#GivingTuesday at BIA-MA: Brain Injury Affects All


Ryan and Courtney November 2014

Ryan and Courtney
November 2014

The mission of the Brain Injury Association of Massachusetts (BIA-MA) is to create a better future for brain injury survivors and their families through brain injury education, prevention, advocacy and support.

When a brain injury strikes, it does not affect just affect one person – it affects their entire family and community.  Hopes, goals and accomplishments for everyone involved are often sidelined indefinitely after a TBI.

In April 2010, Ryan was performing with her cheerleading squad at a fundraising exhibition and a flyer on the top of her stunt group fell and landed on her.  She did not receive immediate medical attention and was encouraged to keep performing.  A short time later, she collapsed and did not regain consciousness.  Ryan had sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI), along with a collapsed lung and fractured vertebrae in her neck.  She had no idea what a brain injury was and then realized her life would not be the same.  Read more about Ryan on the BIA-MA website.

Courtney, Ryan’s sister, relays the impact of brain injury on a family member:

At the time of Ryan’s injury, I was a senior in college getting ready to graduate- I had come home for the weekend and was getting ready to go back up to school that afternoon when my mom got a phone call from the paramedics who had been first responders to the Ryan’s injury. They asked my mother “if she was Ryan Farrell’s mother and that she needed to come up to New York because her daughter was in the hospital”. At this point, we were not told anything about the severity of her injury. I decided to go up to New York with my mom and decided I would just return to school the following day (little did I know that I wouldn’t be returning to school until the end of that week to get a change of clothes).

Ryan’s college is 3.5 hours away from our house- while still in Western Mass on the Mass Pike, we received a call from the neurosurgeon who needed permission from my mother to operate on Ryan’s brain as she had suffered from a severe brain injury and needed immediate surgery to stop the bleeding on her brain. The surgeon assumed that my father had been driving the car. Upon hearing this, I started hyperventilating (we had just lost my grandmother to an aneurism in December of that year).  I kept telling myself that it would be okay and that she would be fine although we really had no idea how she was doing or if she was even going to live through the surgery. When we arrived at the hospital we were still not given clear information (usually seems to happen in times like this). I honestly don’t really remember what happened after that- my father was working in Albany at the time so he got to the hospital later that afternoon. The neurosurgeon met with us that afternoon and basically told us that it did not look good and that we should prepare for anything.

We were allowed to go see Ryan in the ICU that night- I almost vomited/fainted upon seeing my sister hooked up to every machine imaginable including a respirator. I remember thinking that it wasn’t real life, just a bad dream, this is something you see on Grey’s Anatomy not in real life and especially not to your sister. Other family members showed up that night and we all “slept” in the ICU waiting room on the floor. That night, one of the ICU nurses, Patty, told me something I would never forget- she said that “she could see in my sister’s eyes that she was still there and would come back”; that sentence was my driving force to keep strong for Ryan’s recovery. About a week later, the day after I had left (my mom made me go back to school) Ryan underwent an emergency craniotomy, due to too much pressure and swelling on her brain. I remember thinking of what the nurse had said to me on the first night she was there and I knew that she would be alright, and I still believe it is true to this day when I look at Ryan and see how far she has come.

I want to share my story and my sister Ryan’s story because I feel that it is important to show that a brain injury affects everyone in the survivor’s life, especially family. Although I did not go through what she went through mentally and physically as far as her recovery process- I felt helpless then and still feel helpless at times now because I can’t help her through her daily struggles. I went through a guilt phase where I constantly struggled with why it happened to her and not to me. To watch your best friend and sister struggle and have no power to help them is like being in a nightmare where you have absolutely no control. Throughout Ryan’s injury, I learned new ways to be supportive and sometimes the best support was just being there even if I had nothing to say. I have honestly never in my entire life met someone who is stronger or more of an inspiration to others than my younger sister (and I’m not just saying that because she is my sister!) She has honestly overcome more obstacles in the past four and a half years than most people will experience in their entire lifetime. Her injury was a life changing event and I can’t say that I would have been able to handle it with the same strength, grace, optimism, and will power as she has. Even with everything she has been through, I don’t think I know anyone who is more passionate about life and making others happy than she. She is always smiling and bringing positive energy to every person she encounters,- perfect stranger or best friend- and I don’t know many people who can say that they are capable of doing that.

Each year, there are 64,000 new cases of Traumatic Brain Injury reported in Massachusetts alone.  The Brain Injury Association of Massachusetts is committed to helping survivors, families and caregivers through the difficult healing process that follows a brain injury.

The Brain Injury Association of Massachusetts strives to ensure that your gift will make a real difference for the brain injury community in the Commonwealth.  Your generosity today will help us to continue to:

  • Advocate for practical legislation to prevent brain injury and for improved support for brain injury survivors.
  • Offer programs to raise awareness and prevent TBI’s with school-based programs as well as offer sports concussion safety information for coaches and parents to protect players on and off the field.
  • Educate caregivers, families and survivors about brain injury with annual conferences, workshops and provider trainings.
  • Increase the number of statewide support groups for survivors, families and caregivers as well as provide resources and information through our helpline.

Please give – Your gift has the power to create a better future for brain injury survivors and their community.  There are two easy ways to donate:

  • Call BIA-MA at 800-242-0030

Legal Statement: The information contained in this blog does not reflect the specific views of BIA-MA. This blog is published for informational purposes only. BIA-MA is not providing medical, legal or other professional advice with its publication. 





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