Life After Brain Injury

Imagine waking up each morning to a set of three doors and not remembering which door leads to the bathroom, hallway or closet. Pat Winick, who has sustained two brain injuries, understands the frustrations and triumphs associated with having to relearn the simplest of things, such as the layout of your house, all over again.

After being struck by a car while walking across the street in 1990, Winick went to the emergency room and was told to go back to work the next day. “I was supposed to be ‘fine,’ but I was really struggling to think clearly, carry on conversations and remember things,” said Winick. “I sought the advice of a neuropsychologist a month after the incident and was screened for brain injury, which, not surprisingly, showed that I had sustained a mild brain injury.”

Winick transitioned back to work six months later after the majority of the residual effects from the brain injury had dissipated. She was still compensating for fatigue, difficulty organizing and emotional behavior disruptions.

Back full time as a bus driver, Winick hit her head again in 1995 after slipping and falling on an icy sidewalk between bus routes. Again, Winick was told that she was fine and could return to work. After daily incidences of driving and suddenly not remembering what bus route she was in charge of or driving past bus stops because she got distracted, Winick knew something was wrong. She went back to a neuropsychologist and was subsequently diagnosed with a second brain injury.

Unable to return to work, Winick became overwhelmed by the challenges brought on by brain injury. After almost losing her home, Winick knew she needed support to move on with her life. “I really credit the Brain Injury Association of Minnesota for getting the ball rolling,” said Winick. “I felt like my life was falling apart and they helped me put it back together by connecting me to the right rehabilitation programs.”

Over the next few years, Winick went through a Community Reintegration Program at the Courage Center, speech therapy and occupational therapy. She learned several compensation strategies that she still uses today.

Winick uses a Franklin planner to help her organize, an assistive listening device to block side noise in large gatherings and a tape recorder to help her remember doctor visits and meetings. She also uses a MotiveAider, a pager-sized device clipped to her belt that vibrates at programmed times to keep her on-task.

By using compensation strategies and tools, Winick has come along way over the past sixteen years. She graduated in May 2006 with a B.A. in social work, works two days a week at a local hardware store, sits on the Minnesota Department of Human Services TBI Advisory Committee and the Brain Injury Association of Minnesota Board of Directors, and interns for Ramsey County.

Looking forward, Winick plans to take the state licensure exam for social work and start a career in brain injury policy. “My biggest passion is addressing the issue of those with brain injury who fall through the cracks,” said Winick. “I’m especially interested in getting support to the Iraq vets returning from combat with undiagnosed brain injuries.”

Coming from someone who’s been there and back, Winick reminds those navigating life after brain injury to “Just remember that it gets better.”

Nissa French is the Public Awareness Director for the Brain Injury Assoc. of MN.