A Personal Story from a TBI Survivor

In honor of Brain Injury Awareness Month, we are thrilled to share the personal survival story of a local veteran who is one of Empower Tennessee’s Empowered Ladies peer support group members.

My name is Susan Kelly Sanders and I go by Kelly. I am a 56-year-young military veteran. My adventure began in 1981 when I joined the Alabama Army National Guard while in the ROTC at Middle Tennessee State University.  Funny sidebar, I joined the ROTC program because it offered a free trip to Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Louisiana to “march” in a few parades. Despite my initial motivation, ROTC gave me the opportunity to be in the Early Commissioning Program. Through which I earned the rank of 2nd lieutenant in 1983, three years before graduating. Continuing with my progress, I was promoted to 1st lieutenant in 1985, graduated college in 1986, and was promoted to Captain in 1988.  While participating at the summer encampment in Starke, FL (Camp Blanding); I met the love of my life, a romantically traumatic experience that had me relocate to Stuttgart, Germany where I served as the liaison officer for the 5th Corps and the 167th COSCOM (corps support command).

Life went smoothly for a while, but slowly started unraveling in 1991 when I was transferred to another unit that could better utilize my skills. Unfortunately, it was not a good fit for me. Eventually, I decided to go into the Irregular Ready Reserves, but was honorably discharged in April of 1997. I moved to Texas to explore my job options; then, on September 7 that same year, I incurred a severe closed head injury while attempting to bridle an unbroken horse.  My full story is located at:   http://kellygirltn.mysite.com/

After six weeks in a coma I was transferred to Vanderbilt StallWorth Rehab hospital to continue rehabilitation, such as Occupational, physical, and Speech therapy. Later, I completed an intense driving skills training program at Tennessee Rehabilitation Center (TRC) in Smyrna.  Personally speaking, these rehab programs were almost as challenging to me as recovering from the injury itself.

Perseverance got me through all of the programs though. My TBI even lead me to train for three new vocations.  I trained as a massage therapist, a certified nurse assistant and reflexologist.  I’m now in training to become a cranial sacral therapist. This career shift actually better compliments my BS degree in Therapeutic recreation. I am passionate about my career and know I am on the right path. It has been a long, hard journey but I am not just surviving; I am thriving!