What do you do with all the cash you saved on Black Friday and Cyber Monday?  Well, 6 years ago #GivingTuesday was officially introduced.  (The hashtag in the name is a clear indication that the global day of giving was instigated on social media and peoples’ desire to help.)  On the day’s website, one can find most of the charities/non-profits in their area.  Though all the listed charities/non-profits are well-deserving of support, specifically related to brain injury, there are links to the Brain Injury Alliances in various states and other charities, nonprofits and hospitals that help the brain injured.  (One foundation that is not found in the search, but is well-worth donated to, especially for those residing in the North New Jersey area, is the Kessler Foundation.)


“Inclusion Drives Innovation” Throughout America

In addition to the President, “26 governors have joined together to show their support [for employment of disabled workers] through public proclamations, executive orders and press statements.”  Brain injury is a non-partisan issue that affects individuals from all states.  Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R-AR) noted the importance of informing the public of the skills of the disabled population this month because, “people with disabilities offer a wide range of expertise and play an integral role in our efforts to build an inclusive community and strong economy.” (Read to view Arkansas’ NDEAM events.)  Gov. John Bel Edwards (D-LA) released a video to explain to his constituents the importance of the month, saying that, “our businesses and communities can greatly benefit from the integrated, competitive employment of persons with disabilities.”

Even in states that do not officially recognize NDEAM with government-sanctioned events, they still inform their citizens of brain injury and celebrate the contributions of brain injury survivors.  The Kessler Foundation in East Hanover, NJ, for example, awarded a $265,743 Grant to the University of New Hampshire on October 10, 2017, to conduct, “the first national survey to look at the effectiveness of the practices that employers use to recruit, hire, train, and retain people with disabilities in their organizations, from the unique perspective of supervisors of employees with and without disabilities.”  The article 26 Governors Celebrate Employment Opportunities for People with Disabilities, from which the opening quote in this article is taken, may not have it listed as a state that is honoring NDEAM, but the California Department of Rehabilitation had an open house on October 18, 2017 to inform employers on, “the various ways to create a diverse workforce that includes persons with disabilities.”

2017 NDEAM: Inclusion Drives Innovation

This past month has been a time of, “reflecting [on] the important role that different perspectives play in workforce success,” as October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month.  This year, President Trump issued a proclamation to honor NDEAM in which he recognized that, “every American who is willing and able to work should have the opportunity… this includes the 30 million American adults with disabilities.”  Statistically, it is unfortunate to see that NDEAM has not had enough of an effect in its 70+ years of existence.  According the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment rate for disabled Americans has risen, from 18.1 percent in September 2016 to 19.6 percent this September.  However, this is still far below the employment rate for non-disabled Americans, which was 65.5 percent in September 2016 and 66 percent this year.

President Trump referred to the above statistic, when he said that, “more employers should recognize the fresh perspectives and skills these men and women can add to an innovation-focused workforce.”  Reflecting this statement, in 2017, the theme of NDEAM has been “Inclusion Drives Innovation“.

Giffords Shows Support for McCain

Gabby Giffords may be a Democrat, but she also is an Arizonian and brain injury survivor.  Her husband, Mark Kelly, is a former astronaut who presumptively knows many fellow astronauts who have had a brain injury from their travel.  Politically, they differ from Senator McCain.  However, as fellow Arizonians, his friend and his former colleague, she and her husband have expressed their hope for McCain’s recovery.

Kelly expressed the importance of maintaining a positive outlook, just as McCain did during his 5+ years detained as a prison-of-war during the Vietnam War.  Giffords tweeted, “You’re tough! You can beat this. Fight, fight, fight! I am proud to call you my friend.”

Lincoln: America’s Great Leader & TBI Survivor

February 20 was President’s Day.  Before the end of the month, it is good to honor one of America’s most lauded presidents and brain injury survivor, Abraham Lincoln:

During his younger years, although he had little formal education, Lincoln was an avid reader.  He would have rather spent a day reading a book than outside riding a horse.  Perhaps because of his comparable inexperience with outdoor activities, Lincoln was thrown off a horse as a child.  Though the specifics of this event are murky (some articles/posts claim he was 9-years-old during the incident, some say 10.  Some say he was hurt by a horse, others say a mule), what is clear is that he remained unconscious for at least the rest of the day.

Later in his life, Lincoln had two bouts of malaria, in 1830 and 1835.  When parasite-filled blood cells block blood vessels, malaria can cause brain damage.  Also in 1835, some claim that Lincoln had the sexually transmitted disease syphilis.  Syphilis can cause neurological problems.

While both contracting malaria and syphilis may have heightened the severity of Lincoln’s brain injury, the most severe occurrence to Lincoln’s brain was, most likely, the aforementioned fall off a horse at a young age.  Given this historical information, it is clear the Lincoln had some sort of brain damage.  His recorded behavior further exhibits this.  Specifically, Lincoln is known to have had a prolonged struggle with severe depression.  Depression is, unfortunately, a common side effect of brain injury.

Whether knowing that Lincoln had some sort of neurological problem affects people’s views of him positively, negatively or not at all, is irrelevant.  People simply need to know that the president who brought our country back together had a brain injury.  Knowing this, the public may question and change their underestimation of and negative behavior towards brain injured classmates, neighbors, fellow employees, etc.

Richmond Rally Reacts to Rehabilitation Cuts

February 1 marked the 14th annual Brain Injury Awareness Day in Virginia.  Hosted by neurologist and State Delegate John O’Bannon, this day allows those affected by and/or advocating for brain injury to discuss their concerns and wants with their state legislators.  This year, the discussion specifically focused on the state government’s cuts (but not elimination) of funding for rehabilitation for brain injured individuals.  Because of this concern, “after meeting with legislators, dozens of survivors, advocates and caretakers of people with brain injuries held a rally Wednesday to call for improvements in services for disabled Virginians.”  What the government may not understand though, is that it takes rehabilitation, sometimes lengthy rehabilitation, to regain functionality following a brain injury, meaning that adequate state funding is necessary.  Increased functionality means increased employment, increased tax collections and less reliance on government-funded support and services.

Personal note:

In the article, Anne McDonnell, executive director of the Brain Injury Association of Virginia, is quoted as saying, “It is a rare privilege to watch a brain come back online.”  This statement implies that brain injury survivors are primarily non-functioning individuals.  This is highly offensive and simply not true.

Additionally, the article quotes a survivor who is involved with the Association, as saying, “Forty-two … I think I’m 42.”  By choosing to publish this quote, the author of this article is making light of a symptom of this survivor’s disability.  Additionally, I believe that this person, as with many brain injury survivors, has a general disbelief of his memory because he had so many memory problems immediately following his injury.  No one remembers everything.

John Glenn: Astronaut, Politician and TBI Survivor

This past Saturday, December 17, was the memorial service for aviator, engineer, astronaut, and United States Senator from Ohio, John Glenn.  The first man to orbit the Earth, metaphorically left the world on December 8, 2016.  What many are not aware of, though, is that beyond his time in space, Glenn’s success in the U.S. Senate occurred after he had suffered a traumatic brain injury.

In the past, I have written about the issue of space travel and brain injury.  “On February 20, 1962, [Glenn] flew the Friendship 7 mission and became the first American to orbit the Earth and the fifth person in space.”  However, reports and profiles show that Glenn did not suffer any mental calamities during his time working at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). In 1964, however, Glenn started his political career, announcing his candidacy for Senator in his home state of Ohio.  Soon after, though, he withdrew his candidacy, as he was injured in a bathroom fall in his Ohio home.  Glenn’s hit to his head was not a mere bump because, as a biography on the Ohio State University website says, “The injury left him bedridden with severe vertigo and unable to campaign.”  Presumptively, vertigo was not the only issue the Glenn had after his fall, even ten years later New York Times referred to it as a “serious head injury”.  However, at the time, the media was not as intrusive as it is now, so even celebrities had some degree of privacy.*

Glenn devoted his life to government service.  Before his time at NASA, he served in the Marines in World War II and the Korean War.  After his time in space, and after his recovery from a TBI, he was a Senator for Ohio for 25 years.  As NASA writes in Glenn’s online biography, “John Glenn, became a national hero and a symbol of American ambition,” after he became the third American in space and the first to orbit the Earth.  The fact that he embarked on a successful political career following a traumatic brain injury makes Glenn an inspiration to the disabled population, too.

*For example, “in 1970, Glenn ran a campaign that relied on his celebrity and patriotic image to draw crowds to his stump speeches. He lost…”  As a personal note that you may disagree with, I ask:  Using celebrity, instead of substance, as the cornerstone of a campaign – who does that remind you of?  (In his later, successful campaigns, Glenn campaigned with celebrity AND substance.)

Republicans Do Care: Sarah Palin

Sarah Palin, the former governor of Alaska and 2008 Republican vice-presidential nominee, often addressed and championed special needs children during her presidential campaign, as she has personal experience with it.  Her son, Trig, was born with the neurological disorder, Down syndrome.  Through parenting and advocacy she says, “what’s been confirmed in me is every [person] has something to contribute to the world, if we give them that chance.”  As Governor of Alaska, “[she] succeeded in securing additional funding and assistance for students with special needs.”

In 2010, she publicly chastised Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane for an episode in which, “Chris Griffin, the show’s awkward teenager, goes on a date with Ellen, a girl with Down syndrome… [whose] mom is the former governor of Alaska.”  (A scene that features Stewie singing a song about “Down Syndrome girl,” as he continually calls her, is particularly offensive.)  Obviously, and by MacFarlane’s own admission, the governor Ellen is referring to is Palin.  The actress who provided the voiceover, who has Down Syndrome herself, said Palin should have a sense of humor.  In response, Palin said “The world is full of cruel, cold-hearted people who would do such a thing.”  (My view is that someone with a neurological disorder can make fun of themselves, but if someone else makes fun of that person, it’s a completely different story.)

Gabby Giffords: Supports Hillary Clinton’s Stricter Gun Laws, But Still Shoots

Five years ago, former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D–AZ) was nearly fatally shot.  Specifically, “A deranged gunman killed six people and wounded about a dozen others, including Ms. Giffords, at one of her constituent events in Tucson in January 2011.”  Certain things, like speaking, are still more difficult for Giffords, but she has said that her incident made her a “stronger, better, tougher” woman.

Since then, Giffords has promoted stricter gun control, continuing with her message even after she resigned from Congress in 2012 to focus on her recovery.  With her husband Mark Kelly, she founded Americans for Responsible Solutions to “encourage elected officials to stand up for solutions to prevent gun violence and protect responsible gun ownership by communicating directly with the constituents that elect them.”  Now, she and her husband have been out showing their support for Hillary Clinton for President and Clinton’s proposed stricter gun laws.

Whether you agree with her or not, the fact is that Hillary Clinton wants to further restrict the rights given to us under the 2nd amendment of the Constitution.  It seems common sense that Giffords, a woman who was shot in the head, would support this and she does.  However, Giffords still appreciates the recreational use of guns, speaking to the press about how she likes shooting at a gun range near her home.  She and her husband are avid gun owners.  Her husband says, “There’s no reason why we can’t have our right to ownership and at the same time, do everything we possibly can to keep guns [away from certain people].”

That’s a tricky issue.  One way to look at this is that Giffords and her husband promote the fact that Clinton wants to further dictate what others can do, but they find no need to follow the rules themselves.  However, another view is that by controlling who can buy a gun, they are trying to save lives.  In 2010, for example, 11,078 deaths were attributed to homicide by gun.  But is the solution to simply take guns away from the people who are most likely to misuse them, like the mentally ill?  Consider the fact that the number of people mortally wounded by guns is equal, for example, to that of motor vehicle accident death.  (The number of deaths by gun fire also includes suicide, which is the largest cause of gun death.  Motor vehicle accidents are much less likely to be suicides, so presumptively taking away guns from those inclined to commit suicide, simply means that those people would have to think of new ways to kill themselves.  It would likely not save lives.)

In further restricting who is allowed to buy a gun, the government would be taking away guns from the many people who do not and would not misuse them.  I see no comparable law or proposed law for motor vehicles.  The opposing valid views on the same issue are specifically why gun control law has been a big issue in government since before I can remember, and it doesn’t look like it’s about to stop being one anytime soon.

Personally, I know that the “gun issue” has gotten a lot of press.  People seem to think that restricting the use of guns will eliminate violence.  Even though I have never shot a gun myself, I have family members who, just like Ms. Giffords and Mark Kelly, are avid hunters.  My family members who do shoot are not, nor could they be, mistaken for terrorists, criminals, or mentally ill.  The obvious issue with the law is that once government does not allow one person to buy a gun, what is to stop them from preventing more people, such as my family members, from buying a gun.

Regardless of my personal views on the “gun issue”, the fact that Giffords, after being shot in the head, still has the cognitive ability to go out and promote this law is remarkable.  I think her recovery is an inspiration for every brain injured person, and really an inspiration to all people.

‘Little House’ Star Ends Race for a Seat in the Big House

Melissa Gilbert (D), known for her role as Laura Ingalls in the 1974 to 1983 television series ‘Little House on the Prairie’ and former president of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), has halted her bid for Congress in the 8th Congressional District in Michigan.

Regarding her departure, Ms. Gilbert stated, “As much as it breaks my heart to say this, my doctors have told me I am physically unable to continue my run for Congress.”  (In 2012, she had two head injuries – a horrific fall as a contestant on ‘Dancing with the Stars’ and when a balcony fell on her at her rented house.)  This may be true, I do not know.  However, I am curious about it.  Her polling numbers were low.  I do not doubt that her doctors advised her to leave the campaign, but I do wonder if she would have taken their advice if her poll numbers had been higher.  It is not appropriate for me to make any assumptions and, if her symptoms did get bad enough to be the reason she left the race, I wish her the best.

Currently, the Democrats do not have any candidate to take her place in the election against former State Senate majority leader and first term incumbent Mike Bishop (R).  Regarding her departure, Sen. Bishop, who polls show is likely to will re-election, stated, “I wish her the best and hope her health improves.”