Paige Johnson, a former Aiken Rotary Club member, talked with her friends Monday about traumatic brain injury – an event she knows all too well.
She was the Aurora Pavilion CEO on Aug. 30, 2010, an avid runner on a jog run with a friend that morning. A distracted driver went off the road, hitting her leg and knocking Johnson in the air, crashing her head into the windshield.
She would spend three weeks in the ICU at a hospital, close to losing her life. Johnson went on to spend two more weeks at Walton Rehabilitation in Augusta and then additional out-patient speech and occupational therapies that she soon completed.
She addressed the Rotary Club with her colleague, Dr. Jeremy Hertza, a neuro-psychologist who is starting his own practice in Augusta, Neurobehavioral Associates.
At the meeting, Johnson emphasized that a stroke or traumatic brain injury “is not your identity,” she said. “It’s a part of who you are, and you are the same person you’ve always been. But a new something has been added to the package of who you are as a person.”
A stroke is one form of brain injury, Hertza said, but there are also 1.4 million cases of traumatic brain injuries. Many injuries come from car accidents, but small children are especially sensitive to brain injury, most often from falling. Football players are particularly prone to major brain injuries – especially professional athletes who have a high risk of multiple concussions.
Most injuries overall may not be visible to others – a factor that Hertza describes as a silent epidemic. An unseen brain injury could lead to a host of problems, such as confusion, changes in personality, memory problems and physical issues.
Johnson’s recovery has been remarkable, as she regained her cognitive and speech abilities. She now works for Banker’s Life and Casualty.
“The accident changed my life in a good way,” Johnson said. “I am far happier than I used to be. I couldn’t have imagined this, and I’m grateful that I got hit by a truck.”
She currently is the president of the Brain Injury Association of Georgia. Hertza serves the same role for the South Carolina organization, and both are on the board of directors of the other’s program.
Johnson said she wants to pay it forward.
“My role at the Brain Association is to speak for and to advocate for those who can’t advocate or themselves. I want to give them inspiration and hope.”
Both associations are intended to provide information and referrals, a free helpline, support groups and education. Johnson provided a letter seeking support for the programs. Such associations are the only nonprofit organizations providing such assistance to individuals and their families, Johnson said..
The Brain Injury Associations are seeking sponsors for major fundraising events, as well as the conference hosted each year in Columbia. There are four sponsorship levels to the Brain Injury Association of Georgia – $500, $1,500, $5,000 and $10,000.
For more information, call Johnson and Hertza. Johnson can reached at (803) 295-8226. Dr. Hertza can be reached at (706) 823-5250.
To contact the Georgia association, call 1-800-444-6443 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The South Carolina program can be reached at 1-877-TBI-FACT or at email@example.com.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article inadvertently appeared on the Aiken Standard website Tuesday morning. This is the final version of the article in print and in the website. The Aiken Standard regrets the error.