Press Release for

Prisoners without Bars: A Caregiver's Tale

November 1, 2018

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:                                                    

 

 

 Contact: Angelle Barbazon, lead publicist

angelle@jkscommunications.com

(615) 576-0497

 

“LIFE SWIRLED AROUND ME, BUT I DIDN’T FEEL IT.”

New memoir chronicles life of a wife suddenly thrust into the role of her husband’s caregiver following a traumatic brain injury

 

SURPRISE, Arizona – Donna O’Donnell Figurski’s nightmare began when the neurosurgeon said her husband, David, would be a great organ donor. David had suffered a traumatic brain injury and over the following two weeks, he survived three brain surgeries, defeating desperate odds. For the next 13 years, Donna took on the often-overlooked role of caregiver to her husband, who never fully recovered.

 

In her debut memoir releasing on Nov. 1, 2018, Prisoners without Bars: A Caregiver’s Tale, Donna recalls the moment she was thrust onto the path of caregiver for her best friend and love of her life.

 

“I felt like an ill-equipped lifeguard in a deep, rough ocean with a struggling victim,” Donna writes. “I could barely keep my head above water, but I had to keep treading water, or we’d both drown.”

 

Prisoners without Bars is not only a story of Donna unexpectedly becoming a caregiver to her husband after his sudden brain injury, but it is also a story of love and of finding hope even in dire straits. Though Donna struggles with her new role as a caregiver, she remains positive throughout David’s recovery.

 

“When David had his brain injury, I was lost,” Donna says. “I searched the Internet for books that could help me understand what was happening – books to let me know that I was not alone in this terrifying new world. There were few. So, I wrote Prisoners without Bars: A Caregiver’s Tale. I hope folks will read my book before they find themselves in a similar plight.”

 

DONNA O’DONNELL FIGURSKI is the author of “Prisoners without Bars: A Caregiver’s Tale” releasing on Nov. 1, 2018. She is the host of Another Fork in the Road on the Brain Injury Radio Network, and is the creator and writer for her blog, Surviving Traumatic Brain Injury (.com) and her website, Donna O’Donnell Figurski—Author at donnafigurski.com. She is a frequent contributor to both print and online journals and magazines, including Hope Magazine, Lash and Associates Publishing Blog, The Mighty, BrainLine, and Disabled Magazine. And to lighten things up, Donna pens picture-book manuscripts for children and has published four children's stories with Scholastic. Donna claims her greatest accomplishment is being caregiver to her husband and high school sweetheart, David, who had a traumatic brain injury in 2005. She and David live in the Arizona desert.

www.JKSCommunications.com | 3926 Gallatin Pike, Suite B., Nashville, TN 37216

Angelle Barbazon, lead publicist | (615) 576-0497 | angelle@jkscommunications.com

ABOUT THE BOOK

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Prisoners without Bars: A Caregiver’s Tale”

Donna O'Donnell Figurski | November 1, 2018

WriteLife Publishing

ISBN: 978-1608082056 | $16.95

Biography | Memoir

 

 

 

 

In an interview, DONNA O’DONNELL FIGURSKI can discuss:

  • What caregivers are and the general unawareness of the culture of caregivers

  • The important, yet often overlooked, roles caregivers play in the lives of their care recipients

  • The non-discriminating nature of brain injuries and their unique impact on a survivor

  • The “new normal” in her marriage: Donna’s personal experience taking on the role of caregiver to her husband, David, after his brain injury and how she adapted to her new position in his life. Plus advice to couples where one partner has taken on a caregiving role and how laughter is the best medicine

  • Why grieving is okay

  • Celebrating each day of life, rebirth

  • Joining support groups

  • The importance of more training for handling situations involving brain injuries for those who work in medicine, insurance, law, law enforcement and first-responder positions

  • Combating ableism in our culture through raising awareness

  • How caregivers can ask for and accept help that is offered

  • How to provide proper care to caregivers

www.JKSCommunications.com | 3926 Gallatin Pike, Suite B., Nashville, TN 37216

Angelle Barbazon, lead publicist | (615) 576-0497 | angelle@jkscommunications.com

www.JKSCommunications.com | 3926 Gallatin Pike, Suite B., Nashville, TN 37216

Angelle Barbazon, lead publicist | (615) 576-0497 | angelle@jkscommunications.com

An Interview with

DONNA O’DONNELL FIGURSKI

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How did David’s brain injury happen?


One chin-up – 13 instead of 12, like every day before. That 13th chin-up was the culprit that altered David's life forever. It changed mine too.

 

That extra chin-up caused something to burst inside David’s head. The doctors called it a cerebellar bleed or a subarachnoid hemorrhage. I called it “a living nightmare.”

 

Obviously, taking on the role of caregiver to your husband wasn’t something you prepared for – how did you learn the necessary skills to take on this new role when injury strikes suddenly?


Taking on the role of caregiver after a brain injury, or any debilitating disease, illness, or traumatic event in another’s life is a completely unexpected and crippling chore. No one is ever prepared for that immense responsibility. It’s like being thrown into the deep end of a pool with no life preserver. It’s sink or swim – or perhaps more like tread. Continuous treading just to keep your head above water. I also liken the initial stages of caregiving to Caregiving 101. You learn one day at a time. As each new puzzle is thrown at you, you must solve it. Essentially, I just took one day at a time – or one minute at a time to be more accurate – and put one foot in front of the other – step-by-step.

 

Throughout the years, Google became my best friend. Since Google is available 24/7, I’d just ask Google.

 

What advice can you give someone who is suddenly and unpredictably thrust into a similar position? Is there something you wish you knew 13 years ago when you first took on the role of your husband’s caregiver?

 

You can do it! But, lean on someone, or a lot of “someones.” Take proffered help from family and friends. Look to social media. There is always someone to talk with on Facebook 24/7. Connect with others who are going through similar issues that you and your care recipient are going through. It’s much easier to know you are not alone. I belong to about 20 Facebook groups that cater to caregivers and brain injury survivors. I’ve met many incredible people who I call friends, though we have not yet met in person.

 

I wish that there were more books available when I first stepped onto the disability lane with David. I desperately wanted to know how others who were traveling this same path were faring. I wish that social media support groups were available back in 2005. Now a few clicks of the keyboard can connect you to others from your own living room. I would not have felt so alone. I thought David was the only one in the world with brain injury. Boy, was I wrong!

 

Why is your book titled “Prisoners without Bars?”

 

My book, “Prisoners without Bars: A Caregiver’s Tale,” evolved and transitioned through an array of titles from “Surviving Traumatic Brain Injury” and “Conquering Traumatic Brain Injury,” which I decided were too generic and boring, to just “Prisoner without Bars.” It transformed into “Prisoners without Bars” (notice the “s”) when an agent I was speaking with insisted that the book was about me too. When I finally resolved that I would retitle it to “Prisoners without Bars,” David and I discussed it and I added the subtitle, “A Caregiver’s Tale” to better characterize the book for readers.

 

But, why is it even titled “Prisoners without Bars?” Brain injury strips so much from survivors’ lives – and from their caregivers’ lives too. The part of the brain that is injured dictates what sort of challenges a survivor will have. David’s brain injury left his cognitive functions intact, but he is physically disabled. Among other problems, David’s balance is severely damaged. He is not able to leave our home environment without me assisting him. Essentially, he has become a prisoner in his own life. At the onset of David’s injury and for many years after, I too was a prisoner. I was a prisoner of David’s life.

 

What misconceptions did you have about brain injuries that you recognized in the aftermath of David’s injury? What misconceptions do you think the public has about brain injuries?

 

Frankly, I never gave brain injury a simple thought before my nephew had his three weeks before my husband, David. Then once David had his injury, my life was consumed with brain injury. It was a steep and very rapid learning curve. I guess, if pressed, I would have to admit I had no idea of how serious a brain injury was. In fact, I asked the paramedics if they could drop David and me off at home after his emergency treatment. I know, it sounds  ludicrous, but that is where my mind was during the event. I truly never thought that what was happening to David on that cold January morning in 2005 would impact our every-waking moments. But, it does and probably will for the rest of our lives.

 

I don’t believe that the majority of the public gives brain injuries much thought. There is a poster floating around social media that states: “Brain injury isn’t something that you think about, until it is the ‘only’ thing that you think about.” And that is so true. I never thought about brain injury. I never really knew anything about it, but I do now.

 

I do believe that the general public is becoming more aware of brain injury because of the media. Nearly 400,000 troops from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have suffered brain injury, (Defense and Veterans Brain injury Center: http://dvbic.dcoe.mil/dod-worldwide-numbers-tbi). An article in the Washington Post reported a study by the American Academy of Neurology in 2016 that showed that over 40 percent of retired NFL players show signs of brain injury.

 

I think social media groups on Facebook and Pinterest also help raise awareness of brain

injury and its serious implications as survivors of brain injury, their caregivers, and family and friends discuss its ramifications and offer support to each other.

 

​​

How have your lives changed since your husband’s brain injury?

 

Our lives have flipped like a coin. The consequences of brain injury seem to impact every minute of our lives. Because of David’s many disabilities, including balance, compromised vision, both bladder and swallowing issues, his ataxic right arm, and his inability to do many normal activities, his life has become slower and much more difficult. My duties have doubled as I take on the responsibilities that David once oversaw. Yes, doing the bills. Yuck! And…even taking out the trash. Double Yuck!

 

There are more than 65 million caregivers in the United States, yet so little is known about their lives and daily responsibilities. Why do you think that is?

 

Curious, huh? I guess most folks focus on the care-recipients. After all, they are the ones who are hurt or have experienced serious illness. Frankly, I never thought of myself as a caregiver for many years after David’s injury, though I was his right hand woman. He relied on me. Still does for many activities in his life. I just did what had to be done. A caregiver and author friend of mine, Rosemary Rawlins, says that caregivers are unsung heroes. And, she is so right.

 

Similarly, why is it important for the public to know and better understand the lives of caregivers?

 

I think it is extremely important for family and friends to understand the complexities of a caregiver’s life with their care recipient. Caregivers are often on duty 24/7. They are ever-alert. I know I was and still am. When David is sleeping, I wake in a flash. I don’t know why, but I have an inner alert system that triggers for the least possibility of danger. Think about how parents are immediately vigilant and at crib-side the moment their infant whimpers. I think caregivers are equipped with that same alarm system. Being always on-call can leave a caregiver weary and overwhelmed. If others realize a caregiver’s needs, perhaps they could help out sometimes. I know even a little help would be greatly appreciated. There are millions of caregivers, more than 65 million in the United States alone, so the chance of becoming a caregiver someday is great. Pay it forward. You may need someone else’s favor someday.

 

Caregivers of brain injury survivors are in it for the long haul. Brain injury cannot be compared to a broken bone, which given time will heal. Brain injury simply does not heal. Few survivors ever return to their pre-injury selves.

 

​​

How can caregivers get the care they need? Do you have any tips for self-care?

 

Caregivers need to accept any proffered help, and they should ask for help when they need it. Both of these suggestions are difficult for many. They were for me. If I accepted help, it made me feel weak. I needed to be strong and feel in control in order to tackle all the unknown challenges David’s brain injury was throwing at me. For the same reasons, I was not able to ask for help. That was not smart.

 

Now, I liken the caregiving experience to flying. We’ve all heard the aircraft attendants say, “In the event of a change of pressure in the cabin, affix your mask first, then help others.” It makes perfect sense. I wish I had known that in the beginning years of David’s brain injury. If you don’t care for yourself, you will be unable to care for others.

 

Start small. Squeeze whatever makes you happy into your day to make your life a little more fun and tolerable. Have a cup of tea, read a chapter in a book, take a walk, slip into a bubble bath, or ___________. Put anything that will make you happy into the empty slot. Restart! Refresh! Reboot! Take a deep breath and move on. You’ll feel better, and you’ll be better able to help your care recipient.

 

​​

Why did you write this book? What was your motivation?

 

When my husband, David, had a traumatic brain injury, I entered a new world, which I knew nothing about. I was lost. I scoured the Internet for books that would let me know that I was not alone in this terrifying new world. There were a few books about the topic, and I devoured them, but I couldn’t get enough. I wanted to know other people’s stories. I wanted to know how they made it through their journeys.

 

I never intended to write a book about our journey through the traumatic brain injury maze. (I usually wrote children’s picture book manuscripts.) But, after I put David to bed at 8:30 p.m., I continued to write detailed email updates to inform family and friends of his daily progress. After all, he was hanging by a slim thread. Writing helped to release my pain. Eventually, after a year of updates, I realized that I had a story to tell and that our story could offer hope and inspiration to others following in our path.

 

My husband and best friend was given little chance to survive any of his three brain surgeries. I was repeatedly told not to expect him to live on, and, yet, he did. He defied the slimmest odds. So, I wrote to offer motivation and encouragement to others walking this scary path. I wrote to let other survivors and caregivers know that there is hope. There is always hope! And, I wrote because I could.

 

“Prisoners without Bars: A Caregiver’s Tale,” is not only a story of our struggle, but it is also a love story. Though “Prisoners” addresses a dire topic, it is peppered with comedic situations. I believe that laughter is the best medicine. David and I thrived on laughter. The journey of brain injury is difficult for both the survivor and the caregiver, but David and I are journeying together – one step at a time. And I hope anyone joining us on this path finds encouragement and hope between the pages of “Prisoners.”

In what other ways are you helping the brain injury community besides your book, “Prisoners without Bars: A Caregiver’s Tale?”

In 2014, I created a blog called Surviving Traumatic Brain Injury (https://survivingtraumaticbraininjury.com/). On the blog, I shared the story of our lives in the brain injury world. Then, I got a great idea – to give other survivors and caregivers a platform to tell their stories. So, Survivors SPEAK OUT! and Caregivers SPEAK OUT! were born. The blog continued to grow and now has more than 20 categories, including Brain Injury Resources and Itty-Bitty GIANT Steps. The blog currently has over 100,000 views.

I also am also a radio host for the Brain Injury Radio Network on http://www.blogtalkradio.com/. My show, “Another Fork in the Road,” features brain-injury survivors, caregivers and medical personnel in both single-guest and panel forms. My 80-minute show airs twice a month. Here is a link to all my shows: https://survivingtraumaticbraininjury.com/category/on-the-air-show-menu/.

 

I recently created a new website, https://www.donnafigurski.com/, which features my book, “Prisoners without Bars: A Caregiver’s Tale.”

Early Praise for

Donna O’Donnell Figurski and “Prisoners without Bars”

 

 

 

“Donna O’Donnell Figurski’s story is a true expression of dedication not only to her husband, but to herself as well. She clearly demonstrates the emotional roller coaster we caregivers go through in our journeys from the beginning of the injury to our new life. This is a must read for those who want to gain understanding of a caregiver’s ongoing journey or for a caregiver starting out and desiring to gain the strength to keep moving forward. As a fellow caregiver, our journeys are each unique—but our mission and drive are similar. Donna’s passion for caregivers and brain injury is felt in the pages of her book and in the life she leads.” – Jeannette Davidson-Mayer, caregiver for her husband, DeWayne, who has a brain injury from serving in Iraq; former Elizabeth Dole Caregiver Fellow

 

 

“Donna O’Donnell Figurski’s new book, Prisoners without Bars: A Caregiver’s Tale, should be a must-read for anyone with a family member impacted by a brain injury of any kind. Readers will come away with a feeling of what it’s like in the front row of life after trauma strikes—not only reading about the effects of brain injury, but also feeling the emotions that surround this type of life-changing event. Donna is clearly a master of the written word. She has the ability to make her readers feel like they are right there, side-by-side, as she, her beloved husband, and her family ride the brain-injury roller coaster. This is a true-life story of unconditional love and survival of the human spirit over seemingly insurmountable odds. I heartily recommend this book.” ––David A. Grant, TBI survivor, publisher of HOPE Magazine

 

“Donna O’Donnell Figurski’s transformation from spouse to caregiver was just the beginning of a long journey that altered her relationship with her husband and family after his brain injury. In her book, Prisoners without Bars, she shares her insights gained through hard work, trial and error, and dogged perseverance as they struggled not just to survive his injury but to reclaim their relationship and their future. She is a talented writer whose mix of witty humor and brutal honesty brings the reader into their lives by sharing painful losses along with the hard-won and often unexpected rewards. This book is a tremendous source of information and support for other caregivers and families. It will also give clinicians greater appreciation for the complexity and challenges that so many caregivers face on a daily basis and over time. Caregivers are too often unrecognized, and this book reveals who they are and what they can accomplish.” ––Marilyn Lash, MSW, President of Lash & Associates Publishing, which specializes in books about brain injury

 

 

 

“Donna and David Figurski are a power couple, personifying courage and dignity in the face of unspeakable odds. Theirs is a story of medical tragedy and personal triumph: David, having suffered a hideous brain-bleed, battled, along with Donna, to find a new normal. Donna O’Donnell Figurski’s account of their shared life-trial is Prisoners without Bars. She begins on the day when David’s thirteenth pull-up left him with a cerebral hemorrhage, leading to a coma and paralysis, months of hospitalization, and years of ongoing recovery. Readers meet a doctor who saw David only as an organ donor; share several miserable ambulance journeys and the agonizing decisions that preceded them; view ministrations of talented, caring medical professionals; endure setbacks followed by triumphs. In short, we trace the steps of an arduous journey. Written with detailed candor that lacks medical mumbo-jumbo, this is also a love story—love in the thick of a crisis. It is an honest, wise, gutsy book that informs and inspires those who are struggling with TBI, their support-teams, and all who might one day encounter this devastating injury. In short, this book is an important read for everyone.” ––Nancy McDonough, retired 2nd grade teacher and mentor, reviewer for the National Science Teachers Association, reviewer for the International Reading Teacher Association (now the International Literacy Association)

 

“In writing this book, Donna O’Donnell Figurski has hit the nail on the head (pun partially intended) as she writes about caring for her husband, David, after he suffers a debilitating brain injury. Readers will undoubtedly sense Donna’s anger, frustration, confusion, and exhaustion throughout the book as she actively must advocate and manage the necessary around-the-clock medical care that her husband requires. But even more importantly, readers will not be able to ignore the ever-present, deep-seated, and unwavering love between Donna and David. I am convinced that their love knows no bounds. Nobody can ever possibly foresee such devastating circumstances—as the kind that David experienced—happening in one’s life. So, it is no surprise that no one is ever fully prepared to handle such situations. Add to that the stress of being suddenly immersed into the chaotic healthcare system of this country with its occasional carelessness to its outright negligence of patients by “medical providers.” Unprepared for what is to come, both Donna and David are abruptly forced on an intimidating and relentless journey through this healthcare system. But Donna seldom loses her sense of humor, and she rarely falters as she makes her way through the maze of daily medical decisions, which are constantly required of her. This is an important book for both caregivers and survivors, as well as for those individuals working in our chaotic healthcare system.” ––Su Meck, TBI survivor, author of I Forgot to Remember: A Memoir of Amnesia

 

 

 

 

 

 

www.JKSCommunications.com | 3926 Gallatin Pike, Suite B., Nashville, TN 37216

Angelle Barbazon, lead publicist | (615) 576-0497 | angelle@jkscommunications.com

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