Donna O'Donnell Figurski's Blog

It's All About Me!

Anything Writing #3 I Write — Sometimes, I Read

I Write — Sometimes, I Read
              (reposted and revised from my website, November 2009)



My writing group, the Write Group of Montclair sponsors Open Mics every month. Twice a year we meet at Barnes and Noble book store to read to the public. I am reading a chapter from my book in progress. It is about my husband, David, and the traumatic brain injury he suffered and survived in January 2005. The picture I am holding is David on Christmas morning just three weeks before his trauma.

Reading to strangers gives me a sense of well-being. They encourage me with their intent interest in the story and their  amazement at David’s survival.

donna-david-pict-2-b&nDavid comes with me to the readings. He is living proof and testament to my words.

The first draft of the book is completed. I am  working on revisions and will send it to a publisher when done.


Update: My book, Prisoner Without Bars: Conquering Traumatic Brain Injury is completed and is now searching for an agent.

(Photos compliments of ME.)

Please check out my Surviving Traumatic Brain Injury blog to learn more about my book and read interviews from Traumatic Brain Injury Survivors and Caregivers.

June 14, 2014 Posted by | Anything Writing | , , , , , | 2 Comments

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.

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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 | , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Musings by Donna #53 Muta-Gena- What??

022713 David's Edited Book 2647This is not a book an ordinary reader would curl up in front of the fireplace to read. Frankly, I don’t believe any ordinary reader would ever read it. I doubt they’d understand it. It’s written in English, but it’s no language I recognize. I do love the cover. It looks like pearls – white and black. So pretty!

Some of the chapters include words like … halophilic! Is that some kind of abnormal love of halos? Is Thiol-Based Redox a knock-off brand of sneaker, running shoe, or trainer? Maybe a lesser-known, high-end brand? What about Protein Kinase? Eggs, peanuts, meat, or fish – a protein by any other name is still a protein. Yes? But what is Protein Kinase? Sounds like an exotic French dish. My favorite weird words in the book are aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans. Try saying that three times really fast. Try to say it even once – very slowly. I dare you. I tried. I can’t.

Aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans flows freely off of the lips of my husband, David. That’s his work. That’s what he studies every day in his laboratory at Columbia University. He can not only pronounce words like phospholipases, mutagenesis, galactosemia, or oligonucleotide, he understands them. He has to. Each of those words is a part of a title of a scientific paper published by one of 21 scientists from around the world in the book titled, Genetic Manipulation of DNA and Protein – Examples from Current Research. The featured scientists are from Spain, Germany, Brazil, Slovenia, Poland, Australia, Chile, Canada, France, Colombia, Mexico, Greece, Germany, and the USA. David is the editor of the book – a daunting task, but one of which he is proud. I’m proud too.

He is also the author of Chapter 3 – Targeted Mutagenesis in the Study of the Tight Adherence (tad) Locus of Aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans.

Though I don’t suggest youvision chart th read the paper, WordFind_Animatedyou might want to look at the pictures. Some are pretty. One looks like the eye chart in your doctor’s office. AnotherDNA 3th looks like a word search. It’s all about our genetic make-up and our DNA. I can say DNA, really fast – a hundred times – if I want to.

Recently, too, my son was an author on a paper in his field. “Burial and exhumation of temperate bedrock reefs as elucidated by repetitive high-resolution sea floor sonar surveys: Spatial patterns and impacts to species’ richness and diversity” What is it with these scientists and their long titles? Like father – like son. Jared is a researcher, too, but his work takes him far below the ocean surface in Monterey Bay in California.

Then there’s my book. “Ludus is NO Positus for a Rana Temporaria.” The title’s not so long. I won’t even attempt to keep up with those guys.  Or if you prefer a common bog frog from Florida, I could change the title to, “Ludus is NO Positus for a Lithobates Okaloosae.”crazy frog th

Seriously, I’ll stick to short, pronounceable titles. The actual title is, “School is NO Place for a Frog.” It’s a picture book manuscript that I adapted to a stage play and recently produced and directed at the Nutley Little Theatre. Unlike David and Jared’s manuscripts, it’s still looking for a publishing house to settle in. So if you happen to know any editor looking for a rana temporaria or a lithobates okaloosae, or just a common, everyday, green frog, please contact me at Ribbit!

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

If you enjoy my blog, please pass it on to all your friends and they to theirs.

If you hate my blog, go ahead and send it to your enemies. I won’t mind.

(Clip Art compliments of Bing.)

February 28, 2013 Posted by | Musings by Donna | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Musings by Donna #28 Bittersweet is Today!


It’s the mix of heavenly sweetness followed quickly by harsh reality. It’s pleasure mixed with pain. It’s happiness and regret. That’s bittersweet!

Bittersweet is today!

Today – six years ago on January 13, 2005, with no invitation, bittersweet moved in with David and me. He was an uninvited guest.

He ripped David’s and my lives apart. – Bitter!

We won’t let bittersweet beat us. We are building them up again – together. – Sweet!

David suffered a traumatic brain injury. He endured an operation that lasted about 5 to 6 hours. He wasn’t supposed to live – Bitter!

He lived! – Sweet!

David endured two more open-brain surgeries in less that two weeks and slept the sleep of coma for more than that. He wasn’t supposed to live. – Very Bitter!

After several weeks he began to respond to the world around him. He wiggled his toes and blinked his eyes. – Sweet!

For three months he was in hospitals learning to walk, learning to talk, learning to feed and dress himself again – learning to be a part of society. He desperately missed his job at Columbia. He did not know when or if he would ever return. Bitter-very-bitter!

Columbia welcomed David back with an article about him in the newsletter of Columbia University called, In Vivo-CUMC At Large. Very Sweet!

And by conferrring upon him in 2006, at the Medical School Commencement, the Charles Bohmfalk Award for teaching in clinical years. Sweet! Sweet! Sweet!

David still has difficulty walking, talking, swallowing, and seeing. His right arm shakes erratically. He remains a prisoner of his body. Bitter-oh-so-bitter!

He wont let anything get him down. Life has become as normal as it can with all of these disabilities. He exercises to strengthen his body. He works to strengthen his mind. Improvements are being made – slowly, but they come. Sweet!

David has lived six years longer than any of his doctors expectations. Sweet! Oh-so-Sweet!

I have my best friend with me. Sweet! Sweet! Sweet!

Bittersweet move over. There is not enough room in our lives for you.

(Picture compliments of ME)

January 14, 2011 Posted by | Anything Writing, Musings by Donna | , , , , | 6 Comments

TidBits About Donna #32 Old Friends/Fast Friends

It started a long time ago in 1969. That’s when David and I moved to Rochester, NY. He began graduate school at the University of Rochester. There we met life-long friends, Jeroo Kotval and Philip Matsumura.

David and Jeroo both studied in Dr. Roger Christensen’s lab. They worked on bacteriophage T1 genetics. Who knows what that is!  Phil Matsumura was down the hall in another lab working with Dr. Bob Marquis on some other unpronounceable project. That’s what those scientists did.

Around 1974, David, Jeroo, and Phil, with Ph.D.s in hand, left Rochester to go their separate ways. Jeroo started her scientific career in Stanford, California. Phil and David headed to the Department of Microbiology at UCSD, the University of California in San Diego, California.

We spent four glorious years in the San Diego area. For two of them we lived in Cardiff-by-the-Sea in an apartment overlooking the Pacific Ocean. We continued our daily relationship with Phil. He lived across the alley from us. Unfortunately distance hampered our daily doings with Jeroo, but the friendship was not severed. It was just on hold.

When David finished his postdoctoral work we left Phil behind. Phil spent his career at the University of Illinois in Chicago. David and I with our two children in tow moved on to New Jersey, a bedroom suburb of New York City. David joined the faculty of Columbia University with an appointment on their faculty in the department of Microbiology as an Assistant Professor. More than thirty years later, he still holds his Columbia post – now as a full professor and a one time Dean of Graduate Students.

Rare phone calls and occasional emails were the glue that held the friendships of David, Phil, and Jeroo together. Jeroo eventually married Dr. Harry Taber, who was a professor in the Micro Department at the University of Rochester. Their careers took them to Albany, New York. Harry rounds out the band from Rochester.

Recently we reconnected with Jeroo and Harry at the unhappy event of their daughter, Shanaz’s, death. We’ve had happy occasions with Phil and his spouse, Dr. Marion Hulett, when they visited us at our home in New Jersey a few years ago and then more recently when we attended Phil’s retirement symposium in Chicago in June of 2010.

These meetings spurred each of us to promise to get together – to renew our friendships – to see each other and share good times more often. This weekend we sealed that promise.

With the aid of a flurry of email, we concocted a plan. Phil and Marion hopped a plane from Chicago to stay at our home from Thursday, July 29th until Monday, August 2nd. It has been amazing and relaxing visit – catching up on old times. Every meal, breakfast, lunch, and dinner has been enjoyed under the trees in our “garden” at the side of our house. Though the temperatures hovered in the 90s, the gentle breezes made the days perfect.

On Saturday morning we climbed into the car and headed to Leeds, New York to visit Jeroo and Harry. We spent a lovely afternoon and well into evening sitting on the edge of the forest that abuts their home. Jeroo and Harry were gracious hosts and it seemed the food never stopped coming. For lunch Jeroo prepared a steelhead trout accompanied with a creamy scalloped potato casserole and salad and rolls. It was delicious. A carrot/potato/onion soup started off our dinner that began at 9:00pm under the stars. Grilled chicken – hot off the grill – was complimented by roasted zucchini and peppers and a Tex-Mex bean and corn salad. Chocolate banana bread ended our meal … and our day. With hugs and vows to exchange visits again really soon, Phil, Marion, David, and I headed to the Bavarian Inn, a bed and breakfast only minutes away in Purling, New York.

The next morning, we had a lovely breakfast at the Inn’s restaurant before we made the trek home – laughing, talking, and sharing stories the whole way.

It’s been a weekend of reconnecting with old friends/fast friends – proving that time only makes friendships grow stronger.

(Photos compliments of me.)

August 2, 2010 Posted by | Anything Writing, TidBits About Donna | , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments


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