It was another beautiful day in Southern California. I lived in Thousand Oaks, a community north of the mother city, Los Angeles. As luck would have it my job was in Bel Air Crest, one of the richest communities in Los Angeles.
I worked for KAR Concrete, a company specializing in foundations. I'd been with my boss Kieth for about 16 years. I've loved construction all my life. It is in my blood.
My favorite meal of the day is breakfast. I love to eat - a lot! As with many people on the go, most of my meals were of the fast food variety.
That morning I had a headache. One of the worst headaches I have ever experienced. I mean eye crossing pain. Every time my heart would beat my whole head would hurt. It lasted about one minute. I thought nothing of it and finished my breakfast.
I pulled up at the jobsite and unloaded the tools from the company truck. The saying used to be "another day, another dollar". Now my saying is "another day, another $.50 with inflation".
The crew used to get ready to start work by first deciding what radio station to tune in to - KLOS, KROQ or POWER106.
Before I knew it, it was already 9:30 and time for a short break. When the catering truck arrived I bought 2 OJ's, a big fat tuna sandwich and of course a Hostess snowball. You know the one I'm talking about? Cream in the middle of a small chocolate cake covered with coconut. The white ones are the best!
After the break we went back to work. It's amazing how much we got done in so little time. We are like ants with the help of good music to set our pace. We were getting ready to pour a concrete slab.
It was lunchtime, and my friend asked me if I was going to eat. I told him I didn't feel well. I thought the tuna may have been bad. I told him I would just relax and eat my fruit. I knew something was wrong. I took a little catnap.
After lunch we went back to work. A short time later I felt something was terribly wrong. I bent over and when I got up, I saw stars - bright colored stars (and I don't mean movie stars).
I felt as though I was carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders. I started to walk to my truck, but I felt punch drunk.
My equilibrium failed me, I was disoriented and my words were slurred. I didn't know which way was up. I fell to the ground and hit my head. I heard someone say "Man down!!!". Everybody was hurrying to me. My friend Jay called 911 and brought me over two aspirins.
The other workers dragged me to a shady area near my truck. I could hear sirens in the background. The paramedics seemed to get there in a matter of minutes - I mean fast.
The firefighters and paramedics were very calm as they tried to get information from me. I had no clue as to what the answers to their questions were. They gave me meds and worked hard getting me ready to transport. Anytime you hear sirens move to the right side of the road. Someone's life depends upon it!
Fortunately for me the ambulance took me to UCLA Medical Center. It was just a hop, skip and a jump away. UCLA is one of the best hospitals in the country.
My name is Fermin Camarena. Two days before my 49th birthday I was hit with a massive hemmorhagic stroke or "brain bleed". There are several different types of strokes. The stroke I had is the type where the blood finds the weakest vein. It is just like over inflating a balloon. Too much pressure and something must give. It can be deadly when the affected vein or veins happen to be in the brain. When blood crosses over to the brain it causes contamination and destroys that part of the brain.
The doctors drilled holes and put four shunts in my head to take the pressure off my brain allowing the blood to drain out. In your lifetime you only use one third of your brain. That means the other two thirds of your brain usually remain unused.
I spent 30 days at UCLA. I was in a coma. I couldn't breathe on my own. I was on a respirator and the doctor inserted a tracheostomy tube. My blood pressure was higher than the price of gas!
After 30 days I was transferred to Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center in Downey, California. Rancho is one of the best rehabilitation centers in the world. I was there for about a month - long enough to receive mail! At Rancho, the staff treats everybody the same - with kindness and understanding. The road back would be a hard one.
I had a limited time to re-learn to speak, breathe, eat and walk. I couldn't stay at Rancho forever and I was getting to the end of the line. My therapists were the best anyone could hope for. There was one therapist who stood out. His name is Oscar Gallardo. The first time I met Oscar he asked me, "Do you want to walk?". He said, "I will help you learn to walk again". Another thing about Oscar is he was genuinely caring. I had about two weeks left before I would have to leave Rancho. Oscar convinced the powers that be to approve one more week of therapy. That was the turning point. The extra week gave me enough time to learn how to walk again with the help of a cane.
It's amazing how life can change in a matter of minutes, going from good to starting over once again. The saddest thing about this story is that is should never have happened. I was prescribed high blood pressure medication and neglected to take it. Had I known how serious high blood pressure is and taken my medication to keep it under control, the stroke could have been prevented.
I hope you never have to put your family through this. The same thing I put my family through not knowing.
1 Corinthians 10:13 - No temptation has taken you except what is common to man. God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted above what you are able, but will with the temptation also make the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
Thank you God for a second chance in life. This time I won't let you down.
I want to thank everyone at UCLA Medical Center and Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center for going the extra mile for me. That is why I started the INTERNATIONAL COALITION FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF NEUROLOGY (ICAN), a California nonprofit corporation. I was given a second chance at life. Now it is time to give back and help the many other stroke survivors regain their lives.
I wish you all health, happiness and a long life.
If you aim for the moon, you just may hit a star.
"Determined" Fermin Camarena
President, INTERNATIONAL COALATION FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF NEUROLOGY (ICAN)
Moving forward a few months, I was transferred by ambulance to Scripps in Encinitas. This was a really good hospital. They did a great job of improving my condition. From here, about three months later, I was transferred to Mission Day Program in Orange County for rehabilitation.
At the end of this program I entered the Coastline Acquired Brain Injury program. This started my new life, the life I have had since my brain aneurysm. This is a two year program, four hours a day, Monday thru Thursday. It is a fantastic program, the staff there are just incredible. It was the best two years of my life, in my opinion.
During the period I was at Coastline, I had a gran mal seizure at a concert in San Diego. In the box seats, the EMT people were called with all of their gear and they got me out of there on a gurney to a hospital in San Diego.
From there, I began to take classes at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo. I started with APE Adapted Physical Education and Basic Computer courses. I have continued with the APE classes up to today, and completed all the computer classes in the course I was taking.
I am a volunteer at the Laguna Niguel Friends of the Library Bookstore located inside the front entrance of the Library, on Crown Valley Parkway. I have been there for over three years.
I also volunteer at Saddleback Hospital in Laguna Hills, where I work in Medical Records and Escort/Messenger.
Both of my volunteer jobs are very important and personally rewarding. My name is John deFeo. I lived in Rockland County, New York, where I suffered what I now know to be multiple T.I.A.'s.
It was April 20th 2003 Easter Sunday and I was talking to my friend Michael Cyr, who lives in Maine, when my friend told me to stop playing around and take the marbles out of my mouth. I was at home with Mary Grace, my wife of 33 years, and my 27 year old daughter Christina. I remember turning to face my daughter when she called me and asked "are you ok?". When I turned to look at her, she screamed. The left side of my face had drooped. I know I am not the best looking man in the world, but I am not nor did not think I was an ogre either. Christina suggested we go to the hospital to check me out. At first I refused and said I was going to go upstairs and lie down for a bit.
Thinking I would be fine, I walked upstairs and went into my office to to sit in my chair when I lost my balance and fell. My wife had followed me upstairs and called out from the bedroom to ask if I was ok. I assured her all was well and that I had just tripped over my briefcase. Neither her or my daughter believed me and called the paramedics. The medic's arrival was delayed because the ambulance had broken down en route. They showed up, checked my vitals and gave me oxygen, but they did not have a stretcher or ambulance to transport me to the hospital. I, being the macho dummy that I was, was telling everyone that I was fine, but my speech was so slurred that everyone knew I wasn't. With the aid of my daughter, wife and the paramedic I walked down the stairs and got into the family automobile. My wife and daughter drove me to Good Samaritan Hospital in Suffern, New York, where I was admitted to the emergency room. When I was seen by a triage doctor, he told me I was having what I understood him say was T & A. With my speech affected, I was trying to tell the doctor, while looking at my wife, that I had not had any T & A in a while, and that if I did I would be home enjoying it instead of in an emergency room complaining about my facial droop and speech problem. I was admitted for observation for the evening and released the next day.
I lasted a week at home before having another T.I.A. and being readmitted to the hospital. While I was being administered blood thinners, I suffered an acute stroke. After M.R.I.'s and other tests I can't recall, it was decided I had had an acute stroke. I could not sit up straight in the bed. I would just keep falling over onto my side.
I was then fransferred to Helen Hayes Hospital. They are known for their rehab work with all types of head trauma and other debilitating diseases. Count my self blessed that I survived the stroke and fortunate that my daughter and wife ignored my protests and got me the treatment I so desperately needed. At Helen Hayes I started my rehab treatments almost immediatly. I have to thank all the truly caring nurses and staff of Helen Hayes for treating me. I had my bout with depression, went through the self pity...
My wife and I had been through some rough times in the last years: loss of business, loss of our house, both of us loosing our jobs, savings depleted, bankruptcy, foreclosure, deaths of parents on both sides, my mental breakdown, and battles with Hodgkin's disease and colon cancer. Now the stroke and my disability was the straw that finally broke the camel's back. Our marriage of 33 years came to an end. It is another challenge I am fortunate enough to be around to face.
I arrived in California on May 8th 2004 and started rehab at Saddleback Rehab Center. While I was there, I became aware of the adaptive physical education, adaptive swimming, and adaptive sports classes offered at Saddleback College. After enrolling in these classes I realized that it was a very smart thing for me to do. I could write pages and pages about the benefits of these classes, but I will summarize and say that I arrived confined to a wheelchair and now I am able to walk with the aid of my cane. I also participate in and complete 5k walks, thanks to the program at Saddleback College and my fellow stroke survivor, friend, mentor, and LA Marathon finisher Fermin Camarena. Never give up. We all can lead productive active lives. There is a reason we survived. We still have work to do. God bless you all.
I'm not advocating hypochondria or pandemonium over an "owie". What I'm saying is that when your body tells you something is really wrong, see a medical professional right away
Other than structural problems (bad back, bad knees, a bit of arthritis, etc.) and a natural propensity for being really stupid, I've always been pretty healthy.I don't mean I'm mentally challenged.I'm of average intelligence.I just don't tend to use the intelligence God gave me.I'm stupid! A person with less than average intelligence who uses the intelligence God gave him or her is smart.
One Sunday morning in August of 1996, I woke up cross-eyed, my speech was slurred, one eyebrow was drooping, and my balance was so bad that I couldn't walk to the bathroom without support from my wife and son. I knew something was wrong, but I had no idea what it was. I didn't want to waste time in the ER, so I had my wife and son take me to the urgent care facility across the street from Palomar Hospital, which was 3 miles from my home. Well, the facility had gone out of business, so I had them take me to the next closest facility I knew about, ten miles away.Fortunately it was open.
As soon as the doctors saw me, they said, "You idiot, you're having a stroke! Why didn't you call 911 and go to a hospital??" So they called 911 and an ambulance took me to Palomar Hospital (remember, 3 miles from my home?). Turns out I had had two strokes, apparently at the same time: one in my thalamus and one in my cerebellum. Fortunately, my stroke(s) was/were relatively mild, and I didn't die of stupidity. God even loves us stupid people. (See description above.)
The kicker is that, if I had been treated within 3 hours of the onset of my stroke(s), there was a good chance that I would have little or no permanent symptoms. (Disclaimer: that's not always the case, but there is a good chance, with the correct equipment and in many cases.)
I have permanent symptoms including headaches, dizziness, loss of balance, sensitivity to bright lights and loud noise, and some other issues that may be related but are just now starting to appear.Note: people who have a stroke are more likely to have a stroke again (or TIA) than people who have not had a stroke before. In fact, I had a TIA, or "mini-stroke" two years ago also. No permanent symptoms from that one.
Since my initial stroke symptoms eased up, such as my inability to walk without a cane and my double-vision, I've been riding a recumbent bicycle. That is, until the middle of 2006, when my balance started getting so bad that I started weaving in front of traffic. Not a good thing you're going to have to trust me on that one! That's when I decided to buy a recumbent trike. After doing some research, I decided on a Hase Lepus.This is my personal preference due to my back problems (suspension frame), my balance issues (obviously the three wheels), ease of mounting and dismounting (the delta style), and the all-around superior quality and engineering. I loved it so much that I decided to begin selling recumbent trikes.
I don't know about you, but I'm going to keep riding until the Lord tells me I'm not.If I can't use one or more of my limbs, there are always workarounds with different components, such as hand-cycles or special pedals to hold an immobile leg in place.
T. Ryx Recumbent Trikes
One June afternoon, 32 years ago (1978) in Somis, California I had decided to ride my horse. Now I only had a bareback blanket and a hackamore for a bridal. And truthfully, I was not the best rider. I also was riding her in my pasture which was scattered with walnut trees.
She ended up taking me under a tree and I smashed my fore-head on a branch and then the back of my head on the ground.
My husband found me there, after how long, I have no idea.
After being in a coma for 6 weeks, I awoke. But my first memory was probably a few weeks later in another hospital, to the sound of voices in a hallway, having no idea were I was. I would remember little bits and pieces of my stay at that hospital. It was probably 3 months.
I had been paralyzed on the whole right side of my body.
I had to relearn to talk, walk, and everything else on how to take care of myself, and that is nothing compared to having to relearn how to think.
This has been an amazing journey and I have met some of the most wonderful people. I can look at it this way because I was blessed to get most of my faculties back which a lot of our folks don't.
There are a lot of people that helped me along the way but I have to say the 1 that helped me the most was my ex-husband. That might sound strange, but he made me do everything myself and that is what made me what I am today. If it wasn't for that, I might still be sitting in a chair waiting for someone to do it for me. That was the best medicine I could have asked for.
The BIC wasn't around in those days, but about 10 years later, a man named Dave Stork wanted to get a group started so his daughter could have other brain injured people to socialize with and just look what it has grown into. What was once the BISGvc is now BIC!
So I have made it my lifes work to be there and to guide fellow BI's to a better life.
I just want you all to remember to be careful and aware of things around you because brain injury can happen to anyone at anytime.
Hi everyone. My name is Kala Kachur and I am a Traumatic Brain Injury and PTSD survivor (isn't that how all of those meetings are supposed to start?) Before I share my story I wanted to thank Fermin for giving me this opportunity to share. Fermin has been an inspiration to me as well as many others. Thank you Fermin for all that you do, it does not go unnoticed. My prayer is that my story will help, reach, or encourage someone out there.
In January of 2007 a friend of mine was taking me to a Dr. appointment when we were involved in a car accident. Some of the injuries I received in the car accident were a brain injury, spinal chord injury, fractured sternum, and major back issues. This accident is what the police called a "courtesy" accident. A "courtesy" accident occurs when traffic is backed up, the driver approaching in the opposite direction wants to cross the lanes of traffic and can not see, and someone decides to leave a gap in the road and wave them through. What I am trying to tell you is that my life was completely changed because someone waved a driver across lanes of traffic they could not see. This accident should have been avoided. Out of the 3 car accidents I have been in 2 of them have been "courtesy" accidents and should have been avoided, but no one seems to want to do anything about it. So please talk to your family and friends about the dangers of waving people through traffic and even leaving gaps in the road. It could save a life.
The brain injury I received is known as DAI and 90% of patients who become unconscious remain in a vegetative state. Fortunately I did not become unconscious. I truly believe that that if I did I would have fallen in that 90% range and that God was not ready for me to be a vegetable. The seat belt I was wearing majorly fractured my sternum and that right there should have knocked me out. I tell you that because my TBI is more moderate than mild. You won't think that by my typing though. In the accident we were hit on the side and my brain twisted, causing the fibers that connect the 2 parts of the brain to break. This causes the 2 sides of the brain to have communication problems, which leaves me with speech problems and other neurological problems. When I was first diagnosed I was told there was nothing they could do because these fibers don't grow back. It is not a good feeling to be told you have a brain injury and you are going to live like this the rest of your life. I am still determined though, I am not giving up.
There are 3 parts to my brain now… a baby part, a 7 year old part, and the grown woman part. The baby brain does things like mimic and babble still on a daily basis. For example, my cat will come in and shake his head. Guess who then shakes her head and just shook it because I even typed it (twice by the way). Me. The babbling occurs when an immediate response is called for or something effects my PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). It is what I call "Kala language." The 7 year old part laughs all the time and is over enthusiastic about everything (especially those chocolate turnovers they know have at Arby's). Then there is the grown woman who was a school teacher with a Master's degree who is well aware of the fact that she just shook her head like a cat because she just typed the words. I have a hard time naming my colors, objects in a room, peoples names and phone #'s really through me for a loop. I have even forgotten my name a time or two. Does it frustrate me and embarrass me in public when I exhibit some of these behaviors. Yes, and honestly I feel trapped. But the one thing I refuse to do is be trapped in this house anymore because I have a brain injury and PTSD.
My verbal communication is one of my biggest obstacles. It requires immediate responses which I have a hard time providing. If you ask me questions, I will generally freeze at best. I can go to a restaurant and know what I want before I get there, then the waiter will ask and I will be absolutely clueless. I didn't really talk for almost a year until I starting going to a new church. The pastors wife there basically made me start talking. It wasn't easy, because I was getting by with pointing and Kala language. I was a very accomplished musician and now sound overwhelms me. Ear plugs are required to go to a concert. I have pretty much been a staff church pianist since I was 18. The fact that one of the things that I greatly enjoy can now overwhelm me is frustrating. Two months ago I played the first offertory in a church. I had to wear cotton in my ears, but that didn't matter to me, and I really don't think anyone else cared.
I also have chronic PTSD. I am not ashamed of it either. Does it embarrass me? Yes. I have a ridiculously high startle response that makes me scream at the least little thing I am not expecting. Crowds, noise, people, movement, riding in a vehicle, and sound…can't handle. It is so bad that if someone walks by me at a restaurant I will jump and if the waiter leans over to fill my glass it freaks me out. Did I ask to have a TBI or PTSD? No. But I do know that God has a purpose and a plan through all of this.
According to the Teacher Retirement Systems and Social Security I am disabled. Now I truly dislike that label because there are still many things I am able to do. After all, part of the word disability is ABILITY. I encourage you to focus on your abilities…the things you can still do. The brain is an amazing thing. It may take me 3 tries to write a check, but the one thing I can do is still play Beethoven on the piano. Makes no sense to me at all, but that is ok. In January I am planning on returning to the University and School of Music I studied at in college and taking choir and private piano. As an undergrad I had many positive experiences there. I accompanies the top choir, something that not many students do. This is going to help me in so many ways in regards to my TBI and my PTSD. It is by no means going to be easy (even though each class is only one credit) but I know I can do it. My first rule in surviving a TBI and chronic PTSD: Find something you enjoy doing each day and do it.
To my friends living with a TBI or PTSD. We are MORE than surivivors. We are CONQUERORS. We are conquering "silent" diseases that are very rarely understood, frequently misinterpretated, easily incorrectly judged, different for each individual, changes every single day, and so difficult to live with. Why are we conquerors? Because we are living with it. We wake up every single morning and chose to do it again. I will admit it is tough. I have spent many mornings praying God would just give me the strength to get out of bed. I spent a lot of time in pain that I absolutely could not handle, and with emotions I had absolutely no idea what do to with. You should try handling complex emotions when part of your brain is a baby, part is a kid, and part is in your 30's. It does not go well LOL. Yes, it was rough, but I did it. God did not chose to take me to heaven that day, so I am still here, and I am going to see how this ends.
I know you can do it do. We all face different challenges. We all face times when we can not get out of bed, experience great pain, and have no clue what some emotions are. But I want you to know you can do it.
I am getting better. It is a slow process, but after I am a fighter and have friends and family standing beside me.
"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." Phillipians 4:13