I began my journey supporting individuals with Traumatic Brain Injury when I met Sam. Sam was a soft spoken independent contractor who had small business and had supported himself by gaining a reputation as a talented wood craftsman. Sam sustained his injury when he was approximately 55 years old, while helping renovate a client’s home. The ladder he was standing on slipped and Sam fell 2 stories. Among the many things Sam taught me was that some people remember their injury occurring, while others have no memory of it at all. Some people are sensitive about talking about injury, while others are less so. In Sam’s case, he was quite open to talking about the day he fell from the ladder. He explained what life was like before and after. Sam remembers the morning of the accident, but not the event itself. “ I remember waking up with tubes in me, bright lights and nurses and doctors standing around me.” As I got to know Sam, he opened up about his fears. Sam was afraid of where he was going to live, now that he had lost his only source of income. Sam had to close his small business and he wondered how he was going to pay his bills and if he could continue to live independently. Sam did not have children nor a wife nor any family in the state. However, Sam did have a sister, who lived a few states away that he occasionally kept in touch with. She later became a support system for him.
As a person passionate about helping individuals connect with the right resources to ensure they live their fullest life, I dived right in. My 20 years of supporting individuals with disabilities in community, residential, day supports, supported employment, school settings and more drove me to dive deep into the world of TBI resources. Sam and I left no stone unturned and Sam began to reach out to the resources that I had scoured the internet and asked my colleagues for. I researched, I followed leads, I built up my rolodex of support for Sam. I was on a mission to help Sam and others like him. Through my research, I unearthed a treasure trove of small non-profit groups, support groups, small pockets of county funding, grants and wonderful people willing to help Sam on his rehabilitative journey. As Sam connected to services he began to thrive, he began to smile again and he told me he had hope. It is that hope that I saw in Sam, that I strive to bring to other survivors of Traumatic Brain Injury.
In my role as a TBI Case Manager, I went on to support many more individuals with Traumatic Brain Injury. All coming from different walks of life, with their own stories, struggles and successes. Later when I became a member of the Alliance’s Access Center team, I made sure to screen individuals carefully for possible traumatic brain injury. I made sure to ask the right questions, to take time to listen to their concerns, think creatively and connect them with as many services possible. Later when I joined the state TBI State Grant Steering committee, I was thrilled to learn of the state wide efforts and initiative to help individuals with TBI. I was also impressed by the state wide initiatives and training being done at the Brain Injury Association of NC. BIANC’s “ Unmasking Brain Injury” is an art display I worked to bring to Alliance in 2018. The masks shared a powerful story with our Alliance Health Staff. Along my journey I have met passionate TBI advocates, heard their voices rise up to our legislative levels and seen amazing strides made for and by the TBI Community.
In 2017, I was asked to lead Alliance Health’s operationalization efforts to launch North Carolina’s first TBI WAIVER. My role as a Regional Director for the Autism Society of NC, running and operating my own small business and several other leadership roles, gave me the tools needed to help launch this major initiative. Helping to operationalize NC’s first TBI Waiver has been a labor of love. The team helping breathe life into the NC TBI Waiver is not only a passionate group, but also a compassionate group. From the providers who have stood up to be a part of NC’s first TBI WAIVER, to the inter-departmental teams at Alliance who have worked tirelessly, to state staff who have worked diligently, this has been a large scale effort I am proud to be a part of.
Someone once asked me what drives me to work and do I like what I do? I emphatically said yes! Yes, I enjoy what I do and I am driven to work every day knowing my aim is to help individuals with TBI live a fuller, richer and more independent life. As a family member of someone with disabilities, I know the passion it takes to advocate for them, to have your voice heard and to constantly push for more. Every day I wake up passionate about what I do and the people I strive to support.