By Erin Calo, DaiWai Olson, and Brenna Kurtz
The story of Erin Calo did not begin on July 22, 2012. However, after being thrown from a second floor balcony resulting in a severe traumatic brain injury, my life and the lives of my friends and family were changed forever.
I spent the next 12 days in a coma at WakeMed in Raleigh, North Carolina, with no responses to commands, no responses to pain and no signs of life. No matter how grim the prognosis was, my nurses and doctors never gave up on me, my family never gave up on me and, most importantly, I never gave up on myself.
I kept fighting and eventually opened my eyes, but the world didn't look the same as I had once known. My body didn't feel the same; in fact, I couldn't feel my body at all. I was paralyzed from the neck down for a month. I stayed in the ICU for two weeks and was in the hospital itself for a very long time.
My skull was crushed and is now 21 degrees lower than it should be, resting on my C1. If moved just by a quarter inch, it will paralyze me for life. As a result, it has caused many other problems with things, such as my vision, inner ear, sleep, thyroid, lungs and reproductive system. I am working every day to fix it and get it back into place!
I was signed up registered and ready to start law school until my injury happened. My mom had to call and withdraw me because I was still in a coma when it was time to start. My goal now is still to complete law school. I absolutely want to continue on this path! A traumatic brain injury is, however, a very hard thing to cope with and recover from. I've been through it all. I have had to relearn simple tasks that some take for granted such as walking, talking and writing.
When I first began recuperating from my injury, I wanted to hide it, as though I was ashamed. I didn't want anybody to know I had a brain injury or to see anybody until I was 100 percent back to normal. I had a very hard time accepting it, but I do now. I'm proud of all that I have been through and how far I have come. Although I still have a way to go, I know I will make it.
This is why I would like to get involved in brain injury organizations. I would like to speak with people, anybody who might be feeling as I did at the beginning stages of my recovery, and let them know how I got through it.
The general population doesn't know a lot about brain injuries, and it important they educate themselves. It's not something many people survive; many have lost their lives because of them. I was almost one of them. It's not easy living with the outcome; however, compared to the alternative, I'm one of the lucky ones!
My purpose in sharing my story is to give people hope, especially in situations when hope is all you have. People go through hard times in life, some we cause on our own and some others force upon us. I know what saved me was my family, my friends and, most of all, my medical team never giving up hope.
Thoughts from DaiWai Olson
Erin is a great example of resilience. I never provided nursing care to Erin; rather, I cared about her. I first met Erin several years before her injury when she was in college with my daughter. I lived this story on the sidelines as the parent of one of Erin’s many, many friends. I have been impressed by the support she has received, and I have watched during the past year as the Facebook community has rallied to support Erin. Moreover, I have been amazed and humbled by reading her story. Erin has a gift for storytelling, and she has expressed the highs and lows of recovering from traumatic brain Injury in her own unique way. Erin’s story is one of hope and inspiration.
DaiWai M. Olson, PhD, RN, CCRN
Associate Professor of Neurology & Neurotherapeutics
University of Texas Southwestern
Thoughts from a Friend of Erin Calo’s, Brenna Kurtz
As it nears a year since Erin was injured, I am still amazed each day as to exactly how much Erin's life was affected by the accident as well as how hard she has worked since then. When I first found out what had happened to Erin, there were still questions as to what exactly happened, how she was affected, how it would change her future and, worst of all, would she even have a future.
I live in Okinawa, Japan, and had only moved there a week before Erin's brain injury. I was stunned and at times struggled with accepting that anything had even happened to Erin. I worried that the last time I had seen her was my last. And if not my last, I was certain it was the last time she would be the Erin I remembered.
For two weeks, we waited for Erin to open her eyes. Getting few updates was agonizing. I knew a brain injury meant her condition was serious and wondered if I should mentally prepare myself for the worst, but I always had hope for the best. Once Erin finally opened her eyes and began to communicate, I was elated. Every time I got a message from Erin or our friends who were lucky enough to be so close and supportive, I could only laugh and smile with tears in my eyes. Erin was alive, and Erin was still the same Erin I knew.
Although Erin had and still discovers many ways that her life is affected from her brain injury, she continues to fight and work toward bettering herself. I am always in awe of how well she handles each new life change. Imagine going to the pool with friends for a nice relaxing day, stepping in and beginning to swim away only to realize you don't know how to swim. I personally would've cried for days and never gone to a pool again. Erin grabbed a float, laid down and hung out with friends the entire day.
I am also in awe because from day to day, I only speak with Erin; I have not gotten to spend any time with her since the accident. When she tells me of something that happened, I always think to myself, wow, she still has things to work on. You'd never know because Erin has never complained or said "poor me." Erin has never given up HOPE. She is determined and will continue to heal and work towards a better Erin. #StoriesofHope #LeadingInsights