Life is difficult enough with a mental disability - try adding a physical disability to the mix. As someone with a traumatic brain injury (TBI), I face both disabilities every day.
Hi! My name is Randi Hamilton, and I am one of two peer support specialists at Sheppard Pratt Health System’s Towson campus. A peer support specialist is someone who shares similar experiences with the people in his/her care. Sometimes, it is more comfortable to talk to someone with lived experience who can really relate to what the patient is going through.
My recovery story started when I was 16 months old, over 29 years ago. My parents and I lived in Landover Hills, MD. On May 3, 1986, my life would never be the same again.
My mother and I were outside Toys “R” Us; she was crossing the street with me in her arms when she was struck in the knee by a speeding car. I was thrown from her arms and hit the concrete, where I was knocked unconscious.
I was airlifted to Children’s Hospital in a helicopter; during the ride, I underwent CPR. When I got to the hospital, I was hooked up to a respirator to help me breathe. Later, the doctors discovered that the respirator was blowing tiny holes in my lungs because the pressure was too strong, so my chest was opened up and the holes were patched. I ended up in a coma for 31 days in the intensive care unit. The doctors and nurses thought I was going to die, and I was diagnosed with the TBI that would impact me both physically and mentally for the rest of my life.
Recovery From My TBI
After I was released from the hospital, I spent eight weeks in intensive rehabilitation at John F. Kennedy Hospital (now Kennedy Krieger). My mother worked for my aunt who lived in Baltimore and she would stay with me at JFK in the evenings. How coincidental that I would end up in Baltimore and my husband would end up working for Kennedy Krieger!
Over the course of the next seven years, I began the rehabilitative process of learning to walk again without any assistance. At first, I couldn’t walk more than 200 steps without getting tired. I had physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy throughout my time at school.
I had a cane, walker, wheelchair, and braces on my legs at different times in my life while learning to walk, and couldn’t walk on my own until I was seven. I also had to wear a white helmet to protect my head in case I fell down.
My TBI Today
My TBI still affects me today in that I have a balance problem (which has improved a lot with age!), hearing loss in my right ear, delayed reaction time (which means I can’t drive a car), and problems with fine motor skills. But, my balance has improved so much, I do not use any mobility aides (like leg braces), and I have even completed two 5Ks!
Today at age 30, I have an MS degree, a house, a husband, a dog and a full time job!! Who would have thought? Having had these experiences makes me great at what I do, and shows patients that recovery is possible, and a great life is out there, waiting for them.
Randi Hamilton is a peer support specialist with Sheppard Pratt Health System, working primarily with patients in individual and group settings. In her role, Randi helps patients feel more engaged in recovery and less stigmatized. She holds a Master of Science degree in applied psychology with a concentration in counseling, is happily married, and has a dog named Rusty.