another one so I'll stop here.

Nothing is impossible with determination.

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