Imagine being “thrown across the inside of the car, pushed over the stick shift and having the back of your head smashed into a broken door handle.” Weeks later, you wake up from a coma in the hospital, in agonizing pain and unable to move or speak.
Shortly after, you find out that you defied all scientific medical odds and overcame the 1% chance you were given by doctors to survive traumatic brain injury (TBI).
This is what happened to the beautiful, Pamela Jansen. From the darkness, she found light brighter than most will ever see!
Not only did Pamela survive TBI, she is flourishing in her life now as an actress, author and motivational speaker. Her smile is infectious and her personality and humor will have you smiling and leave you motivated and inspired.
Pamela grew up like any typical, bright-eyed, beautiful young lady. She loved to play all kinds of sports, was training for the Ice Capades and had many other dreams and aspirations. However, all that was taken away from her in an instant on December 6, 1978, when she was broadsided by a truck while driving home from work.
In hopes of helping others who may have lost hope that change is possible, Pamela agreed to answer some questions about how she managed to overcome the major obstacles of traumatic brain injury.
Ever since the day I began sharing my story with people, it was like I had been buttered up and frosted like an angel food cake... To them, Pam was such an example of courage. What had yet to be witnessed though, was the anger inside, pushed down so deep that even I was not about to confront it. I was furious that this happened. Why me? As long as I still considered myself a victim of my accident, I knew I wasn't going to move forward. I was not loving that little girl inside of me who needed it so much, and I knew that had to change.
Q: What was it like when you woke up from the coma?
A: Waking up from the coma was a gradual process. The initial CAT Scan determined I sustained a cerebral contusion along with a brain stem injury… There I was at 21 years old, wearing diapers, fed meals through a tube inserted into my nostril, a tracheotomy that overflowed often and I was drooling 90% of the time. I wasn’t able to communicate the sensation of severe pain. I was unable to move the left side of my body and had no voice… But I was awake enough to think. Where am I? What’s happening? Why can’t I talk?
Q: When you were awake enough to begin therapy, what was that like mentally and physically?
A: I was in a childlike state and given the job of growing up again. Not only did I have to learn to do physical things again, I had to learn to deal with the childlike emotions that arose while also dealing with a severe handicap. It wasn't an easy journey stepping back into a world which is focused on outward appearances. I just wanted to fit in once again.
Physically, nurses had to lift my shoulders, supporting my back until I was sitting up. I am like an infant, who is unable to sit up without being held onto, with my chin resting on my chest.
Q: Do you believe you took your good health and abilities for granted before your accident?
A: I took everything regarding my health and abilities for granted. Being a normal kid, growing up playing softball, kickball, volleyball swimming, skiing, ice skating, etc. It's just so easy as a child to think that abilities are a natural phenomenon. What a God given gift that was to be able to ice skate, for example. Did I realize it? No.
Q: Upon waking from the coma, how did you make the decision to fight to recover, rather than to just give up?
A: The incentive to try to regain what was ripped away from me came upon discharge from the hospital. I had lived there for six months and had been exposed to only people with a handicap or people that were used to being around handicapped people. That's when my journey began with the realization that hit me: "Hey I'm not a statistic." Life at the hospital was like entering into a different dimension. You were surrounded with heartbreaking tragedies... These patients are dealing with not only the horror of what has happened to them, they are having to deal with the depression that surrounds it. I couldn’t even visualize the years ahead at that [beginning] point of my recovery… I was one angry woman… There were many points where sheer frustration filled me with the strength and determination to fight for life. I just hated being stared at by people or being told by a teacher that I did not belong in a drafting class because I was handicapped.
Q: In what ways did your relationships with the people in your life change after your accident, from the way they were before your accident?
A: Most of my friends just did not have time for me anymore. I've learned over the years that, you just don't need friends like that. A true friend is someone who will stick by you.
Q: Can you share some of the goals you set for yourself and what are the hurdles that sometimes get in the way?
A: My goals continue to evolve and I am so encouraged to always arrive at a positive outcome. A major hurdle for me would be the physical pain, but I don’t allow it to hinder my progress. If it becomes too annoying, I’ll take a pain pill, work, then nap. My present goal is my second book which, as of now, is a work in progress.
Q: If you had to pick the most important lesson or message that you would like readers to come away with after they read your book, How I Became a Fearless Woman, what would that be?
A: Do you really want to waste such precious time by dwelling on what you cannot do? Or just pick up and start with what you can do? It’s a free country and again, the final decision is yours to make. You need to tell yourself, like I did every day, “I’m not a statistic.”
A message from Pamela:
I am just the average woman who ran into misfortune. It could have happened to anyone. There are times when I feel sad, self-conscious, lonely and I lose patience with myself. All that to say, Pam's normal! I do lose patience with myself because I want to be better NOW, but then I realize how fortunate I am to be alive! We all are!
We all have a choice though, when something of this nature happens. To just exist, or to pick up and live a full life by learning how to deal with limitations. I chose the latter.
Click HERE to see Pamela Jansen in a live show on July 27, 2011 for the Women Empowerment Show. Watch Pamela's big bright smile, wonderful laugh and engaging personality. She's amazing!
Click HERE to see a slideshow of pictures of Pamela's journey as a survivor of traumatic brain injury.
The author of this article, Dr. KC Kelly wishes to thank Pamela Jansen for sharing her deeply moving story. Thank you, Pamela, for answering my questions, allowing me to quote from your book How I Became a Fearless Woman, and for your honesty, openness and willingness to tell your story. I also wish to thank you for your friendship. You inspire me, as well as countless others, every day – and for that -- my appreciation is boundless.
This material in this article is copyrighted and may only be respectfully re-distributed for non-commercial or educational purposes with written permission from Ms. Pamela Jansen.