Jeri walks in with her son at his wedding, May 2011. “After six years of someone holding me up so I could walk, I was holding HIM up that day!”
I was commuting to my office that morning to see patients in my role as a certified nurse midwife. An oncoming car abruptly turned in front of me. When I attempted to stop quickly to avoid the car, I flipped the bike. I landed on the right side of my head, hitting just behind my right ear. My helmet broke on impact, but my doctor believes that if not for the helmet I probably would not be alive, so it did serve its function.
The first diagnosis I received was concussion. As symptoms worsened and persisted, the label changed to traumatic brain injury. I had no other injuries, so it was hard to believe so much damage had occurred. I learned this was typical: TBI has been called an "invisible disability." Its lack of obvious outer signs often makes it difficult for people with this problem to get the care, understanding, and accommodations that they need.
I entered an outpatient rehabilitation program in order to learn compensatory skills and work on balance problems. I remained in the program about three years. After the first year I was told that I would not be able to return to my work, or any other form of competitive employment. I did not have access to a cognitive therapy day program but did work on cognitive rehabilitation through my speech and language pathologist. Later I worked with resources we found on our own. I also learned pottery, as a way to work on eye-hand coordination and as a creative outlet. I left rehab having gained as much benefit as they expected I would achieve.
On leaving rehab, I faced the task of trying to figure out how to live a very different life than what I had known before. I no longer had my work which I had considered a calling. None of my previous recreational activities were possible, I had very limited involvement in family or church activities. It was difficult just to be out of the house. I could not tolerate noise, motion, crowds, changing light, or anything else that quickly overwhelmed my brain's ability to filter and process. Household chores were impossible at first. Eventually I relearned some, but everything was limited by constant fatigue. If I did laundry I had to sleep the rest of the day. A trip to a store or a doctor visit might cost two days energy.
After the first years of not comprehending what had happened, I gradually became more aware of my deficits and went through a time of depression and grieving. I wanted my life back. I began to realize that I needed to move past my focus on life “before” and figure what I could do with what I had left. It was during this time that I first read about research at the University of Wisconsin called "Cranial Nerve Non-Invasive Neuro- Modulation" (CN-NINM).
It is an easy thing to say that we know we are loved and valued by God just as we are. I found it harder to really believe and accept that I was still worthy of God’s acceptance and maybe even some role in God's work. I had to make peace with my current self and begin to build a different kind of life.
I now know that this acceptance was essential to my mental/emotional and spiritual recovery. When others ask, "Don't you wish you had gotten into the research sooner?", I can sincerely say, "No, I needed the time to be healthier and ready for the next step."
In September of 2010 I got the opportunity to be a subject in the CN-NINM program and found my life suddenly and dramatically changed again. The gains I have made in this program seem nothing short of miraculous. Although the researchers insist they have a solid basis in science, not miracles, I have to consider that the God-given minds that figured out this science are miraculous in their own right.
Jeri’s first visit to the Wisconsin Project lab. Photo courtesy Montel Network
By sending electrical stimuli through the cranial nerves in my tongue, a research device tells my brain stem that balance, vision, etc. are working properly. This allows the brain stem to "reset," that is, to communicate more appropriately with the rest of the brain, forming new neuropathways by continued retraining and practice.
Even after a setback caused by an auto accident last December, I am now at a pre-TBI level of functioning physically, and very close cognitively. I have another year in the research and can then anticipate that the new neuropathway development will be permanent, allowing me to return to whatever work I choose to pursue. I am already back to running, biking, water-skiing, and most recently, driving. I am able to attend church, concerts, movies, do my own grocery shopping, and the list goes on and on!
The researchers have also done trials with Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson's, and stroke patients. They are having great success in these areas also. They anticipate working with even more disorders that occur when disconnections happen in the brain due to various processes and diseases. With further study and funding, the potential exists to dramatically improve the lives of many people.
To view a short, inspiring video about The Wisconsin Project (including before and after clips of Jeri) visit the website of former talk show host, Montel Williams, who is enrolled in the MS study. To learn more about CN-NINM, visit the research lab’s website. See photos of Jeri's recovery below.
Jeri Lake and her family attend First Mennonite Church of Champaign-Urbana (Illinois).
After six years of no balance or strength, Jeri was back on a slalom water ski this summer.
Jeri, on her road bike, finishing the last day of the Habitat 500 in July 2011. She writes, “I had participated in a 500-mile bike ride fund raiser for Habitat for Humanity for several years before the accident. This year I got to return to help with support for the ride. I actually was able to ride sixty miles on the last day with my cycling friends!”
Jeri with her granddaughter. Jeri, at the end of the first week in the research, September, 2010: “I had told the researchers that what I really wanted was to be able to play with my granddaughter and catch her up and spin her around. We left Madison and headed straight to Goshen to show our kids what had happened to me. I got out of the car two blocks from my daughter's home, ran right down the middle of Eighth Street into the cheering crowd of my children. I picked the baby up and spun her around. Unfortunately it scared her to death! Since I was so different than the grandma she was used to, she didn't know me. We got reacquainted soon and are now loving all the fun things we can do together.”