Voices for Injury Prevention

Speakers share their stories

ThinkFirst is effective and successful largely because of young speakers who help us deliver the ThinkFirst message. ThinkFirst VIPs (Voices for Injury Prevention) share their personal stories with audiences of all ages. VIPs are individuals that have sustained a brain or spinal cord injury and wish to share their prevention message with others. They tell us that sharing their story through ThinkFirst gives them the unique, rewarding opportunity to make a difference in the lives of young people.

ThinkFirst VIPs talk candidly with students about their lives before their injury, how they were injured, how their lives have changed since sustaining their injury, and about the decision and circumstance that led to their injuries. Each presentation is followed by a question and answer discussion session.

VIPs are specially chosen for their expertise in health education and their ability to relate to young people. Their compelling stories have a powerful impact on students and are central to ThinkFirst's success in decreasing risk behaviors among Oregon's young people.

An image of one of the ThinkFirst VIPs, Brian.

“I don’t remember the crash, but I’ve thought about it a lot. It was only five miles home, and I didn’t expect anything to happen during such a short drive.”

A long, tiring day after work

Brian had aspirations to play lead guitar in a rock band, and exciting plans to enter business school, get an MBA and become an Executive. All those plans had to change. While living and working abroad in England, he made the choice to drive home by himself after a long, tiring day. Falling asleep briefly at the wheel, he drifted to the opposite side of the road, came face to face to the headlights of another car and collided head on at more than 50 miles an hour. His life was saved because he wore his seatbelt, but the crash left him with a severe brain injury.

Traumatic brain injury

In addition to the severe brain injury, Brian was in the hospital for around three weeks with a coma. He couldn’t walk or talk and didn’t start coming out of his coma until five weeks after the car crash. During this time, he was flown back to the United States for treatment and needed constant care with things such as being fed and going to the bathroom. Along with the coma, he also had a broken collarbone, crushed pelvis and ribs. He had partial paralysis on the right side of his body as a result of the damage to the left side of his brain. He was eventually sent to recover at a rehabilitation hospital, where he relearned how to walk, talk, eat and think.

Continuing recovery

To this day, Brian continues to attend weekly counseling sessions due to depression and rapid changes in mood as a result of his brain injury. He gets tired easily and has to keep a calendar because he has memory problems and a hard time focusing. He is also left with some numbness in his right hand, a result of that crash. His life goals have changed. Instead of becoming an Executive, Brian aspires to feel accomplished. Now, with his own children, he shares his story by volunteering with ThinkFirst, in hopes that  others can make an intelligent decision to keep their brains safe.

An image of one the ThinkFirst VIPs, Jamie.

 “After I got my first concussion, I was in a rush to get back to doing all the stuff I wanted to do but getting my second concussion ended up causing me to have to put my life on hold for two years.”

First concussion

Jamie was an active high school student when she experienced her first concussion. She was doing a warm up activity at basketball practice, dove on the ground, and crashed into her friend’s knee. She immediately felt dizzy and confused. The next day, she had an awful headache, nausea, and sensitivity to light. She pushed through the pain and tried to go back to her normal activities. When she couldn’t it make through school or practice without feeling sick to her stomach, her coach recommended that she see a doctor to be assessed for a concussion. Three days after getting hit, her physician diagnosed her with a concussion and told Jamie to rest and take Advil until the symptoms subsided.

Second impact syndrome

A couple of weeks later, feeling better, she was hanging out at a friend’s basketball game when a stray basketball hit her in the head. Now, any recovery she had made, was instantly gone and her symptoms gradually worsened. The next day, Jamie’s physician diagnosed her with second impact syndrome, a potentially deadly traumatic brain injury that results from a repeat concussion before a previous concussion has healed. The approach to the second concussion was again, time and rest. As time passed she noticed her personality changing. She felt more irritable than ever before and extremely fatigued. Jamie was in constant pain, had trouble sleeping, couldn’t concentrate or remember things well, and her life came to a screeching halt. Eventually, relief came when she started an intensive therapy program including physical and neck therapy, speech therapy, vision therapy, and chiropractor visits.

Catching up

Two years after her first concussion, Jamie has worked hard to catch back up in school by taking online classes, summer school, and home tutoring. It was extremely difficult, but she caught up in time to graduate with her high school class and is excited about attending college.

Jamie wants to share her story to help students understand how serious concussions are.

A photo of one the ThinkFirst VIP speakers, Elyse.

“My story could easily be that of the person who’s hit by you or someone you are a passenger with.” 

The car accident

Elyse was a happy 11 year old when her life changed forever because of a car accident. On her way to school one day driving down the highway, an 18-year old driver had a stop sign at the intersection before heading onto the same highway. With the sun in his eyes, he slowed down at the stop sign but entered the highway without stopping completely resulting in a side impact on the passenger side of Elyse's car. Her head went through the front windshield and she lost consciousness. Her mother who was driving her car was unhurt and attempted to rescue Elyse but was unable to reach her because the door was smashed closed.  LifeFlight helicopter arrived and rescued Elyse to take her to the hospital. Her brother was also in the car but died on impact.

Severe traumatic brain injury

Elyse suffered from a severe traumatic brain injury. Within her first 24 hours in the hospital, she underwent two brain surgeries to attempt to save her life. She remained in a coma for two months following the accident. After awakening from the coma, Elyse experienced left hemiplegia where she was unable to use her left arm and leg. With intensive therapy, she has relearned many of the skills she lost including walking, dressing, reading and writing. She continues to get better every day.

Looking forward

Today, Elyse is a student at Portland Community College who is looking forward to graduation and all that life has to offer her. She has presented to many schools and hopes that other students can learn from the mistake of that teen driver and see the impact one poor decision had on her life and her family.