The Irony of Brain Injury
While some patients with a brain injury are able to return to work, others reveal how their often-normal appearance belies the lingering cognitive effects of brain injury.
Written By John Christensen
Photography By Gary Meek, Louie Favorite and Jeremy Wilburn
A Journey to Recovery
By Beth Gayle
Three weeks into his freshman year of college, our son Gip Gayle, sustained a traumatic brain injury after a near-fatal gunshot wound to his head in a hunting accident.
The right front corner of his forehead was crushed by the blast as bird-shot pellets penetrated his skull and lodged in his brain. His injuries were so severe, he wasn’t expected to survive the night. Miraculously, five weeks later, Gip was stable enough to be transferred to Shepherd Center, which became our “Haven of Hope”!
With such a large and invasive wound, Gip contracted continuous infections, and we almost lost him several times. His recovery was filled with surgeries and setbacks. It’s not been an easy journey for our son, or for any of us who love him. But by God’s grace, the power of prayer and the blessings of Shepherd Center Medical Director Dr. Donald Leslie and our Shepherd Center “family,” Gip is here today.
Once discharged from Shepherd’s inpatient program and then Shepherd Pathways, we were elated that Gip had reached a good level of recovery. Given what he’d been through, it was miraculous. But we soon realized that another level of recovery lay ahead for our son – facing “reality.”
First, we were met with the reality of how different Gip looked. In our eyes, he looked fantastic, “divinely recreated.” He’d come a long way from where he was. But others were shocked to see how pale and bone-thin he’d become and how slowly he moved. He had surgical scars on his face and head, which was swollen and wrapped in bandages. His eyes were deeply sunken, and he appeared gray and gaunt. These changes made some people very uncomfortable, and they often stared in disbelief. But Gip’s endearing spirit responded with a smile, and that usually put them at ease.
We were also met with the reality that he was now labeled as ‘disabled’ – a victim of traumatic brain injury (TBI). We certainly weren’t bothered by the term “disabled,” and we were well very aware that Gip had a TBI. But that “I’m so sorry” look was sometimes tough to handle. Gip had undergone numerous surgeries and intensive therapies to recover from his injury. It was painful to see others viewing him as dis-abled, instead of gloriously abled, as we saw him. But this label has given Gip an opportunity to encourage others to see themselves as he sees himself – disabled in some ways but, through God, very abled in others.
After five years of recovery, Gip moved away to college again. It was exciting, but we were uncertain if he could handle the intensity of college studies.
By this time, other than a few scars, Gip pretty much looked like himself again. He was even able to play intramural sports. So to the outside world, all seemed fine. But college is tough, even without a brain injury. And it was quite a challenge to focus on so many different areas of study at one time.
Gip was given disability accommodations for note-taking and extra time for tests. But to receive this assistance, he had to bring a “disabilities letter” to his professors for their signature. Gip has never been one to bring attention to himself, so asking for these signatures was difficult, and he was hesitant to do it. But he needed the help, so he had to accept this new routine.
Because Gip’s disability wasn’t obvious, his professors wondered why he needed such help, but they weren’t allowed to ask. That was awkward, so Gip briefly explained. Most professors were amazed by his story and offered to help in whatever way they could. As time passed, Gip didn’t need these accommodations as much, but was thankful for the safety net when he did.
Four years later, Gip graduated from Kennesaw State University receiving a bachelor of science degree in integrated studies, majoring in leadership, with a minor in coaching. Now, he’s working at an athletic training facility and also helping as an assistant coach for an 8th grade football team, and he’s loving it! He’s a Young Life volunteer leader and enjoys local mission work, as well.
Overall, Gip is very low-keyed about his accident, wanting new people he meets to get to know him as ‘him” before he shares his accident journey with them. But once that subject is approached, Gip feels blessed to encourage others to ‘never give up’ in their own life challenges.
Recently, I’ve felt led to write a book about Gip’s journey. I titled our book: “And Then Came the Angels” because on Sept. 6, 2003, our lives were shattered … and then came the earthly angels who helped us through it. It’s sold in Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million and other retailers. It’s also available online through Amazon.com.
Please visit our Facebook page at: www.facebook.com/AndThenCametheAngelsbyBethGayle