Donna O'Donnell Figurski's Blog

It's All About Me!

Traumatic Brain Injury – TBI – PRISONER WITHOUT BARS

TBI Touched Life th-5 

As a writer for children, I never intended to write a book for adult readers – other than those adults who read picture books to their children as the stars fill the night sky. But, circumstances changed in an instant when my husband, David, suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury in 2005. I didn’t know what a “TBI” was. I had never heard or seen those letters together before. But, they would soon become a permanent thought in my head.

As David stumbled into our bedroom, his hand covering his right eye, I knew something was drastically wrong. As his pain intensified and the paramedics transported him to the emergency room, I didn’t know how seriously our lives were about to change. The man, my lover, and my best friend, disappeared.

After three brain surgeries, a new man emerged. He looked different. He sounded different. He was severely disabled. He couldn’t speak beyond guttural sounds. He couldn’t walk, dress, brush his teeth, feed himself, or take care of personal hygiene without assistance. At first it seemed that he didn’t even know me, which nearly broke my heart.

David’s TBI has caused us to travel many long and bumpy roads.

David trying out his new running outfit just three weeks before his TBI. December 2004

David trying out his new running outfit just three weeks before his TBI. December 2004

We still do nine years post-TBI, but it is a journey we take together. I met David when I was 16 years old. I knew in an instant that he would be my life-partner – for better or for worse. We’ve had the better. We’ve had the worse. We are striving for the better once again.

Donna & David 15 months AT (After Trauma) April 2006

Donna & David
15 months AT
(After Trauma)
April 2006

Though I lost the “boy/man” I fell in love with, I have fallen in love all over again with this new version of David. Though he may look and act differently, he is still the most caring, gentle, intelligent man I know. His physical disabilities did not deter him from returning to his laboratory at Columbia University a year later to oversee his and his students’ research, to write scientific papers, to become the editor of a book of research articles from scientists from around the world, and to be awarded a grant for his research.

Our journey is not over.

I’ve written David’s story, PRISONER WITHOUT BARS: Conquering Traumatic Brain Injury, to share our anim0014-1_e0journey with you, my readers. It is a story of tears and angst, of stress and confusion. The story will make you cry. It will make you laugh. It will make you wonder in disbelief just how this man is able to accomplish so much with so little. The story chronicles David’s strength and persistence, his tenacity to build a new life, and to get better against all odds. David’s story is a story of hope and inspiration.

I wrote the book between my caretaking duties of David, my teaching first and third graders, and when I was not sleeping. It is currently being considered by a literary agent, and I hope that it will be published soon so you can read the inside story of how David fought and is conquering Traumatic Brain Injury one unbalanced step at a time.

As I say after each post:

Please leave a Comment by simply clicking the blue words “Leave a Comment” below this post.

Feel free to Like my post.

You can also Vote for my post by clicking on a star. (David needs company.)

If you enjoy my blog, please pass it on to all your friends and they to theirs. (I’d like to drive up the readership. Sometimes it feels like I am wrting in a vacuum. So go ahead. Send it to 10 of your friends.)

If you hate my blog, go ahead and send it to your enemies. (10 enemies would be good.) I won’t mind.

(Clip Art compliments of Bing.)


March 21, 2014 - Posted by | Traumatic Brain Injury - TBI | , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Hi Donna – I can’t wait to read your book and hope it gets published soon! You have been through a lot and I know your story will be captivating as you take us on yours and David’s journey over the last (almost) 10 years! You have been working very hard and it will all pay off soon 🙂

    Comment by Patrice Figurski | March 21, 2014 | Reply

    • Patrice, thank you so much for your comments. You know our story – all the nitty-gritty parts. It’s a story that I hope will help other Traumatic Brain Injury survivors and caretakers


      Comment by donnaodonnellfigurski | March 21, 2014 | Reply

  2. Hope you find your publisher soon. This a beautiful love story. I so enjoy the way you have with word.

    Comment by Colleen Gallagher | March 21, 2014 | Reply

  3. Oh, Colleen, so do I. This has been a very long project. Even finding the publisher will be a long haul too. Though I will be dancing in the streets, when the day arrives. Thanks for your support.


    Comment by Donna O'Donnell Figurski | March 21, 2014 | Reply

  4. Donna, I am so anxious to read this and encourage friends to read it especially since to some extent we have traveled on parallel roads! Looking forward to it getting published and a reward for all your hard work! I know it will!! Hugs, Carol

    Comment by Carol O'Donnell | March 22, 2014 | Reply

    • Carol, yes, you do know TBI well. It knocked on your door too. I wish we could have slammed it shut before it came slithering into our lives. Still we have our guys. I have David and you have your son, John. So life moves on.


      Comment by donnaodonnellfigurski | March 22, 2014 | Reply

  5. I would love to read your book as the mother of a 24 year old son Zack who suffered a traumatic brain injury 1/28/13. Please contact me as maybe I could pick your brain.

    Comment by Jeannie Irby | March 23, 2014 | Reply

    • Hi Jeannie,

      Thank you so much for visiting my blog and responding to my post. I am so sorry about your son, Zack. I browsed through your Facebook page and saw pictures of Zack and your family. He sure is surrounded by a lot of love – and that is very important.

      Each brain injury is so different. One size does not fit all. It looks like Zack has been making progress, but by now, you know the progress is slow. My husband had his TBI more than nine years ago. He was reduced to infantile state. But with a lot of hard work, determination, and time, he has made gains. Fortunately, David’s cognitive brain was not affected, but in the early stages, much like Zack, he was not able to talk. It was a real effort for him to regain that skill. He also was not able to walk on his own. Again, like Zack, he could not even stand up. It took a lot of work with therapists, my support and cheerleading, and time for healing for him to regain that skill. Still, he is balance-challenged and though he can get around the house by himself, he cannot maneuver outside on his own.

      Despite David’s many disabilities, within a year and a half, he was able to return to his position as Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at Columbia University. I’ve written David’s story. The manuscript is with an agent now and I am hoping that she will sign the project and that the book will soon be a reality. The working title is PRISONER WITHOUT BARS: Conquering Traumatic Brain Injury.

      There are several stories about David’s and my journey on my blog. There is even a story about my nephew who suffered a TBI only three weeks before David. (not blood-related) He was only 24 at the time. Though John is physically disabled, he too is making a life for himself – though it is not one of his choosing. Who would ever choose TBI?

      To see more stories on my blog, go to Once there, click on the Traumatic Brain Injury link under Categories on the right sidebar. Happy Reading.

      You can also subscribe to my blog. And please feel free to pass my blog on to anyone who might be interested in TBI.

      I will send you my email address as a private message on your Facebook page.

      I wish you and Zack and your family all the best. Be positive!


      Comment by Donna O'Donnell Figurski | March 24, 2014 | Reply

  6. At a time when marriage is under fire, your testimony is a beautiful example of commitment to honoring your wedding vows and cherishing your husband. Donna, your comments about David are the BEST and I love that part the most! Your marriage has been through the fire and has come through as gold. You both are real victors with a marriage based on precious agape love.

    Comment by Timothy Carney | March 23, 2014 | Reply

  7. Hi Tim,

    WOW! What a wonderful post! Thanks so much for taking the time to read and more importantly to comment. Your words mean a lot to me and David both. Yes, I read them to him. TBI is a difficult road to travel, but we all have, at some time or another, challenges we must face. I’m just glad I get to walk this path with David and have friends to help hold me up.

    All best,

    Comment by Donna O'Donnell Figurski | March 24, 2014 | Reply

  8. Your book must be published, no two bits about it. So many people stand to benefit form learning what you learned the hard way, from understanding that they are not alone in their pain and most importantly knowing that it is necessary to find humor in even the darkest of times. You are a fantastic writer and that is evident from “Prisoner Without Bars”. It is a gripping and emotional story, yet it is filled with information and humor. That is an impressive achievement. The story is as much about you as it is about Dad and a real testament to the strength of your love for each other. I can’t wait for the book signing. It is only a matter of time!

    Comment by jared | March 24, 2014 | Reply

    • Dear Jared,

      Brushing away tears. Thank you so much for your love and support. You can’t even know how much that means to me. Your comments are wonderful and so sweet. You heard only the early version of PRISONER WITHOUT BARS. It’s been through several revisions since then. I can’t wait for you to read the final draft of the book. I like to say, “It is a book written with emotional honesty. It will make you laugh. It will make you cry. And you won’t be able to put it down ’til the closing page.”

      Love, Mom

      Comment by Donna O'Donnell Figurski | March 24, 2014 | Reply

  9. Hi Donna, although I know much of the story…. can’t wait to read the complete story of what you and David have experienced through these years. Jared is correct, this will be as much about you as it is about a David. Please let me know as soon as it is published.
    Steve sends his love to both you and David and is anxiously waiting the book as well.
    Take good care my love,

    Comment by Judy | April 8, 2014 | Reply

  10. HI Judy!!!!!

    I am SO happy to hear from you. I miss you so much. You do know my story and probably understand this TBI-thing more than anyone I know. Our stories are parallel. I’m actively submitting the book to agents now. What a process! I will let you know. We have to talk soon. Give my love to Steve.

    Tons of love for you, my dear friend

    Donna O’Donnell Figurski

    Comment by Donna O'Donnell Figurski | April 8, 2014 | Reply

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