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Veterans and Brain Injury - Personal Stories
Erik Olson survived one life-threatening brain injury only to find himself recovering from another. The young Marine had been part of the first wave of soldiers sent to Iraq in 2003. He spent much of his time helping restore services such as power and water to Iraqi communities.
During a routine eye exam, Erik's doctor noticed an anomaly that turned out to be a brain tumor. After a successful operation, Erik returned to light duty. But, on returning from his service Erik's behavior had changed. He began drinking while he was in Iraq and engaged in riskier behavior upon his return home. He had been drinking and was not wearing his seatbelt when he overcorrected and rolled his truck; flying through the windshield and fracturing his skull.
The shunt Erik had received from his previous surgery actually helped reduce initial swelling, but his prognosis was grim. After two surgeries and a facial reconstruction Erik, began his recovery. He lost the sight in his right eye and has mobility and memory issues, but with the help of his daily living specialist, he maintains his own apartment and enjoys a great degree of independence.
Today, Erik speaks to high school students about the dangers of drinking and driving. He finds that using himself as an example is far more effective than just talking to teenagers.
Through the Minnesota Brain Injury Alliance, Erik found resources that connected him to support groups and gave him avenues to practice his advocacy work. He is pleased to be an Ambassador for the Walk for Thought and looks forward to building his team.
Jim Lawliss describes himself as a "computer science major and geek extraordinaire - at least up until my brain injury." A Lieutenant Colonel in the National Guard, Jim experienced a stroke while out running in St. Paul on a June day in 2007. After a misdiagnosis of heat stroke by a doctor and being sent home to rest, Jim collapsed and was flown to St. Joseph's Hospital.
At St. Joseph's, Jim received a rare surgery to repair a flap in an artery blocking blood flow to his brain (emergency brain bypass surgery).
Jim was left with "staggering self-confidence issues" as he suddenly found himself unable to do the work he was used to and working through physical and cognitive rehabilitation. Jim credits his amazing recovery to his wife's support and particularly a boss who understood Jim's limitations during his recovery and never gave up on him.
Jim received support through the Minnesota Brain Injury Alliance's Resource Facilitation program. Jim and his wife were provided with information about brain injury and brain injury support groups. Today, Jim is proud to bring brain injury awareness to Minnesotans. His boss' knowledge of brain injury made Jim's recovery that much easier. Jim hopes that through education and outreach, more Minnesotans with brain injury receive the opportunities he did.