TBI -- "Being Different is Okay"
Cheryle Sullivan, MD, (center) discusses brain injury and treatment with Col. Heidi Terrio (left), Marylynn Marsh (right) and others.

Skiing is often an enjoyable activity in the snow-swept paradise of Colorado, but an untimely accident forced one doctor to forever change her life.

Cheryle Sullivan recently visited Fort Carson and provided an in-depth presentation entitled, Aca,!A"A PhysicianAca,!a,,cs Journey,Aca,!A? in support of National Brain Injury Awareness Month.

A former family-practice physician from Longmont, Colo., Sullivan began by telling of the loss of her 61-year old mother to a fall and resulting skull fracture.

Just five years later, while at Aca,!A"the top of my game,Aca,!A? Sullivan said she fell while skiing in Winter Park. Although wearing a helmet, she hit her head on icy snow. Aca,!A"I didnAca,!a,,ct get knocked outAca,!A|but had a headache,Aca,!A? she said.

Within days, Sullivan began having trouble working on her computer and she couldnAca,!a,,ct get things straight. Besides the lingering headache she was losing her balance. Aca,!A"I was disorganized and began having double vision,Aca,!A? she said.

Finally visiting a hospital Emergency Room, SullivanAca,!a,,cs senses began playing tricks on her, Aca,!A"too much light and noiseAca,!A|and I put the wrong personal information on the forms,Aca,!A? she said. A neurologist diagnosed her with post-concussion syndrome, a brain injury.

During the following three weeks, she found herself sleeping all the time. Aca,!A"I thought I was gonna die.Aca,!A?

As a physician, Sullivan needed to know exactly what was wrong with her. Aca,!A"My journey was just starting,Aca,!A? she said.

Upon reflection, she realized that she had had numerous concussions in her life. An earlier skiing accident and an incident when she was hit by a car while riding her bicycle added to her malady. Concussions are brain injuries; they are Aca,!A"additive and multiplyAca,!A|my brain couldnAca,!a,,ct connect,Aca,!A? she said, Aca,!A"I couldnAca,!a,,ct properly read road signs.Aca,!A?

With time, medical treatment -- including acupuncture and electrical stimulation, and determination her condition improved. Five months after her latest concussion, Sullivan was again riding her bicycle, working full time after 10 months and, as a pilot, was flying by 30 months.

Sullivan desperately wanted to resume a normal life, visiting all 50 states and flying to Alaska, but she knew everything was not normal. Five years after the accident, Sullivan accepted, Aca,!A"I wouldnAca,!a,,ct be what I was before...Being different is okay.Aca,!A?

The former physician has since created her own webpage and lectures on brain injuries to raise knowledge and understanding among the medical community and general public. SheAca,!a,,cs written several articles and a book, Brain Injury Survival Kit: 365 Tips, Tools and Tricks to Deal with Cognitive Function Loss, that deal with brain injuries.

Her advice to people whoAca,!a,,cve experienced brain injuries includes accepting the differences, the changes. Aca,!A"People with brain injuries do better when they know what to expect.Aca,!A? They need an Aca,!A"I can do this attitude,Aca,!A? she said.

Brain injury survivors need a healthy lifestyle with proper diet, exercise, rest and reduced stress. She advises, put Aca,!A"your emotions in orderAca,!A|Accept that you may not be the same.Aca,!A?

Cognitive therapy tools are helpful to regain lost or impacted skills. Aca,!A"If youAca,!a,,cre used to being in control, get over it, control what you can,Aca,!A? she said.

The tools include planning personal energy use and reserves, making checklists and routines, writing things down, playing games, tools such as timers to aid with time management, carefully planned organization, focused communications, aids for use while driving, use of public transportation, and rewarding yourself. Aca,!A"Put some fun activities in your daily and weekly schedules,Aca,!A? she said.

Sullivan concluded her presentation by taking questions from the audience. She mentioned applying computer-based training as a cognitive stimulant to help improve memory, vision and auditory senses.

Regarding who are the Aca,!A"least forgivingAca,!A? people, Sullivan replied the individual and family members. Family and coworkers need to know that brain injury survivors have a brain injury. Aca,!A"Remind them, because we look normal,Aca,!A? Sullivan said; sometimes Aca,!A"we have a bad brain day.Aca,!A?

She added, brain injury is a Aca,!A"life changing thing; I appreciate life so much more and I love what I do nowAca,!A|[Soldiers with brain injuries] need to find something they can do.Aca,!A?

Brain injury has often been labeled a Aca,!Eoesilent epidemic;Aca,!a,,c Aca,!A"the military is bringing it to the forefront,Aca,!A? she said.

Page last updated Mon April 6th, 2009 at 12:45