A seemingly routine car ride changed Martinez resident Bryan Hensley’s life forever.
Hensley is a 10-plus-year survivor of a traumatic brain injury.
The Brain Injury Association of America has declared this month as Brain Injury Awareness Month. Brain Injury Awareness Day is on Wednesday.
“Brain Injury Awareness Month honors the millions of people with brain injury, who, with proper acute care, therapeutic rehabilitation and adequate long-term supports, are living with the successes and challenges that each day brings,” said Susan H. Connors, Brain Injury Association president and CEO.
A brain injury can happen to anyone at any time, stated area neuropsychologist Dr. Jeremy Hertza.
Among Hertza’s other positions, he serves as the president of the Brain Injury Association’s South Carolina chapter.
“Anything that moves brain around” can lead to lasting effects, he said.
Our brains control everything in our bodies from speech and sight to feeling, thinking and even breathing, according to the Brain Injury Association.
“All parts of the brain need to be working well in order for the brain to work well,” the association’s website states. “Even ‘minor’ or ‘mild’ injuries to the brain can significantly disrupt the brain’s ability to function.”
The diagnosis of brain injury encompasses a spectrum of types. Those types can be divided into two categories – acquired brain injury and traumatic brain injury.
An acquired brain injury occurs after birth and is often associated with injuries that are nontraumatic.
“Examples of acquired brain injury include stroke, near drowning, ... electric shock or lightning strike,” according to the Brain Injury Association’s website.
Technically, a traumatic brain injury can be considered an acquired brain injury.
“A traumatic brain injury is defined as an alteration in brain function, or other evidence of brain pathology, caused by an external force,” states the Brain Injury Association.
Assaults, vehicle accidents and falls can all cause traumatic brain injury.
This injury was just one side effect of Hensley’s accident.
Hensley’s childhood was not the easiest, he said.
His parents divorced when he was 2. His mother died just a few years after, he said. His grandparents raised him. His grandmother died when he was 15.
These circumstances drove him to drugs and drinking.
He was intoxicated when he entered his car in 2002. He lost control and ran into a tree, smashing the front end completely in.
This singular accident led Hensley to be air transported to what is now Georgia Regents Medical Center.
He was 19.
“Because of the damage I obtained from the wreck, I got into the battle of my life,” he wrote on his website.
Hensley spent the next couple of years rigorously recovering.
“I had to relearn how to do everything – eat, drink, breath, walk, talk,” he said.
His whole right side was paralyzed.
“All your motor activities are controlled by the brain,” Hertza said.
Brain injuries can be fatal, such as when the impact causes the brain to bleed, Hertz added.
“The next step (was) death,” Hensley said on his injuries.
Hensley’s accident put him in a coma for several days.
When he was able, he underwent occupational therapy.
“In its simplest terms, occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants help people across the life span participate in the things they want and need to do through the therapeutic use of everyday activities or occupations,” said the American Occupational Therapy Association.
For example, to help him gain back use of his legs, Hensley’s physical therapist placed him on a treadmill. In order to stand, Hensley had to be placed in a full body sling.
After more than four months, Hensley was admitted into months of outpatient therapy.
Throughout his recovery, he was also placed on “tons of medication.”
The impact hit more than his physical abilities. For years, Hensley also suffered from depression.
“Past studies have found that individuals with traumatic brain injuries can develop depression after their injuries,” according to the Brain Injury Association.
People with the mental illness of depression are often sad, irritable and/or tired.
Hensley went to both psychologists and psychiatrists for help.
No two incidents of brain injury are alike, Hertza said.
An estimate of two million people each year obtain a brain injury, according to the Brain Injury Association.
Hensley, personally, works year-round to raise awareness to this condition. He has attended churches, school and hospitals around Georgia to discuss his experiences.
In 2009, Hensley received what is now HealthSouth Walton Rehabilitation Hospital’s Triumph Award.
This hospital, located in Augusta, is where Hensley received majority of his treatment. He returns at least once a year for checkups.
Today, Hensley is still recovering. He admits he isn’t able to “do much physically,” and his hands can be “pretty unsteady.”
He also has trouble sleeping, something he said isn’t abnormal for those suffering from brain injury.
“People with milder injuries or depression were more likely to experience insomnia (trouble sleeping),” the Brain Injury Association stated.
His medication has been reduced to two types. One helps with his memory.
Hensley can now drive and work part-time.
“When I got out of rehab, I was in very, very bad shape – the worse shape ... imaginable,” Hensley said. “Nobody thought I’d ever be able to do this.”
Hensley is available for lectures and can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org or called at 706-814-2699.
For more information on his accident and recovery, visit www.cmcleskey7.wix.com/bhenz.
If you have suffered from any impact to the brain, see a doctor as soon as possible.
If nothing is detected yet you still experience the same or further symptoms, visit a neuroscientist, Hertza advised.
“The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence,” he said.
For more information on brain injuries, visit www.biausa.org.
Stephanie Turner graduated from Valdosta State University in 2012. She then signed on with the Aiken Standard, where she is now the arts and entertainment reporter.