March is traumatic brain injury (TBI) awareness month.
Armenian-American triathlete Kristin Abello, was struck by a car in 2002, while on a training run in Houston in preparation for a marathon.
As a result, she sustained a TBI and other physical traumas. The initial consensus was that she wasn’t going to survive, but she did and the road to recovery was extremely difficult, including her choice to carry a high risk pregnancy. She’s now giving back, as an advocate, philanthropist and author on a mission to help others with TBI.
In her book, Sunrise: Life After Traumatic Brain Injury: a Healing Journey in Surviving TBI, Kristin tells her story of faith, love, hope and healing from TBI. A portion of the proceeds of her book is being donated to the Institute for Rehabilitation and Research and TIRR Memorial Hermann.
“The support of family was key to make rehabilitation a success while being a new mother,” Abello told us. “The toughest part for me was not being able to hold my 18 month old baby. With family, friends and caretakers, this was made possible. I knew I had to get better for my husband and baby and my internal drive also kept me going.”
Abello told us she never held a grudge towards the driver. She believes holding a grudge or playing the victim is never a good thing. Accidents happen and in the end, being unforgiving only hurts you.
For pregnancy, the risk was worth the reward. Abello mindfully weighed out the pros and cons of what the specific medical specialists had recommended. After the high risk doctor gave her the thumbs up to move forward with her pregnancy, she was all in. It was specifically mentioned to her that there was no research on why brain injury patients should not get pregnant.
“Taking care of you is a must,” Abello told us. “Quiet time and keeping up with your naps are a priority. Talking with a therapist about navigating your new normal of brain injury is best. If you are unable to do that financially, talk with a friend. Cognitive behavioral therapy, meditation and keeping a journal all compliment your inner well-being, too.”
Abello advises including physical exercise at the appropriate level of recovery with both physical and mental/emotional benefits. When we move, positive physical activity takes place in the brain, Abello explains.
“The power of the brain’s plasticity is nothing short of amazing,” Abello told us. “The process of healing the brain takes time and patience. It is a marathon and not a sprint. All your neurons and cells are trying to rewire themselves. Your brain has had to go back to the beginning and the reconnection process is taking place every minute of your recovery.”
Abello told us that at first she wanted to heal overnight and that it would have been helpful to know that it would take time for the brain to rewire every cell. She said her brain was working so hard to get back to what it was before.
“Listening to music helps release more dopamine and feel-good hormones. Any brain injury patient can benefit from music,” Abello told us. “Over the years of my recovery, I learned about horses and the human connection to them. Horses can work magic with a brain injury. Equine therapy improves balance, posture, and gait ability.”
Abello uses vitamins to assist in her brain and body repair process and said these provide excellent healthy steps towards recovery.
“Setting a daily and evening routine sets you up for success,” Abello told us. “Also, make sure to choose and practice your favorite form of meditation and yoga.”