by Elizabeth Karlsson
Traumatic brain injury (TBI)…coma…ICU…Barrow…CTN…it was all a blur at first. Now it is crystal clear.
It started out as a regular Friday in October and ended as the day that changed my life. I was on Fall Break from middle school and all I remember was my mom saying, “Lukas was in a motorcycle accident so we are going to Flagstaff to help him. Our friends will take you to the swim meet this weekend. You will do great! Love you!” Wait, what??? As she did not want to alarm me, I thought it was just a minor accident with a few bumps and bruises and a few dents on the bike. I had no idea my brother, and best friend, was lying in a coma, fighting for his life. While he was comatose my mom would call me and I could speak to him, pray over him, and practice my violin (ha! I finally had a captive audience! He could not run away like he did at home.)
Fast forward…five years later my brother and I are sharing our stories and hoping to help other families. We created a nonprofit, Hug Your Head Foundation, Inc, (www.hughyourhead.org) to improve the quality of life and provide support to people and family members affected by traumatic brain injury; additionally, we strive to raise awareness and increase the knowledge of its members and the public about the importance of protecting the head from injury. Our goal is to educate children and teens and encourage adults to wear helmets (in Arizona, only those motorcycle operators and riders under 18 must wear a helmet.) My brother’s helmet saved his life! I write the blog for the Sibling Support Group, I wished this was available to me during Lukas’ recovery. I want other siblings to know and understand everything about TBIs and the recovery process. While he was treated at the “world famous” Barrows Neurological Institute and the Center for Transitional Neuro-Rehabilitation (CTN) our family received lots of amazing support and encouragement. We were heavily involved in his recovery efforts both at home and at CTN which included many meetings with his therapists and doctors; keeping him active at home by taking our dogs for lots of walks; and playing cards and boardgames. When he graduated from his program in a short eight months, his doctors and therapists marveled at his miraculous recovery. Humbly, I take a little bit of credit.
Growing up, despite our seven-year age gap, Lukas and I were best friends. He was my protector and my mentor. During his recovery, our roles were reversed – I needed to mentor and protect him. It started out by simply helping him feed himself, watch some movies, and play some card games. As he relearned to walk, talk, and swim, I was right by his side. It took us a few years to create our foundation – because it took Lukas a few years to understand and appreciate his journey, and process his personal pain until he was strong enough to help others.
Sibling support looks quite different for every TBI patient. Sometimes it is really confusing because our parents are so busy helping the patient, they may forget to tell us how we can be involved. It might be as simple as just sitting and talking with the patient. Most importantly, we are here to support one another while we also support our siblings.
After living through this medical emergency which completely turned my life upside down, I gained a great reverence and respect for all of the medical personnel who contributed to my brother’s miraculous recovery. I now dream of pursuing a career in medicine so I can help others the way they helped my brother. As a physician, I can improve the quality of life for my patients and contribute to neuroscience research areas.