According to the Centers for Disease Control, 2.8-million people a year suffer a traumatic brain injury in the United States. That number could be low, as many injuries go undetected or unreported. WKAR’s Scott Pohl recently talked with Amy Zellmer, author of “Embracing the Journey: Moving Forward After Brain Injury.” She was in town to speak at a conference held by the Origami Brain Injury Rehabilitation Center in Mason.
Her story begins on a cold winter day in 2014. Zellmer was walking down the incline of her driveway in St. Paul, Minnesota and as can happen, she slipped on a patch of black ice and landed on her head. She describes the time since that day as a long, interesting road to recovery. “I got up and I had excruciating pain where my head had hit the ground," Zellmer explains. "I was seeing stars in my eyes off to the side, and my eyes were having a lot of trouble focusing. I knew immediately that I wasn’t OK, but I really didn’t know the depth of what had happened to me.”
Doctors told Zellmer that she had suffered a severe concussion and that she should feel fine in four to six weeks, but it didn’t work out that way. After about six months of symptoms like struggling to use an ATM or a gas pump, she saw a neurologist, but that didn’t help much. Finally, after 2-½ years, she found what she thinks was the right treatment for her particular case when she started seeing a chiropractor with a background in neurology. “He understands how the eyes and the brain are connected. My dizzy imbalance was my eyes," Zellmer continues. "That’s what I had been telling doctors. I’d been asking for help. My eyes just didn’t feel right. From the minute I got up, my eyes weren’t right.”
Her treatment started with simple eye exercises, and once she got the hang of that, Zellmer says the dizziness started going away within days. She still does those exercises, but stress, fatigue or overstimulation sometimes force her to rest. For the most part, she puts her improvement at 80% or 90%.
Zellmer says the onset of symptoms doesn’t always equate to how long recovery will take, and adds that no two brain injuries are the same. “How I present might not be exactly how someone else is going to present. Someone with a more severe injury could actually have a quicker recovery than someone with a mild injury like mine. Technically, mine was considered mild," concludes Zellmer. "Here I am four years later and I still have symptoms, and I think that’s most misunderstood part of it. It can be a lifelong condition.”
A photographer by trade, Zellmer has taken up writing. She has been published by the Huffington Post, and “Embracing the Journey: Moving Forward After Brain Injury” is her third book on the subject.