Donna O'Donnell Figurski's Blog

It's All About Me!

Anything Writing #5 Montclair Write Group Update

This was posted about me in the Write 45601_430095069628_1997314_nGroup Update – Montclair, New Jersey. 09/09/14


“Donna O’Donnell Figurski doings – spends her not-so-leisurely days working on her “Surviving Traumatic Brain Injury” blog (, which is growing daily. She pdancing_girl_cartoonublished an article, “Prisoner Without Bars – Living With A Traumatic Brain Injury” in an online journal, Disabled Magazine ( on 6/24. She recently became a talk radio host on Brain Injury Radio Network. Her show, “Another Fork in the Road” ( airs each 1st and 3rd Sunday of every month at 5 pm Pacific Time. She also co-hosts with another BIR host every 5th Sunday in a month. AND the “Native American Anthology” in which Donna has three chapters in two books is still scheduled for a 2015 publication date.

(Clip Art compliments of Bing and the Write Group.)

September 10, 2014 Posted by | Anything Writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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.

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

Musings by Donna #64 My Meteor & Writing Conference

MY METEOR! I saw it for three seconds – one Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi – on my way to a writers’ conference in Avondale, Arizona on a Saturday morning in early November 2013. Amazing! Meteor over Phoenix (Sorry about the commercial, but the meteor is worth it.)

It was bright, fluorescent, and green; and it trailed across the sky in front of me. It looked like a line of lime Meteor th-2slime blazing across the sky. Fortunately I was stopped at a red light and could experience the entire three seconds without fear of running off the road. Meteors in the bright, blue sky are just not something you might expect to see every day. Heck, you may not even see one in a lifetime. I know it’s taken me decades to see my first. When I finally believed my eyes, I speed-dialed David on my car phone to tell him of my amazing siting.

Then it dawned on me that early morn, as I was driving to my writing conference, that maybe My Meteor was a good omen. Maybe this conference will be the one to change my writing life. I was hoping to glean some words of wisdom. I was hoping to make a connection to set me on the right path to publishing my book, Prisoner Without Bars: Conquering Traumatic Brain Injury. I was hoping to meet other writers.

The Southwest Valley Writer’s Conference was a valuable, meaningful, and productive conference. Though I’ve attended countless workshops, conferences, and retreats in the children’s publishing world, this was my first encounter with writers for the adult audience. I was pleasantly surprised.Write th-3

The presenters were knowledgeable and the panels offered lively discussions of the process – from writing a book, to finding an agent/publisher, to marketing a book. I met an agent who seemed interested in my book. Either that or she was being kind. In any event she agreed to read the first 50 pages of Prisoner Without Bars. I’ll send that to her soon. And lastly, I made valuable writer contacts. I met Carmen at the first session. She told me of the contest she recently won at Poisoned Pen Press. Diane and I shared lunch together. Then I met Xenia (Xeni) Schiller, who I learned lived in the same town as I do. What a gem! She is a serious and accomplished writer and we began a writing group of two. We also became friends. We meet twice a week for four hours each time. Of course, we spend the first half hour talking, then it’s down to serious business. Unfortunately for me, Xeni recently got a job; and I am writing on my own again.

Was My Meteor a good omen? I think so! And … I can’t wait to see another one. Maybe in this lifetime!

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.)

January 29, 2014 Posted by | Musings by Donna | , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Musings by Donna #52 Pig and Rat – an Odd Couple

I married a PIG!

Pig thI know you must think what a horrible, awful person I am calling my husband a PIG. But, it’s true. I can’t help it and David would agree with me.

Anyone who knows David would say he is the epitome of a gentleman – well-mannered, courteous, kind, and polite. He is strong of conviction with a resilient nature. He is loyal and holds his friends dear. And I am fortunate to be his friend. BUT, I stand my ground.

He is a PIG!


You probably think I’m a RAT saying such nasty things about the man I love. And, you would be right! But I think I’m a very “charming” RAT.

I have been accused of working hard – sometimes too hard … and I’m definitely a perfectionist.

I’m not an overzealous spender of money, but I get what I want. It just doesn’t have to be the best, the name-brand, or the most extravagant.rat th

This RAT does not like to gossip. Any gossip she may inadvertently hear, never passes her lips.

I’m an ambitious RAT – no doubt of that. Whether it’s my writing (children’s picture book manuscripts or my memoir, Prisoner …, about David and the Traumatic Brain Injury he suffered in 2005, The Year of the Rooster), my jewelry line, or my life in the theater (actor, assistant stage manager, director assistant, stage hand, and director of a play that I adapted from one of my children’s book manuscripts, which was presented on stage in 2012, the Year of the Dragon), I strive for success.

I’ve accomplished many goals. I’ve had a wonderful thirty-year career teaching first and third graders. I’m proud of the four stories written for 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students, which Scholastic published in Literacy Place 2000, snake thThe Year of the Dragon. But, success is subjective. And this RAT won’t be satisfied until every last picture book manuscript is published and Prisoner … is on the bookshelves of the world. Maybe it will happen this year, 2013, in The Year of the Snake.

Raton 6

David Year of Pig

I am David … and I approve the above blog post.

So you see, I am a RAT married to a PIG.

We both, RAT and PIG, wish you Happy New Year … in the Chinese way.

(PS  Discover your animal at: What’s Your Chinese Zodiac Animal?)

Please leave a comment by simply clicking the blue words “Leave a Comment” below this post to see how many Rats and Pigs and Roosters and Dragons are out there.

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.

(Chinese Zodiac Table compliments of

(Clip Art compliments of Bing.)

(Picture compliments of ME.)

February 13, 2013 Posted by | Musings by Donna | , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Musings by Donna #49 Traumatic Brain Injury – A Speed Bump in Life

Eight years ago this evening I received a phone call. It’s the kind we all dread. My brother, Jack, and his wife, Carol, were on the other end. It was hard for Jack to get the words out, but when he did they took my breath away, too. His twenty-four-year-old son, John, my nephew, was in the hospital fighting for his life. John was john 111212known for his happy-go-lucky – light-hearted self. He could easily make you smile. He was an imp – a loveable imp. What was he doing in the hospital? That was much too serious a place for him!

John was supposed to be at a party that evening with friends – a holiday party, I guess, given the season. For John a party was around every corner. He always sought out the fun in life. It was odd that he opted out of that party. He said he wasn’t feeling well. His friends went.

Fortunately one concerned friend returned to check on John. She found him in distress. Soon his parents, Jack and Carol, arrived and John was quickly transported to the hospital. He had suffered a (TBI) Traumatic Brain Injury. No one knows why. We’d never heard of TBI, but we’d soon become experts.

For several weeks John teetered on the edge. His doctors gave him a small percentage to live. But he did live and he still lives with a gusto for life. His life is drastically changed. It’s not the life he wanted nor what anyone had expected he’d have, but is it his life and he continues to live it to the fullest. He calls it “A little speed bump in life.” That’s one heck of a speed bump. And one heck of a good attitude! We are all very proud of John and so glad he fought to stay with us.

Hugs and ♥♥♥♥♥.

Love, Aunt Donna

(Photo compliments of ME.)

December 28, 2012 Posted by | Musings by Donna, Traumatic Brain Injury - TBI | , , , , | 4 Comments

TidBits About Donna #59 Dancer Extraordinaire

Meet Paula Nieroda 

Paula was David’s dance instructor for almost two years. She not only guided him through his dance steps, but she assessed his every movement to help him regain his balance.

Paula is much more than a dance instructor.

She is a wonderfully sensitive and compassionate young woman.

David and I took lessons with Paula once a week for nearly two years.



We learned a number of ballroom dances, including the Cha-Cha, the Tango, and the Swing – all very quick dances, which we did not do so quickly. We learned the Waltz and the Fox Trot, too. We stumbled around the dance floor amid the elegant contestants who were preparing for their next performance. They twirled and glided and dipped and swooped with feet barely touching the floor, while we firmly planted one foot and then the other in slow succession hoping that we would not topple over. We never did.

Paula taught David form – focusing on his posture. “Renew! Renew! Renew!” was her mantra – the reminder to David to stand taller.

When Paula moved to another studio, too far from us, we did not continue our lessons because we knew we could never replace her.

Paula is also a performance dancer and has competed and won many dance contests.  In the video below you will see Paula in action. In a pink fairy-princess gown, she glides over the floor with her partner, George Valasquez, who performs an amazing routine with only one leg.

Paula is truly an inspiration.

Watch this video to see what I mean. Truly AMAZING!!!!!

(Pictures compliments of ME.)

(Video compliments of YouTube.)

I’d love to hear from you, so please post your thoughts in the comment section of my blog. Just look below in the tag section. You will see the link for COMMENTS.

September 3, 2012 Posted by | TidBits About Donna | , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

TidBits About Donna #49 Energizer-Ostrich

What do you get when you cross a hyperactive rabbit with a pink-feathered bird on a beach? That would be ME – or in other words an Energizer-Ostrich.

I guess that warrants an explanation of sorts. But I will have to retrace my steps a bit – about seven years worth – to the source of what has changed me into a replica of an energizer bunny with her head in the sand.

Today, January 13th, seven years ago, David, my husband, suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). If you have been following my blog, you already know this. If this is your first visit, you can learn the sordid details and do a cram course by reading the following posts. Or … you can just read on to get the Cliff Notes version.

TidBits About Donna #41 Living Nightmare — TBI
Musings by Donna #39 TBI – Traumatic Brain Injury – One Size Does Not Fit All
Musings by Donna #28 Bittersweet is Today!
Musings by Donna #38 A Day at the … Hospital
Musings #23 A Fork in the Road to Recovery

This morning I woke with a start – at precisely 7:05 – the exact time, seven years ago that David and I began the journey of our new and unexpected life. Seven years ago we did not know what was in store for us. We didn’t even know if there was going to be an “us”. This morning, as I do each year on this day, I relived the moments of David’s TBI. From excruciating pain to a wild ambulance ride, to signing on the dotted line to taking a saw to my husband’s brain (I didn’t do that – the surgeon did.) to talking incessantly on the cell phone – arranging, arranging, arranging – flights, accommodations, squeezing David’s hand and promising him he would get better – when I wasn’t sure that he would, threatening that I would never forgive him if he didn’t fight to stay with me, telling the story over and over and over … of how he stumbled into our bedroom, his hand clutching his eye – then falling into a coma as the paramedics strapped an oxygen mask over his face.

After seven years I would have expected the intense memories to fade, but they remain vivid – with maybe just a few blurred edges. I remember many of the names of the nurses and caretakers. I remember the unwanted words of the doctor. I remember how family and friends converged on the hospital at all hours both day and … well into the night from all corners of the United States. I remember the day was one of intense fog both outdoors (and inside my brain). The outdoor fog caused airline flights to be delayed. The fog inside my brain insulated me from the tragic reality around me.

That same fog has dulled the pain over the years of watching David struggle to dress himself, to learn to feed himself again, to walk and talk. That fog blurs the hurt of seeing him hunched over his keyboard painstakingly tapping each key as he prepares another paper for publication or works on a book he’s editing for an international scientific journal or sends detailed instructions to his technicians in his lab about the next experiment to do. I welcomed the fog as I not-so-patiently waited for David to recover from a recent eye surgery.

I marvel at this man I call my husband. I’m proud of his accomplishments both before and after his trauma. I admire his patience, his persistence, his positive attitude as I watch him tackle life in the “hard” lane. He does it with grace, with no complaint, and with gentle optimism.

So, there is an “us” after TBI, though it’s a different “us.” We are not the same people we were before David’s trauma. I miss the before TBI “us.” Traumatic Brain Injury seriously changes the victim, but it also alters the spouse. TBI can rend marriages. It can tear families apart. Or it can make you stronger. See the New York Times article from January 9th 2012, When Injuries to the Brain Tear at Hearts.

David’s TBI tears my heart everyday, but each day, too, it gets glued back together with a kiss, with a smile, with a hug, with a laugh – but no tears. No, NO tears.

I still have not had a good cry. Life is too busy for tears. Besides, “Tears would make this too real – and it’s not … is it?” asked the Energizer-Ostrich.

(Clip Art compliments of Bing.)

January 14, 2012 Posted by | TidBits About Donna, Traumatic Brain Injury - TBI | , , , , , | 8 Comments

Musings by Donna #39 TBI – Traumatic Brain Injury – One Size Does Not Fit All

There are several books published about Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). Of course there is Jill Bolte Taylor’s book, My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey, which is amazing. It took Jill nearly eight years to regain her near-normal self after suffering a stroke. She has been a speaker about this subject for TED talks. Her talk, called How It Feels to Have a Stroke, is worth every minute of the nearly twenty minutes. Dr. Taylor is a neuroanatomist, a scientist, who studies the nervous system of the brain.

There is also a book by Valerie Greene, another stroke survivor called, Conquering Stroke. Though doctors told her she may never walk or talk again, Valerie had other plans. Her determination, and about ten years, propelled her to writing her book to raise the awareness of stroke and giving hope to stroke victims and their families.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly was written by ELLE editor, Jean-Dominique Bauby who survived his stroke with a totally paralyzed body. His only functional part was his left eye. With this eye and a system of blinks, (ex.: 2 blinks for A, 3 for B) he wrote the account of his stroke. He died shortly after his book was published.

Lee Woodruff wrote In an Instant: A Family’s Journey of Love and Healing. It’s a book about her husband, Bob Woodruff, a news corespondent for ABC News, the TBI he received while on assignment in Taji, Iraq when a bomb struck the tank in which he was riding, and his journey to regain his life.

There are other books out there, but these are, in my opinion, the best. A new book, Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope, will be published later this month by Mark Kelly, Congresswoman, Gabrielle Gifford’s husband, which will recount Gabby’s struggles after being seriously injured by a gun shot to her head near Tucson, Arizona in January 2011. I am eager to read this book.

And if this is not enough, then wait for my book to be published. My book, title to be announced, is an account of my husband, David’s, traumatic brain injury, his fierce dedication to recover, and his return to his Columbia University lab – all the while living as normal a life as possible. I am within site of the completion of the second editing of my book. Copy editing to follow – then on to the tedious process to locate a publisher. Wish me luck!

I hope that my account of David’s determination, perseverance, and healing in style and with grace, will stand proudly on the shelves of libraries and book stores around the world. I hope that it will be an aid to others who  suffer from or will suffer from Traumatic Brain Injury, for their families who tenderly care for them, and for the thousands of professional caretakers in hospitals and nursing homes who daily tend to the needs of their brain injured patients.

Neuroanatomist, Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor; Businesswoman, Valerie Greene; ELLE Editor, Jean-Dominique Bauby; ABC News Corespondent, Bob Woodruff; Congresswoman, Gabby Giffords; and Columbia Professor of Microbiology, Dr. David Figurski share a commonality … the will to live and the determination to do it well and with grace.

I salute each of you.

November 4, 2011 Posted by | Musings by Donna, Traumatic Brain Injury - TBI | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

TidBits About Donna #42 Wee Bit More About Me

DONNA O’DONNELL FIGURSKI, among many other things, is a children’s book writer.

I discovered writing for children during a writer’s course at Teacher’s College of Columbia University in New York City, where my instructors strongly encouraged me to develop my writing skills. Ever since, I have been writing in one form or another.

Since 2002 I have worked as a children’s book reviewer. My reviews can be viewed in my column called TEACHER’S PETS at These reviews take an interesting twist. I not only review the book, but a team of children ages six-years-old to twelve-years-old review them with me. I also write two lesson plans that teachers may use with the featured book, as well as provide suggestions for additional books and websites to complement the book.

As a member of SCBWI, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, the Host for the Children’s Writers Workshop at the Careers and Workplace on America Online, and the registrar for KINDLING WORDS: the RETREAT, I have met many wonderfully supportive and helpful writer friends.

A warm and funny friend, Paula Danziger, (now deceased and very missed) was the author of more than thirty books for children. The Cat Ate My Gymsuit, published in 1974 was her debut book. Her Amber Brown books were probably her most favorite and loved books by children all over the world. Paula was kind enough to critique my picture book manuscript, A School is NO Place for a Frog, over much laughter and sushi one afternoon in New York City.

The first time Paula called my house she received the following voicemail message. “I’m sorry, we don’t answer our phone, please leave a message and we’ll call you back.” She left the following message amid hysterical laughter. “Donna, if you don’t use that in a book, I will.” I wish she had lived long enough to use it.

Another long-time friend, Marilyn Singer, author of Tallulah’s Tutu and Mirror Mirror, and more than ninety other titles spread over the genres of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry added her expertise to some of my stories, too.

I am always grateful to another dear friend, Barbara Seuling, whose qualifications are many. Barbara wears the hats of editor, picture book and middle-grade novel writer, and she sits on the SCBWI advisory board. Barbara has written more than fifty books for young children, including Oh No, Its Robert, as well as a reference book for children’s writers titled, How to Write a Children’s Book and Get It Published. Barbara has had direct input on several of my picture book manuscripts through her many online courses, which I have taken with her; and through her Vermont Writing workshop, which she offers in both New York City and Vermont. I took it in Vermont – a most beautiful, quiet, and quaint countryside. Barbara has been an invaluable influence on my writing.

I have published four stories in the Scholastic Press Literacy Place 2000 anthology. These books are found in classrooms all over the United States as supplementary materials which compliment the reading programs. The third grade titles are A Star Wish, and Miss Emma Gets Her Way. The story in the fourth grade book is called The Legend of the Silver Birch, and Never Going to Grow Up can be read in the book for fifth graders. I have also published an activity called Snowflake Snippets in MAILBOX magazine, which focuses on teacher classroom interests. As a 1st and 3rd grade teacher for nearly thirty years, I have had an enthusiastic audience for my stories, and I draw many story ideas from my students. My passion for writing parallels my enthusiasm for teaching and I feel very fortunate that each complements the other.

I am very proud to note that I was nominated for and included in the 2000 edition of Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers. This was a great honor since the nomination was from a former 1st grade student of mine who was a high school senior at the time of the nomination. Since this first honor, I have also been nominated and included in both the 2004 and the 2006 editions of Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers.

Currently, I am under contract with Salina Bookshelf INC Multicultural Publishing for two chapters, which will be included in two books about Native Americans. One chapter is the biography of Buffy Sainte-Marie, singer, songwriter, and political activist. The other chapter is about poet and professor, Luci Tapahonso. Writing Buffy’s biography was enlightening and such fun. A thirty minute phone interview with her from her home in Hawaii proved what a warm, caring, and totally dedicated person she is. Countless emails flew between our computers as I gathered information for the chapter. When I finally met Buffy for a few moments after her concert in Santa Fe some years ago, I was convinced she is a very special woman. I am proud to have been selected to write her biography.

I am currently looking for publishing homes for a number of my picture book manuscripts including, A School is NO Place for a Frog, Kanona Prattsby, and “Tie Your Shoes, Miss Tress.” I have also finished the second draft of a memoir about my husband, David, who suffered a traumatic brain injury in 2005. I hope to shop around that amazing survival story soon.

I happily live with my husband and best friend, David. We have two children, Kiersten and Jared, one son-in-law, Falko, and two grandchildren, Treska and Kaya.

(Clip Art compliments of

Paula Danziger

Barbara Seuling

Marilyn Singer

Buffy Sainte-Marie

Columbia University Teachers College

October 14, 2011 Posted by | TidBits About Donna | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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