Today’s post comes from Stephanie Deeley, the sister of Kim Boleza, who lived with a traumatic brain injury and ultimately died from it. Her story will be told in two parts. Look for the second part in an upcoming post.
I recently sat down with Emmy in BIA-MA’s Marketing and Communications department to talk about my sister Kim, who had a traumatic brain injury as a result of domestic violence. To describe Kim, you would need a dictionary full of words! Smart, funny, gutsy, loyal, determined, dedicated, kind and loving all come to mind. If you know what’s good for you, never get in Kim’s way when she is determined to accomplish something. Kim set high expectations and goals for herself and she was always successful in achieving those goals.
Kim went to college and grad school, but not on the schedule that most people do. She actually flunked out during her first semester at UMass Amherst. I am convinced more because she simply did not want to be there than because of anything else. If you are not in school, then you have to work, and Kim had a few interesting jobs before settling in as a client service representative for an organization that cared for adults with severe autism. Kim was great at her job, and loved by her co-workers and her clients. But, her clients were a challenge, and one day Kim was hurt at work. My brother Ed and I both received calls that she was on the way to the hospital in an ambulance, and off we went dreading what we would find when we arrived. I remember thinking how grateful I was that it was “only” a concussion.
Kim finally figured out after a few years what she wanted to do, and she went back for her Bachelor’s degree, and after a few years working, she went back again to grad school where she excelled. She graduated in May of 1999 and started interviewing for her first “real” job. In September of that year she went to work for Children’s Hospital, and began a career that took her to three of the best known hospitals in the world, and earned her a reputation as one of the best in her field. While at Children’s Hospital, she was driving home one night when a deer ran out of the woods in front of her. An avid animal lover, she of course swerved to avoid hitting the deer, which resulted in her car being totaled and another concussion. And again I remember thinking, “Thank God it is only a concussion!”
Kim never wanted to get married but had some great boyfriends over the years, so when she introduced us to a new man in her life in 2002, we didn’t think too much of it. I do remember driving to a skating contest to see our niece after one of her first dates with this man, and she told me she felt like he was stalking her simply because he called to make sure she made it home safely. He was 12 years older than her, my age, and I laughed and told her it was an age thing, but I do remember thinking there was something different about the way she spoke about this new man. In the summer of 2004, he proposed to her on the jumbo-tron screen at a Red Sox game. I remember being a bit concerned at the time, thinking he did that knowing she would not embarrass him by saying no in front of all those people. I should have listened to my gut.
Kim married in September of 2005. It was not too long after that when she first said she did not think she was cut out for marriage. I told her she had been single for a long time, and adjusting would take some time. I never thought to ask if she was safe, or if she was afraid of her husband. I should have.
Eventually our suspicions that there was domestic abuse were no longer suspicions. Kim’s husband had started drinking, he was not coming to family events, and Kim was showing signs of withdrawal from her family and friends, a classic symptom of abuse. One February day Kim informed us that she had fallen on the ice in her driveway and hit her head pretty hard. I don’t think any of us bought her story, but we all respected her right to her privacy, and thanked God it was “just a concussion.”
Kim was soon experiencing severe issues with headaches, difficulty remembering appointments and schedules, and a variety of issues that seemed to point to something more serious. Shortly thereafter she had her first seizure, or at least the first that she told us about. We also began to notice that she would send emails that were just gibberish, more than just spelling errors. Kim was still working and we expressed to her our concerns. By this time, Kim had been diagnosed with a brain injury, but she did not want to tell her employer that. She was having difficulty doing the paperwork for her job and missing time from work because of the serious headaches and time in the ER. But, Kim would not tell her employer that she had a brain injury. She eventually lost her job, and even then, Kim preferred to have them think she was incompetent rather than that she was a person with a brain injury.
Kim’s seizures were difficult to control and it was a constant effort to try and find a combination and dosage of medicines to control the seizures. Kim never knew when a seizure was coming; she had no aura prior to the event. After several car accidents, it was determined that Kim was having mini-seizures, and she stopped driving. She was experiencing debilitating headaches that brought her to the emergency room on a regular basis. Kim had cognitive testing done and she finished in the bottom 10% on executive functioning skills. This was an area Kim had excelled at all her life–the ability to prioritize, organize and analyze. It was a difficult day for Kim. She was hospitalized on several occasions to try and get a better understanding and control of her symptoms. Kim recognized that she had limits, but she always tried to push the envelope and find alternatives. It is worth noting that at all the appointments Kim had, never did one medical professional suggest the Brain Injury Association as a resource to Kim. Ed saw a billboard on the highway driving Kim home from one of these many appointments and suggested Kim should contact them. She never did…
…to be continued…