Praise for Prisoners without Bars
(People Say the Darnedest Things)
Most stories about tragedies or medical journeys focus on
the patient, Donna O’Donnell Figurski’s Prisoners without Bars:
a caregiver’s tale is such a compelling read because it looks at
traumatic brain injury through the caregiver’s lens. I related to
so much of what Donna describes―from the low moments of
despair to celebrating the small and large victories.”
― Lee Woodruff, caregiver and author with Bob Woodruff of
In an Instant: A Family’s Journey of Love and Healing
Prisoners without Bars author, Donna O’Donnell Figurski, unabashedly asks, “How was my vibrant, so-smart husband reduced to this?” when her husband, a respected Columbia professor with a PhD in molecular biology, struggled with the simplest of daily activities after his cerebellar hemorrhage. Her book is a testament to the importance of patient advocacy after brain injury, and their story of reinvention and resilience is a testament to the healing power of love.
Rosemary Rawlins, caregiver for her husband, Hugh, who has a brain injury; author of Learning by Accident; editor for BrainLine
Donna O’Donnell Figurski does a remarkable job in sharing the inspiring story of David and her. Donna’s quest is to help others. This book is a fascinating view on the resilience and love of two extremely strong and positive people.
Bob Millsap, caregiver for his wife, Shelly, who has a brain injury
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; Dole Caregiver Fellow
Tragedy struck—tears—heartache—change. A poignant and detailed account is provided from the very onset of an aneurysm’s rupture in Donna O’Donnell Figurski’s husband, David. Donna describes the gamut of emotions that a caregiver feels when his or her loved one sustains a brain injury: agony to elation, terror to peaceful hope, acceptance.
Every survivor and caregiver should read this poignant and detailed step-by-step account
of the true and very real experiences encountered with a brain injury. The tests, diagnoses, and treatments are all presented as part of the story and then explained in easy-to-understand layman’s terms. A myriad of information on brain injury is also woven into the story in an interesting yet realistic fashion.
Divorce often occurs in a marriage faced with a brain injury crisis. Donna did not leave nor run away from the pain, fear, and anguish. She faced the challenges that she and her “soulmate” … “best friend in the world” … “the love of her life” faced. Together they turned what some might consider a tragedy into helping others learn more about brain injury and learning to live with the changes that do occur.
In Donna’s own words: “Whatever occurs, David and I will make the best of it and expect to enjoy every minute of it—together.” Read Prisoners without Bars: A Caregiver’s Tale to learn how a “positive attitude is crucial to recovery” and that failure and giving up are just not options.
Ann Boriskie, TBI survivor, Director and Founder of Brain Injury Peer Visitor Association
After reading Prisoners without Bars: A Caregiver’s Tale, I knew what I had to say. This eloquent memoir is relatable to so many families, not only to those dealing with TBI, but also to those dealing with health tragedies in general—and to anyone who interacts with the medical system. Not only is it a story that will have you hold your breath, cry, laugh, and cheer . . . but it is also a guide for all of us in dealing with life-changing events.
Donna and David are relentless in love, courage, and drive. Together, they have pushed through the mistaken boundaries set by others. If you have ever had the honor to know them or have read this book, your life will be changed forever.
Terryn Davis, Occupational Therapist
In my darkest days, I was praying I would meet someone like Donna who understood the life of being a caregiver for a brain-damaged husband. It’s not an easy task. Donna has been a great teacher and example for me. I appreciate her zeal for knowledge and her helping others through their hardships. The brain-damage world is such a mystery to many. I appreciate Donna for all she does to help educate others.
Cyndy Feasel, former caregiver for her husband, deceased former Seattle Seahawks lineman Grant Feasel, who suffered from a brain injury; author of After the Cheering Stops
Donna’s narrative explains traumatic brain injury and its multiple destructive tentacles, while showing us the power of love, dedication, and persistence in overcoming them.
From the Foreword by Michael Kailas, MD, neurologist
This is a remarkable accounting of a catastrophe. The story shows how a traumatic brain injury changed the trajectory of the lives of two astonishing people: David Figurski, a world-renowned scientist, and Donna O’Donnell Figurski, a nationally recognized teacher and author—and David’s wife. In this time of turmoil and suspicion, this book describes the generosity of spirit that defines us as human. Why is it that David and Donna received such universal support from family; bureaucracies, like Honiss School and Columbia University; friends; friends of friends; and colleagues? The simple answer is that these two people represent the best of us.
The book details the events that occurred when an articulate, vibrant microbiologist at Columbia University suddenly suffers a traumatic brain injury. It reveals that after three weeks in a comatose state, David slowly begins to reconstruct his life and continues to do his research.
Donna describes her feelings as devoted wife and best friend—and now caregiver for her lifelong partner. She reveals her terror, hopes, and the concessions demanded by the tragedy.
If you or anyone you know has faced physical or emotional challenges that could change your life, this book is a must-read. It tells us how love, friendship, and optimism can overcome the most tragic events.
Daniel H. Fine, DMD
Professor and Chair, Department of Oral Biology
Director, Center for Oral Infectious Diseases
Rutgers School of Dental Medicine
Senior Associate Dean
Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences
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
I feel that Donna and David’s story reflects the heart of what many families experience during a critical, life-altering event. Stories such as theirs help others facing these events to better understand that life can go on - be it a new and different life - but you can move forward.
Lisabeth Mackall, MS CCC-SLP, caregiver for her husband, Frank Mackall, former police officer who suffered a brain injury in the line of duty; speech pathologist; author of 27 Miles: The Tank’s Journey Home
Reading Prisoners without Bars brought back all the shock and joys of being a caregiver for a family member who lived through a traumatic brain injury. Donna O’Donnell Figurski shared her story with so much of the history of herself and David (her husband) that I felt I was one more of her close friends filling our time with love and laughter. She brought me through the horrors and despair of the immediate incident. She renewed in me the power of the trust in love and the power of believing and pursuing that, no matter how long it takes, there are always improvements. Some improvements are huge and observable to everyone. Other improvements are so subtle that Donna shared she felt she was almost imagining them. This book will give all the caregivers of TBI survivors a chance to find solace and support in their loving care, time commitments, and changes to their lives.
Grace Mauzy, MA, former caregiver for her daughter, Jamie Crane-Mauzy, former professional skier who suffered a brain injury during competition; Teen Counselor; self-esteem expert; certified in: personal-fitness, nutrition, reiki, yoga, and skiing instruction
Donna O’Donnell Figurski has expertly told the story of her life as a caregiver for her dear husband, David, following his brain injury in 2005. Through Donna’s words, we are able to experience how a brain injury can have devastating effects on more than just one person.
Jeff Sebell, TBI survivor, author of Learning to Live with Yourself after 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)
This inspirational story describes the path from a terrifying event, compounded by incredible frustration, through recovery and on to the many triumphs of Donna and David's life together. Although Donna and David had to measure progress in inches, they always aimed for the stars. From the first 911 call to David's before-and-after signatures, this book is filled with life-lessons about patience, perseverance, and love.
Aaron P. Mitchell, PhD
Head, Department of Biological Sciences
Carnegie Mellon University
There is a multitude of stories in this book—stories that need to be told over and over again.
It is a story about refusing resignation.
It is a story about asking, “What do we do to make it work?”
It is a story about telling people that NOT giving up is the only way.
It is a story about how to know when not to give up!
It is a heart-rending story about a woman and a man who teach us by their actions.
Allan Bateman, Preventive & Rehabilitative Therapist for 50 years
David and Donna had a full, rich, active life—careers they loved, good friends, close family. In the blink of an eye, their world was shattered. Prisoners without Bars is the deeply personal and heart-wrenching account of the effects of TBI on one family. Donna’s love for David shines through at every stage. Her strength and determination in navigating the healthcare maze was astounding. Their fight to regain as much of their former life as possible is courageous and inspiring. Highly recommended—I read it in one sitting—I couldn’t put it down!
Anne Thomson, member Tea & Sympathy book discussion group, book lover and voracious reader
In Prisoners without Bars, Donna O’Donnell Figurski regales the reader with the truth about traumatic brain injuries. Donna and David, married and in love, awake to the horror of David suffering from blinding pain after his morning exercises. Donna makes the call to 911 and enters the reality of what it means to have your way of life taken from you in a moment.
This is a story about their unremitting love, learning to cope with tragedy, and fighting to carry on their lives together. Here Donna artfully tells the story and provides a navigable path for others who wind up in this predicament. It is a journey through life by two extraordinary people
who refuse to ever give in. By telling their tale, Donna offers hope and support for those who follow and must face the reality of recovery from this tragic blow to one’s life.
Donna and David prove that sharing is caring and that there is light at the end of the tunnel. I was a strong advocate for David because I knew that, against all odds, he would persevere and that Donna would never let him do otherwise. I admire all they have done and what they offer to others in this predicament.
Saul J. Silverstein, Ph.D.
Professor and Chair Emeritus, Department of Microbiology & Immunology
Only someone who has been on this journey could ever begin to understand that, with all the pain, we are still so very grateful for our new life. Donna O’Donnell Figurski tells her story of grace, love, frustration, anger, disappointment, strength, joy, and above all hope. I believe Donna and David’s beautiful, painful, and inspiring story will bring comfort, insight, and the hope that all does not have to be lost, even for a prisoner without bars and the person who loves him or her.
Judy Thau, caregiver for her husband, Steve, who has a brain injury
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
Heather Sivori Floyd
Donna and David’s story is one of perseverance. It is a story about the ultimate comeback from tragedy. Donna writes with passion, and she really connects with her audience. This story will have you cheering for David and Donna throughout the book. Donna is an amazing caregiver and voice for brain injury awareness.
Heather Sivori Floyd, caregiver for her teenage son, TJ, who suffered a brain injury at age seven from a bicycle accident; administrator for TBI Survivors and Caregivers Support Group on Facebook