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 #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 #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

TidBits About Donna #41 Living Nightmare — TBI

Living Nightmare  — TBI

I’m living a nightmare and I’m glad that I am. Sounds strange . . . huh?  Who would want to be trapped in a nightmare every waking moment? Well, I don’t want to be trapped here, but here I am nonetheless. I would prefer to take my happy, secure life back with my husband, David . . . taking long walks each evening after dinner, going out on the weekends for our Friday and Saturday night dates. Strolling . . . forget strolling . . . he never strolled, through the parks on Sunday mornings in all seasons to our favorite breakfast restaurant, The Petite Café. But on January 13th, 2005 our lives burst . . . when something burst inside David’s head. The doctors call it a TBI, a Traumatic Brain Injury. I call it a Living Nightmare.

If I weren’t trapped in this nightmare, it would mean that David did not survive. Then it would be another nightmare altogether, but a nightmare just the same. So that’s why I can say that “I’m living a nightmare and I am glad that I am.” I can’t imagine life without my husband, and although David is with me, life has changed.

David wasn’t expected to survive his first brain surgery. His head filled with blood. He was in excruciating pain and the paramedics rushed him to the nearest hospital – well, they didn’t exactly rush him. Weren’t they supposed to? In every movie I’ve ever seen, the paramedics ran. They always seemed to have a sense of urgency about them and the situation. Our paramedics ambled. They ambled around their truck to get some equipment. They ambled slowly, oh so slowing up the stairs to the bedroom. Slowly, oh so slowing, they asked David what was bothering him. I wondered why they couldn’t comprehend the urgency. David was unable to speak. He was writhing on the bed, holding his head, sweat pouring from his body, and he was screaming. When they finally placed the oxygen mask over David’s face, relief came. He became silent and I was grateful. He looked peaceful, but I later realized that he had slipped into a coma. This was bad, but at least it brought him some peace.

When David arrived at the hospital emergency room, the doctors assessed the situation, sent him for a CAT scan and decided to perform immediate surgery to evacuate the blood from the massive hematoma. But there were more surprises in store. An aneurysm was found, which needed to be removed. An AVM (Arterial Venous Malformation) was also discovered. This also needed to be excised. Three emergency brain surgeries were performed on my husband in less than two weeks.

For each surgery I was told that David had a small percentage to live. He may not survive. Still, I had to sign on the dotted line. Me! David’s life was in my hands. A very scary thought! His life was in his surgeon’s hands, too. Many of the doctors that worked on David at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York City were former students of his. During medical school they had taken his Med-Micro course. (Microbiology for Medical students) I remember thinking. “I hope David taught them well and I hope that they learned well. For now David’s life was in their hands, too. I wanted to ask David’s opinion. Did he want this surgery? We always confer on important decisions, and this seemed to be the most important one of our lives. I wanted to shake him awake from his coma. I needed to know if I was making the right decision. I needed him to help me, but he lay sleeping in a coma and he remained that way for nearly four weeks and I had to make the hardest decisions of my life – alone. And so I signed – over and over and over again. I had no choice. If the operations were not performed, David would surely die and I could surely not live if he did.

Although David is a survivor, he battled three brain surgeries, the nightmare continues. The brain trauma affected all of his motor skills and has reduced his motility to almost an infantile stage. He has to relearn to walk. His balance was and is still greatly affected. Although he has made significant gains in this area, he still has a long road to travel. For the first month after the surgeries, David remained in the NICU (Neurological Intensive Care Unit.) While there, the right side of his body was paralyzed. Within four weeks he became more aware and he slowly regained some movement. Then he moved to the Kessler Rehabilitation Center in East Orange, New Jersey, where he began the struggle to relearn to walk. At that time the best way to describe David was like a rag doll. He had as much balance and coordination as Raggedy Andy. Even with a walker, David could topple over with a breeze. When, nearly a year later, he began to use a four-pronged cane, he was still very shaky and needed to be shadowed wherever he went. Now David is gaining strength and progress is steadily being made, though it is taking a very long time. David is able to walk on his own, but picture Star Wars CP3O. His walk is very robot-like and so concentrated. He is still unsteady and can easily lose his balance, and still needs someone to shadow him in the outside world, but he is able to maneuver himself around our home rather freely. That’s not to say that I am not worried every waking moment.

David’s speech was also very affected. It was near impossible to understand him after they removed the trache. His voice was raspy and his words were garbled. Fortunately, today, although his voice is still gravelly and his speech is still very pronounced, he can be understood, but he may never regain the same beautiful voice he had before the TBI. Sometimes, I call him marble-mouth or marshmallow-mouth because sometimes it seems as if his words are climbing over marbles or marshmallows to get out, but that only happens when he is really, really tired or when he is actually eating marshmallows. “It’s hard work to talk,”  he tells me. I know! I see his silent struggle. Most folks take everything for granted. It’s natural. It’s normal. It’s not until you lose something, that you realize how valuable it is. It’s not until you have to struggle to attain something that its meaning is redefined. It’s hard work to open a door or brush your teeth when your hand won’t cooperate – when it shakes uncontrollably with ataxia. It’s hard work to stand up, or sit down or take a step when you have no balance. It’s hard work to take a sip of water, eat a bowl of ice cream or even sleep when you can’t swallow properly; when you fear aspiration or choking to death. It’s hard work to see double, blurry, tilted images 24/7 . . . well maybe 17/7, (I don’t think David dreams in double, blurry, tilted images) or it’s hard work to read a computer screen with the font raised to 24 with the images bouncing around the screen. Make them Stop! It’s hard work even going to the bathroom – judging the time – since it takes so long to get there (balance) unfastening the belt ( ataxia.) Throw in a little neurogenic bladder disorder and paralysis and it makes for a lot of uncertainty. Living with TBI Traumatic Brain Injury is simply HARD WORK!

Dr. David H. Figurski Professor – Columbia University talking about Actinobacillus actinomycetemcomitans or A. actinomycetemcomitans (“Don’t ask me. I haven’t a clue. I can’t even pronounce it,” said Donna. “I just call it by its short name — AA.”)

David recently presented an hour-long speech at a scientific symposium in Colorado. It was very well received and he enjoyed many compliments, not only on the results of his work and that of his students, but many of the scientists made a point to tell him that he was completely understandable. One professor even invited him to speak at her university in the near future. That was the final vote of confidence. Then shortly after David’s  Colorado talk, he also presented his work at a scientific symposium at UCSD the University of California at San Diego in honor of his post-graduate mentor, Dr. Don Helinski. Don was retiring after 41 years and David, as well as many of Don’s students and post docs gathered at the university to honor him in retirement. David received many accolades as many professors, some friends, many colleagues in his field congratulated him not only on his presentation and his delivery, but also on his determination, motivation, and progress through this very difficult and trying recovery time.

David also struggles to overcome ataxia in his right hand. He recently met and shook hands with each of my first graders. They laughed, all in good humor, while he tried to steady his hand long enough to grasp each of theirs. That hand is so out of control.

Then one night after dinner, I laughed as I watched Monique, a friend of ours, and David try to put together three magnetic rods and three magnetic balls to make a triangle using ONLY his right hand. I laughed as his hand jiggled all over the place and the balls rolled away from him; and I laughed as Monique slapped my hands when I tried to help him catch the balls. I laughed as I tried to do this task and found it not as easy as it sounds and David laughed at me. I laughed and Monique laughed and David laughed. And that’s how we get through life in the Disability Lane. Without a sense of humor, this nightmare would be unbearable.

David has a good attitude and he rarely lets anything get him down. (Oh, he does sometimes, but it’s rare. I even lose it sometimes, too, but don’t tell anyone.) A good attitude is essential because there is no easy, fast way out of this abyss. I glimpse a light at the end of the tunnel. It’s dim for certain, but I do see a glimmer. It’s just that I have no idea how long this tunnel is.

I think of this nightmare like a traffic jam on the interstate. You are driving along at 65 miles per hour – maybe a little faster – cruising – taking every bend and curve in stride. Life is good!  Then POW! Hit those brakes, switch gears and wait. You know something is ahead – an accident, construction,  a little glitch in your day/life. You know you will get to your destination, though you may be a little late. It’s just an annoying interruption in your trip and you know you have to wait it out. You know you have to inch along. You just don’t know how long the interruption is going to take. And so you wait – patiently or maybe not so patiently, but you wait nonetheless.

In David’s case his jam is his brain trauma – a major accident – and it’s going to take a LOT of reconstruction of brain cells and nerve cells before he maneuvers his way out of this jam. Patience is key. It’s not easy, just as it’s not easy to sit in a traffic jam not knowing when you will arrive at the end of the glitch, and be able to smooth sail again. And so the tunnel is long – long, like the Lincoln Tunnel in rush hour traffic; long, as I peer around the edges of the cars and busses in front of me; long, as I strain to see around each bend in the tunnel longing to see the light; long, when I finally do glimpse light only to realize it is a reflection and not REAL. LONG! LONG! LONG! – but knowing that it is there somewhere in some time.

And so, David and I continue to travel this long road of disability until we reach the light at the end of our tunnel.

Donna and David enjoying a little Mexican food and atmosphere in Encinitas, California Summer 2006

And so the nightmare goes on and on and on, but through it all we have each other and for that we are very fortunate. BUT, we won’t accept this plight. We will battle and we will fight and we will WIN!


(Photographs compliments of ME.)

(Clipart compliments of

August 5, 2011 Posted by | TidBits About Donna, Traumatic Brain Injury - TBI | , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

TidBits About Donna #35 Crafting Beads and Words

I’ve been a pharmacy girl. During my pre-teen and teenage years, I worked with my dad every weekend in one of his two pharmacies. Lakewood Pharmacy in Erie and Fairview Pharmacy in Fairview – of course. Both were in or near my childhood hometown of Erie, Pennsylvania. I’ve been receptionist and a transcript clerk at the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Rochester.

I’ve been a hairdresser at the Pink Puff Salon in Rochester, New York. I’ve been a teacher assistant in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, California. And now I am a 1st and/or 3rd grade teacher in New Jersey.

I am a writer of children’s stories (gently published in the education market) and an author-in-progress of a sixty-two chapter memoir about David’s traumatic brain injury. So what will I be next? That thought has been rolling around my mind for some time.

It’s easy! Peek into my office and you’ll readily see where my next paths lead. Glance around. You will see my bookshelves housing more than two-thousand children’s books, writing craft books, and my educational tomes. Then you’ll probably see me at my keyboard in my little, black, swivel chair. It’s where I spend most of my home time – writing, of course. It’s what I do when I want to escape, when I want to relax, when I want my mind to drift away from the ordinary and the mundane. My writing envelops me in higher levels of existence. I write and then I wonder – where did the words COME from? Truly when I sit at my keyboard with my mind, sometimes blank, I wonder how the words fill my screen. They were not there moments ago. They weren’t even a glimmer in my mind. So how did they appear? I don’t know. I marvel each time my fingers skip across the keys and the words magically present themselves and … somehow they make sense. The mind is a wonderful, confusing, and marvelous invention. So writing is definitely in my future. It is a craft I will continue to practice. I say practice because only by writing often will I improve my skill.

Spin my swivel chair 180˚ and you will be in my jewelry studio. There’s not much to see, but it is here that I craft one-of-a-kind jewelry … necklaces with earrings to match. I surround myself with beads in every color and design, semi-precious stones, and glittery, shiny crystals. My tools, a flat nose pliers, bent nose pliers, and my round nose pliers are a must. A variety of findings, wire, and chains make it fun to create many different styles. Hours easily slip by as I thread beads in funky designs. My mind is engrossed as I wrap and dangle stones while I perfect my craft. As with writing, crafting jewelry allows my mind to slow down, to empty of all unneccesary thoughts. I don’t know how the future will end, but I know it will begin with words and beads and stones.

I designed all of the necklaces below, except for one. Can you find the one I did not make?

(Pictures compliments of ME.)

(Clipart compliments of

January 20, 2011 Posted by | TidBits About Donna | , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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