March is National Brain Injury Awareness Month. BIANJ is raising awareness and funds throughout the month in recognition of the people whose lives are impacted and in celebration of their perseverance and strength. Donations received will help support programs like our care management program and Camp TREK-critical programs that exist only through support from people like you. Each day we will share stories that inspire hope, spark understanding and drive support. Check back daily for the latest #ReasonToGive!
If you would like to share your story in honor of Brain Injury Awareness Month, contact us.
DAY THIRTY ONE – NEETU
“The last thing I remember is my surprise Drake-themed 30th birthday party. I had just come back from an awesome bachelorette trip to Belize that my friends threw for me and a few weeks later, on March 10th my fiance and friends surprised me with an epic birthday bash. I remember feeling so loved and appreciated, and lucky to have so many people who cared for me. And I had so much to look forward to: I was going to Cabo the next weekend for my friend’s bachelorette, I had just accepted a permanent position with Comcast, which was the best job I had ever had. I also had two of my closest friends getting married. I was also getting married. I remember being excited about the upcoming year. What I don’t remember, is the pain in my calf that I had complained about, thinking I had pulled a muscle at the gym. The next thing I remember is waking up in the hospital, disoriented, unable to move my body nor see clearly. The pain in my calf was a blood clot that on March 13th, broke off into smaller clots and travelled into my lungs causing my heart to stop beating, and the lack of oxygen resulted in damage to my brain.
Most of the damage was to the part of the brain that affects motor planning, my ability to remember and perform steps to make movement happen, such as brushing teeth or washing hands. After three weeks in a coma, I suffered from drop foot, which is weakness in my ability to move my feet. Because my feet didn’t move for so long, my Achilles shortened. After three and a half months in rehab, and almost a year of doing everything I could to stretch my feet, I finally had surgery on February 28th to lengthen my Achilles tendon. Next week is a year since everything happened and some days I just want to give up. But then I remember how lucky I am to be alive and improving, how many people support me and are rooting for me, and how I owe it to everyone to get better.
I still have a lot to look forward to: walking again, learning how to dance again, traveling again, going back to work, joining a gym and of course, get married. The only problem is nothing is set in stone because I don’t know how long my recovery will take, so all I can do is keep working hard. Please follow me on Instagram and check out my blog to keep up with my journey: @navsoneet and http://navsoneet.com”
DAY THIRTY – TOM
January 7, 1981 started out as a good day for me. It had snowed the night before and I was enjoying an unexpected day off from school. Building a snow fort was the main project for the day. Little did I know the during our “construction” project, my life was about to change forever.
In an instant, I felt a headache like no other. Not only did my head hurt, my neck was stiff; to the point where I could not move it. At first, the ailment was thought to be a flu. I had a little dinner and went to bed.
Around midnight, I woke up in excruciating head pain with my neck still stiff but with severe vomiting, seizures, and sweating added to the list of ailments. My parents took me to a nearby hospital where it was determined that internal bleeding was evident. From this point, I was taken to a hospital in New York City where, after two weeks of testing, it was determined that I had sustained a ruptured arteriovenous malformation (AVM).
When an AVM occurs, a tangle of blood vessels in the brain bypasses normal brain tissue and directly diverts blood from the arteries to the veins. In my case, the vessels weakened over time and ruptured.
One month and two brain surgeries later, I was released from the hospital fully-recovered. I went back to school and life. The AVM experience behind me.
In 2002, while unemployed, I came across a want ad for “BIANJ.” Thinking it was the “Business & Industry Association of New Jersey,” I applied. When the Brain Injury Association of New Jersey (as it was then named) called me, I was not sure why they were calling. Then it dawned on me … same acronym but different organization. What was a misunderstanding turned out to be both a career move and a chance to “pay-it-forward” and help people with brain injury.
Working at the Brain Injury Alliance of New Jersey (as it is now called) has been a wonderful experience. It is a much-needed organization. It brings people together to help those whose lives changed in one moment. I am proud and grateful to be part of this.
DAY TWENTY NINE – GRANT
Grant is a 17-year-old nationally ranked equestrian who suffered his first cerebral concussion in 2016. His symptoms included cognitive impairment that prevented him from performing his required scholastic activities and his sport. He also suffered recurrent headaches, vertigo, sensitivity to light and sound, and weakness.
DAY TWENTY EIGHT – OUTREACH
The Alliance’s education and outreach programs are committed to educating the public about brain injury, as well as providing the latest information and resources to professionals, medical providers, caregivers, survivors, and families. We continue to develop new content for trainings, seminars, presentations, and webinars on topics that are rooted in the needs we hear from the community.
DAY TWENTY SEVEN – AMARI
Amari was known to anyone she came in contact with as outgoing, sassy, funny, and talkative little girl. But in 2013 the unimaginable happened. Amari and her grandmother were injured in a horrific car crash. Amari is still fighting and on the road to recovery. There is no way to plan for a situation of this degree. Amari’s mom hopes to turn her recovery story into a movement, spreading Amari’s story in a positive light to the world.
DAY TWENTY SIX – ANUSHKA
Anushka was a 20-year-old college student who is studying at Northeastern University in Boston when she suffered her fourth concussion. She was knocked off her bike by a passing car. She described “a split moment that has now caused me to take 6 months off from school, to transfer to a closer school to home, and to just start back as a part-time student… Only taking 2 classes.” She is a scholar athlete, and would easily be able to handle 5 highly technical classes per semester in the past. She is now struggling with her 2 classes, suffering daily headaches, eye pain, and piercing headaches. She indicated “what people do not realize, is the mental/emotional aspect of concussions. After my concussion I, as well as the people close to me, could barely recognize me as a person. I was always irritated, depressed and always anxious about most things. It is not been easy… But I am learning to live with my concussion. Remembering that just because you cannot see it, does not mean it is not there.”
DAY TWENTY FIVE – JOY
In November 2010, I sustained a concussion from getting hit head on by another car. While under the care of my Neurologist, I missed an entire month of work. During that time, I did not know of the Brain Injury Alliance of New Jersey. In March 2016, I was hired as the Director of Education and Outreach for the Alliance. At the time of my concussion, I know I would have benefitted from the many free resources the Alliance has to offer. Now I am in the position to ensure that people statewide know who we are, what we do, and never have to feel alone if they experience a brain injury.
DAY TWENTY FOUR – ABI
“3 years ago I spent many days in a coma after being struck by a drunk driver.
The cognitive part of my brain isn’t improving much, though I have made progress. I still struggle with learning & comprehending lots of things. I can’t even begin to explain how bad my memory is.
My right eye has lost functioning. I have a hard time sleeping. My jaw is still broken. I’m deaf in my left ear. I can’t hold back sneezes or yawns because they cause too much pressure in my head & cause pain.
I am struggling a lot with controlling my emotions. This past has been so hard on me emotionally. I’m learning every day how difficult this is. Having to deal with all of this the rest of my life is going to be extremely difficult. But I never lose sight of how grateful I am to be alive.”
DAY TWENTY THREE- @KLASHOE
“My invisible injury is still haunting me every day since February 19, 2014. I sustained a mild traumatic brain injury which was later diagnosed as Post Concussive Syndrome. Physical therapy, vision therapy, occupational therapy, neurologist, neuropsychiatrist, neuro optometrist, and countless medications for about a year and a half. Only a few people around me truly understood my invisible injury. Only a few understood what this looked like for me.
For me this was excruciating headaches that would not go away, not being able to drive when it was raining because of the windshield wipers, having to stop when I saw any sort of police or ambulance flashing lights, feeling suicidal, crying one minute and yelling the next. Making completely inappropriate comments, sleeping all the time, laughing at the wrong times, needing to work in the dark, isolating, and having brain fog.
All during this I still managed to graduate with a Master’s Degree in Social Work, and work full-time. Granted, I am not 100% back to myself and still have bad brain days like yesterday. Things always appear to work in mysterious ways as I am currently running a Brain Injury program for adults and just became a Certified Brain Injury Specialist. Lucky for me I work with some pretty amazing people who get me and my limits at times.”
DAY TWENTY TWO – JARROD
Before 9/2/12, I was a full-time musician, recording engineer and composer. On that evening while out for a run, I was struck by an intoxicated driver. I suffered a laundry list of injuries. The most concerning of which was the traumatic brain injury. When I eventually woke up, I learned that outpatient physical and mental therapy understandably left something to be desired in regard to musician’s skills recovery. I naturally resumed my career path. Little did I know that creating music was now going to be by far the most significant source of therapy that I’d experience.
As my first post-accident musical endeavor, I scored a short documentary. “The Pixel Painter” was released July of 2013. The film was met with extremely positive and enthusiastic response. It received over 1 million views and mention on the cover of the NY Post within the first week of release. I wrote, performed, recorded and mixed music for this film shortly after I was released from hospital care. Although I don’t fully recall creating the music for this film, I do recall that this project sparked in me the interest to finally start a solo musical project. I should also mention that I’ve resumed my next most significant source of therapy, running.
To hear Jarrod’s debut EP under the name Ninth Floor Mannequin (9fm), visitSoundCloud.com/9fm.
DAY TWENTY ONE – COURTNEY AND LEO
“Leo woke up with a headache. It kept getting worse, and he became unconscious. He was rushed to the hospital. There it was determined he had a brain bleed. They kept asking if he fell or maybe hit his head – but there was nothing we could think of. Once he was in the PICU we were informed he had a subarachnoid hemorrhage – which for a child his age is extremely rare. He was given a slim chance of surviving. For a week we sat by his side – waiting, hoping, singing, & praying he would wake up. He finally opened those big beautiful brown eyes. We were told he had a very long road to recovery, but we knew we would do whatever we could to get him the best care possible. Now he is doing pretty well. He’s in a wheelchair for the time being, but is scooting all over the place. He’s got some left side hemiplegia and right facial paralysis – which is causing some eye issues as well. Some days are tougher for than others, but we’re so blessed he’s here. Leo is destined for greatness!”
DAY TWENTY – NIKKI
“3 years & 8 months ago I was learning to walk after a traumatic brain injury, and look at me now! I tell myself daily I am like a Navy Seal. I was a POW to my TBI for far too long. Now I am a rock star. My strength 100% greater than before my accident! TBI, broken neck, subdural hematoma, stroke, clot, liver trauma, broken arm, damaged back, messed up bursa sac… I still have hardly any feeling in the bottom of my foot. When you’ve been treading water in the ocean of a TBI injury don’t worry about the little puddles left over. I had to learn to walk again and I did it!”
DAY NINETEEN – 5K/WALK FOR BRAIN INJURY AWARENESS
The 5K/Walk for Brain Injury Awareness is an event to support and advocate for the thousands of individuals affected by brain injury in New Jersey. Hundreds of people come together to celebrate the achievements of people living with brain injury, and to honor those who have sustained brain injuries and cannot walk with us. Dedicated volunteers, staff, supporters, and corporate sponsors throughout the state attend the event. Each year the Walk for Brain Injury Awareness helps raise funds that are vital to the Alliance’s much needed programs and services.
DAY EIGHTEEN – RACHAEL AND DARREN
DAY SEVENTEEN – GRIEF AND DISABILITY
Even in Grief, I Still Have Pride: https://nyti.ms/2Cy63Gi
If you or someone you know is struggling with the impacts of brain injury please contact our Helpline at 1-800-669-4323, or by visiting bianj.org to chat with a specialist.
DAY SIXTEEN – STEVEN
Our Board President, Steven Benvenisti, shared his story in honor of his 30-year injury anniversary and #BrainInjuryAwarenessMonth: As you may know, I was almost killed on March 20, 1989, when I was 21 and walking with my fellow Theta Chi Fraternity brothers on Spring Break in Daytona Beach, Florida.
My family was asked to consent for my organ donation. After being in a coma for almost 2 weeks, 5 months of hospitalization and 15 surgeries, I was blessed with a full recovery. Reflecting upon my near-death experience, I would not change a thing, because it brought me to where I am today.
Every March 20th, I donate $1 in YOUR honor and on behalf of the thousands of people on my email and Facebook friends’ list, to either The Brain Injury Alliance of New Jersey or Mothers Against Drunk Driving (if you have a preference, please let me know which of these 2 charities you prefer). These 2 amazing charities have saved countless lives and have dramatically improved the quality of lives of so many individuals and families.
Please know that with BIANJ there is a direct connection between financial support and lives being saved and improved. If you would like to make a personal contribution, please visit www.bianj.org .
To learn more about my story, please visit www.dsslaw.com/stevens-story.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been raised for these charities thanks your response(s) to this email, the above programs, along with book sale proceeds (honorariums and book sale proceeds are waived by me and donated directly to the above wonderful charities)
Thank you for being a part of my life. It’s great to be alive.
To honor his experience and Brain Injury Awareness Month, click here.
DAY FIFTEEN – CAMP TREK
Here’s a little refresher on why Camp TREK is so special:
2019 camper applications are now live at bianj.org/trek.
DAY FOURTEEN – TEEN DRIVING SAFETY
Did you know that motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of injury in teens? BIANJ created the Champion Schools Program as a way to reach teens throughout the state. It is an opportunity for students and staff of New Jersey high schools to develop campaigns to address teen driving safety. Each school develops its own project based on a topic pertaining to teen driving safety. The program has been proven to positively impact teen driving behavior! #31ReasonsToGive
DAY THIRTEEN – JR
JR is a scholar athlete, and was playing collegiate soccer when he injured himself in April 2018. He is majoring in chemical engineering at the University of Rochester, and was doing research in their laser laboratory when he developed devastating symptoms following his most recent concussion.
The injury derailed his collegiate endeavors. He has been unable to return to his college studies for almost a year due to persistent cognitive impairment. He has difficulty focusing, concentrating and retaining new information. He also has recurrent headaches, eye pain, instability and bouts of vertigo.
He has been especially troubled by severe anxiety and depressive feelings due to his inability to return to college, perform his research, or play his favorite sports. JR told us, “I never thought I would ever be able to return to the things I love doing.” Fortunately, he has had some recovery over the past 6 months through aggressive rehabilitation.
He now recognizes the seriousness of a concussion, especially after experiencing multiple minor impacts while playing collegiate soccer. He is hopeful to return to college studies, and his research, for the fall semester.
DAY TWELVE – KAT
During my sophomore year at Princeton, I received a concussion at fencing practice via a fluke accident. When I got hit, I blacked in and out in rapid succession, but it was the end of practice so I just kind of shook myself off and finished up. As we were walking up to dinner as a team, I began to veer off in a different direction than everybody else. My teammates called me back over and I began babbling nonsensically at them. Alarmed, they immediately took me to University Health Services (UHS). UHS ran me through a quick concussion battery and determined that I needed to be sent to Athletic Medicine for a more thorough evaluation the next day. Since fencing is, ironically, deemed to be a non-contact sport, at the time, there was no baseline concussion testing for the fencing team. Thus, when Athletic Medicine ran me through a more intensive concussion battery, they had nothing to compare my results to so they had to send them off to a neurologist for interpretation, a process that took three days. Unfortunately, during this time, I had to sit for my organic chemistry final. The molecules on the exam paper swam before my eyes. I could barely see them, let alone focus enough on them to draw the required mechanisms. Needless to say, the final did not go well (luckily the professor was quite understanding!).
Although Athletic Medicine deemed me to neuropsychologically back to normal at two weeks post injury, I felt like it actually was more like two months before I was completely back to normal. I kept forgetting what I wanted to say by the time I got to the end of sentences and found myself sometimes unable to remember basic things. It also greatly affected my coursework at the beginning of my spring semester, especially in organic chemistry, where, over the course of several months, the molecules slowly began to halt their un-choreographed dance across the page and sit still so I could work with them. While my injury had a clear negative impact on my academics, in an ironic twist of fate, it pushed me in a direction that has defined much of my academic life since. In many ways, I am actually grateful for my injury, for I do not know exactly where I would be today without it.
Perplexed and bothered by how my brain and mind could have been so altered, I sought to understand more about the nature of the concussive injury. The idea to study concussions had literally gotten knocked into me, so I eagerly sought out Dr. Annegret Dettwiler at the Princeton Neuroscience Institute who had been conducting concussion research at the university in conjunction with Athletic Medicine. I worked with Dr. Dettwiler on an independent research project examining the potential neuro-protective effects of progesterone on sports related concussion. I loved the personal relevance of my research – trying to understand what had happened to my own brain after my injury – and, in my own small way, helping alleviate the pain and shorten the recovery of future athletes side-lined because of concussions. I continued to work in Dr. Dettwiler’s lab during the remainder of my time at Princeton and, upon graduating, joined her lab officially as a research assistant. I am currently helping Dr. Dettwiler with her research has I train for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
DAY ELEVEN – SHANGO
Shango was an energetic and creative 22 year-old student at Montclair State University studying illustration when he was involved in a motor vehicle crash on his way home from work.
After the crash, he spent six months in an acute rehab, then was transferred to a long-term nursing facility. While he has made some progress in his therapies, he remains in a minimally conscious state, unable to walk, talk or care for himself.
Shango’s family reached out to BIANJ CARES seeking support and assistance for their beloved son. Among their many concerns, they felt that the facility was not familiar with how to care for young people with brain injury, and they did not have the necessary equipment to get him out of bed. BIANJ met with the family and organized an in-service to train the staff which resulted in more appropriate, understanding care.
Through the efforts of BIANJ CARES, Shango was finally able to leave his hospital room and go outside—and that day happened to be his 23rd birthday, where family and friends visited to celebrate. Though he had exhausted his insurance benefits for physical, occupational and speech therapies, BIANJ CARES was able to identify private funding for him to continue these services his family so badly desires.
Shango, and so many others, need BIANJ CARES to support and advocate for them. You can ensure that we can continue to help people like Shango by donating in honor of #BrainInjuryAwarenessMonth. #31ReasonsToGive.
DAY TEN – SENIORS AND FALLS
Falls are a leading cause of brain injury, especially for those 65 and older. It’s important for seniors to keep their strength, balance, and confidence up in order to decrease the chance of falling. BIANJ visits centers throughout New Jersey to educate communities and work towards preventing brain injury. This is our most recent graduating class!
DAY NINE – TBI FACTS
According to the CDC, over 2.8 million TBIs occur in the United States each year. Among TBI-related deaths in 2013, falls were the leading cause for individuals over 65, while motor vehicle crashes were the leading cause for individuals 5-24. Assaults were the leading cause of death in ages 0-4. Among non fatal TBI-related injuries, falls and motor vehicle crashes are leading causes. The Brain Injury Alliance of New Jersey’s work will never be done, and that’s why we need your support. Through support, outreach, advocacy, education and prevention, we are working to improve the lives of those impacted by brain injury.
DAY EIGHT – INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY
These are just a few of the women who work hard to improve the quality of life people experience after brain injury. In celebration of Brain Injury Awareness Month and International Women’s Day, you can donate now towards our vital programs and services.
DAY SEVEN – MARIE
I am honored to serve on the BIANJ board with a group of individuals who make a difference in the lives of so many. As a classroom teacher of students who received special education services I know the impact of a brain injury on a family and a community. However, I also know the impact with all come together and build on what we CAN do to move forward. Education concerning prevention and resources to address those in need is key. I am very happy to represent New Jersey Education Association as we help to facilitate the knowledge and support systems available through this wonderful organization (BIANJ).
DAY SIX – JESSICA
When I started at BIANJ 4 years ago and was asked to help run Camp TREK, I immediately said yes. I had no idea what to expect but I worked at camps when I was younger and figured it would fun and a nice change from an office environment. I read every single application and felt like I knew all of the campers by the time our camp week rolled around. Like I said, I had no idea what to expect during that week but it was life changing. Our campers come from all walks of life and all have their own story. The week of Camp TREK is one of the only vacations during the year for many of our campers. It is a week when every single camper feels like they are part of a community, they come to camp knowing that every other camper has gone through something similar and that there is always someone to lean on and lend a listening ear.
I was brand new but that was not a problem for a single one of our 35 campers, they all welcomed me like they had known me forever. I think that is one of the main reasons I love Camp TREK so much- it feels like one giant family, even if we are only together for 1 week every summer. Every year I can count on our campers to make me laugh until my stomach hurts, remind me to always be myself and not take life to seriously. One of the best things I have ever heard from one of our campers came from a young lady, who has been coming to camp for years, she said “ Camp TREK is better than Christmas!” and you know- I cannot agree more. I am so glad I said yes on a whim 4 years ago and that I get to spend an amazing week with our even more amazing campers every summer!
DAY FIVE – THE HELPLINE
After BIANJ was founded in 1981 by a group of concerned parents of children with brain injury, the Helpline was the first program created. Today, the Helpline remains central to the services we provide, fielding over 1,000 calls per year. Callers reach out to us with questions about the impact of brain injury. The Helpline is open Monday-Friday, 9am – 5pm, and is staffed by Helpline Specialists that are trained to provide the latest resources and information available. In 2018, we added an online live chat Helpline option to improve accessibility.
DAY FOUR – ADOPT A FAMILY DRIVE
Today’s #BrainInjuryAwarenessMonth #ReasonToGive is about a very special program, Adopt-A-Family. BIANJ runs the gift drive every holiday season to benefit families impacted by brain injury. For the first time in 2018, BIANJ hosted a family holiday party for the participants. What started as an idea to offer an opportunity to families to socialize and retrieve their donated gifts, turned into an inspirational and fun-filled event. A special thank you to Board Member, Richard Anderson, for playing Santa and bringing smiles to all the families and CHIC members. As one mom told us her son “hasn’t smiled in a year and without BIANJ, there would have been no Christmas.” #31ReasonsToGive
DAY THREE – AMAZON SMILE
For the first Sunday of #BrainInjuryAwarenessMonth, we’re highlighting Amazon Smile! Did you know that by using the service, Amazon will donate a portion of your purchase to BIANJ at no extra cost to you? It’s an incredibly simple way to give back. To get started, visit smile.amazon.com😁
DAY TWO – PEDIATRIC BRAIN INJURY
The Support Services Committee, a group of BIANJ staff and board members dedicated to improving services for people impacted by brain injury, recognized a widespread lack of online pediatric brain injury resources. To address the problem and offer information that is otherwise difficult to find, the committee created a section of the BIANJ website, Pediatric Brain Injury. Throughout the pages parents, clinicians and educators can find information to help students with their education, identify supports and programs, and review prevention strategies.
DAY ONE – LAMYRA
7 years ago, I was having a wonderful time on the final night of an executive management conference at the National Harbor Gaylord. My fellow cohorts and I had enjoyed a black tie event, Donna Brazile was the keynote speaker, and by this time, we were at the rooftop lounge overlooking the nation’s capital. Little did any of us know that in the next hour or so, my life would forever change.
On February 11, 2012 after midnight, I was dancing before I went back to my hotel room to book a flight to Jacksonville for February 13th right before I was scheduled to travel to Dallas on February 15th. Changes to my work schedule like that were normal and how I was accustomed to living my life. All was right with the world, or so I thought. on my way downstairs, I stopped to dance to the Cupid Shuffle line dance. It was then I felt my neck pop, face start to tingle, and legs go numb. That very moment, my life changed. I had a ruptured cerebral aneurysm (subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH). By 1:00 a.m., I had been transported from the Gaylord to Fort Washington Hospital. Only for Fort Washington to transfer me to Washington Hospital Center in DC. As the minutes passed, I became more critical and was clinging to life and my survival rate was diminishing. But God was not through with me yet.
For the remainder of February, I was in and out of consciousness. I barely remember February 2012. Additionally, I was paralyzed from the waist down, and struggled to find the words to make a coherent sentence. Through physical therapy, I had to learn to walk again.
Through God’s grace and mercy, look at me today! I am beyond blessed. My life will never be what it was prior to that infamous Friday night. That person is no longer. Sometimes, I miss that Lamyra. But then I quickly remind myself that I am blessed and that person had to leave so that I could become the person that I am today. I am still alive and can be a blessing to others. There is life afterwards. I have a new normal, but there is life. I believe I was left here to be a witness for others to learn from my experience. For me to make sure that others know the risks, signs, and when to get help. And to show that if you are blessed and fortunate enough to survive an aneurysm there is life afterwards. Others must benefit from my unfortunate experience.
I am grateful that God had me in the right place. Grateful for my family and friends that encouraged, supported, and prayed for me. It is still a struggle sometimes, but I believe that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13. Praise God! I am blessed, better than blessed… I refer to February 11th as my “Life-versary.” Please join me in celebrating 7 years of life. Miracles do happen!!!
“There is a brain aneurysm rupturing every 18 minutes. Ruptured brain aneurysms are fatal in about 40% of cases. Of those who survive, about 66% suffer some permanent neurological deficit. Approximately 15% of patients with aneurysmal subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH) die before reaching the hospital.”