A Father's Perspective....


In early December 1990, my 23 year old daughter received a severe closed head injury from a car accident. Although I had been a National Ski Patrol volunteer treating injuries (a few were mild head injuries) on the ski slopes for 10 years, I soon learned some pretty basic things about severe head injuries that shocked me. Like many others in our society, I had some erroneous ideas and opinions about this serious kind of injury.

The first few days after Carla's injury were filled with fear, anguish, uncertainty, and suspense for me. I prayed for her to regain consciousness quickly as some do, but this wasn't to be. I continued to learn of the seriousness of my daughter's injury. With barely a scratch or a "goose bump" on her head, the injury to her brain was threatening her life.

With the assistance of excellent medical care, the prayers of many, and Carla's toughness and determination, she slowly regained consciousness over the next two and a half months. I learned that doctors could not predict the extent nor give any timetable for her recovery; that virtually every head injury is different, having its own outcome that unfolds with the passage of time.

Now, about a year and a half since her injury, I continue to be thankful for the healing that has been taking place in Carla. As with most severe head injury patients, her recuperation is lengthy even though she is a courageous young lady who has been diligent and hard working in all of her many therapies-therapies that have helped her to again think, eat, talk, write, cough, laugh, walk, and a multitude of other daily activities that many of us take for granted.

After coping with my daughter's injury and observing her hard fight to recover from it, I realize a whole lot more how marvelous, but fragile, is the human computer inside our head. I understand better than ever that there's good reason for construction hard hats, bike helmets, and other protective head gear. Recently, I heard the host of KOA Denver's "The Flip Side" ridicule the increasing use of bike helmets and imply that it is a fad which is offensive to him. He continued the attack on bike helmet use with his opinion that helmets detract from the fun and freedom of biking. Society is trying to make life too safe he argued. After listening awhile to him give what I considered a nonsensical outburst on why not to wear bike helmets that included jabs at the medical profession I became so disgusted I had to change to a different station on my car radio.

However, I was glad I listened long enough to hear a listener call in with reasons to wear a helmet. The listener let the show's host know she had two young sons who did not agree with his comments associating helmet use with ignorance. The young boys' father had recently received a serious head injury while bike riding on a trail and spent several months in a hospital recuperating. This family had experienced the consequences of a serious head injury and gained an awareness of the many hard realities of severe head injury. They intend to make use of the simple affordable protection offered by a helmet while bike riding.

Other simple little things can make a difference in our lives. When my daughter wore her seat belt that day in December, I am convinced it saved her life.

Lance Otto


.....and a Mother's Perspective

December 6, 1990 will be forever fixed in my memory as the day that changed the course of lives in our family. A morning phone call brought the news that every mother dreads to hear: "Your daughter has been very seriously injured in a car accident."

That was the beginning of a very long and very difficult journey for Carla and for our family. Because of a serious head injury, life, for Carla, had been reduced in a matter of seconds to a struggle to survive-to live again. Forever gone were her carefree days of youth; and gone were her highest aspirations for the future.

For me, her mother, it was the beginning of a learning process about the complex world of head injuries. I soon learned that the degree of recovery is uncertain but unique for each person; that our 23-year old daughter would need to relearn basic life skills, cognitive functions, and daily living activites; that the recovery period would not take weeks but years; and that our daughter would never again be exactly the same person.

It was the beginning of a journey of mourning and questioning. The "Why" question, though unanswerable, lurks in the recesses of one's mind. But one moves on from that to "What can be gained from this?" and "Where do we go from here?" It is very hard on a mother's "heart" to see your child's hopes and dreams dashed by tragic circumstances such as traumatic brain injury and then to watch that child struggle and work so hard to regain that which was lost. Along the journey I have struggled to hope, to trust, and to rejoice once again in small gains.

I would like to be able to write my story from some future perspective when I could look back on this experience and say "Here are the answers" and "Here is how I was able to cope with it all." However, I find that we are still moving along the journey with the destination yet shrouded in uncertainty. It is that cloud of uncertainty hanging over the recovery process which in turn fogs the resolution process. It is difficult to come to resolution while being tossed to and fro by uncertainty.

From the very beginning of Carla's recovery we have heard, "We don't know....we don't know how much better she is going to get." Despite that uncertainty, Carla has made remarkable progress in recovery. Yet periodically there are things that crop up which show that she still hasn't recovered 100%. Maybe that particular area will not improve a whole lot more. But then again, given the appropriate stimulation or challenge, additional improvement has often taken place. So, while pondering the changes and losses, I sometimes don't know when to mourn and when to rejoice because changes are still taking place. Undergirding it all, however, there remains the overwhelming sense of hope.

There is much to be thankful for in Carla's rather dramatic recovery and regaining of abilities. Yet she is a different person and life will be different for her than we all envisioned on her college graduation day. We wonder what might have been, and we wonder what is yet to be. We wonder how much more she will progress and change. We wonder how much will remain the same. We wonder and we wait and we pray. She is already the product of a miracle. We pray for it to continue.

Meanwhile we go on living and laughing and we put wondering and mourning on hold for awhile. Some day we shall complete the resolution process when uncertainty no longer clouds the journey.

Mardell Otto



In February 1992, I started vision therapy at the Applewood Vision Clinic in Wheat Ridge, Colorado. I had double vision in my whole field of vision, except for a cone right in front of me. Until I went to Dr. John Thomas, the neuro-optometrist at this clinic, the only other recommendation for my right eye was surgery. However, this surgery wasn't 100% reliable nor was it certain there would be major improvement.

The philosopy of Dr. Thomas made so much sense to me that it was stupid to ignore it. He has a wholistic approach to vision treatment. The coordination between the eye and the brain works just like it does with everything else I had to relearn. The idea was to retrain the brain in the correct way to see things. For the first eight months of therapy, I wore a pair of prism glasses that brought the two images together into one. By continually sending to the brain the message of fusing the two images, it is retrained to see only one image. For two and a half years, I went to the clinic once a week for therapy where I worked on exercises with Jan Herbst, a vision therapist. I also had plenty of exercises to do at home.

A hilarious thing happened to me one night. I was dreaming that I was working on a prism exercise that I have. This prism exercise involved using a 2-inch square prism on a stick. I would hold this prism alternatively in front of each eye while looking at a 1-inch square dot that I stuck on the wall. I looked at this dot until the two dots (because of my double vision) fused into one. This exercise, along with all my other vision exercises, was set up in a room right next to my bedroom. I woke up because I had to go to the bathroom. However, on the way, I took a detour. I went into my "vision therapy room" (as I call it), sat down, picked up the prism and started doing the prism exercise!!! I do remember thinking to myself when I turned on the light, "boy that's an awfully bright light!" When I realized what I was doing as I "sleepwalked," I went to the bathroom and back to bed. The next morning I could tell that I actually did go do the prism exercise because everything in the room was set up in the correct way for the exercises. When I told Dr. Thomas about this escapade, he remarked that it showed some real dedication!

I'm so glad I tried therapy before turning to surgery. Dr. Thomas has said that I made phenomenal progress. Thoroughout my whole recovery process, doctors and therapists have said again and again that I made extraordinary progress. I have a lot to be thankful for, but I am also a very hard worker. I was willing to do anything that would help me get better. I found that I have a tremendous amount of inner strength and drive. No one can really estimate the power of the human spirit. An interesting story that Dr. Thomas shared sums up my attitude perfectly. When Winston Churchill addressed the graduating class at Harrow School in 1941, his whole 12 minute speech consisted of the words,"NEVER GIVE UP." He looked at each graduate as he kept repeating these words.

I will never, ever give up the pursuit of my goals.

Carla Otto


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