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published 2009

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Tell-tale signs of traumatic brain injury

Jenny Russell of Cokato is recovering from horse fall

By Kristen Miller
Staff Writer

Jenny Russell, 47, of Cokato is not only happy to be home after spending 15 days in the hospital, but she feels fortunate to even be alive after suffering from traumatic brain injury (TBI)

On May 30, Jenny set out on a gravel road riding Enoch, her husband, John’s horse. It was supposed to be a relaxing ride along the countryside when the horse decided he just wasn’t up for riding that day.

Jenny was bucked off the horse, and fell to the ground. Aaron Jacobson, who was riding with her, ran to the nearest home – that of Mark Wagner’s – to get help.

Wagner called the ambulance because it seemed like the right thing to do, he said. Though unaware of the severity at the time, Wagner knows all to well about traumatic brain injury since his wife, Shelly, died two years ago from injuries sustained in a car accident.

Jenny received a quick response by the Cokato Ambulance Service and when Jim Erickson, ambulance director, arrived with his crew, Jenny was confused and didn’t want to go to the hospital.

“She had a bump on her head, but she knew where she was,” Erickson said.

Though she said she was “OK,” the ambulance took her to the Hutchinson Community Hospital, where they drained the fluid that was causing pressure in the brain.

“If we had listened to her, who knows what would have happened,” Erickson said.

“You can’t take their word for it,” he added.

At that point, the helicopter was warming up to fly Jenny to Hennepin County Medical Center, the busiest Level 1 trauma center in the state, according to its web site.

The crew told John he should get down to HCMC as soon as he could because she might not make the flight. The pilot even took John’s cell phone number just in case something happened to her on the way down there.

While driving to the hospital, John did receive a call from the pilot telling him his bride of six months made it to the hospital.

“That was a weight lifted off my shoulders,” John said.

Listening to her husband tell the story is hard for her to hear, she said, knowing just how serious her incident was, and could have been.

After four to five days in intensive care, the surgical team came into Jenny’s room and asked her if she believed in miracles, “because you are one,” they said.

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) happens when the head gets bumped and the brain shifts back and forth inside the skull. This can be mild, moderate, or severe.

Jenny’s case was severe.

She spent five days in the intensive care unit, two more days in a hospital room, and the remaining days in the Miland E. Knapp Rehabilitation Center at HCMC.

Though short-term memory loss can often occur with traumatic brain injury, the numerous tests Jenny took while in the hospital showed her memory was “excellent.”

She is now, though, hypersensitive to light and noise and has a large box of ear plugs next to her medicine.

Jenny will continue occupational and cognitive therapy in Hutchinson two times a week, for about a month.

Both Jenny and John want to express how important time is when it comes to traumatic brain injury, and that even if the person says they are “OK,” they need to be checked out.

They are grateful for the quick response of Erickson and his Cokato Ambulance crew, the Hutchinson Community Hospital, and the hospital team at HCMC.

They are also grateful to Jacobsen and Wagner, who took the initiative by taking action and getting help for Jenny.

Though Jenny has ridden horse her entire life, she doesn’t know if she will ever get back on one again. She does know that if she does ride, she will be wearing a helmet.

Jenny also noted that instead of riding her motorcycle to Sturgis this year, she will be riding in the motor home instead.

“Everything happens for a reason,” Jenny said, adding that her reason may be to get the word out about brain injuries and the importance of wearing a helmet.

Having gone through a life-threatening experience, spending time with her family and the people she cares about, means so much more to her now, Jenny said.

“People have been so nice, I can’t believe it,” she said, referring to the cards and prayers she received.

Jenny works as a licensed alcohol and drug counseling supervisor at the Community Addiction Recovery Enterprise in Willmar, but will be taking the summer off for recovery.

She and John married in January. She has a daughter, Jessy, and son, Bobby.

Head injuries are a serious matter

According to the HCMC web site, there are approximately 1.4 million people who suffer a traumatic brain injury each year in the US with a large number being teens and young adults. The following is a list of signs and symptoms of a brain injury.

Physical symptoms can include:
• headache
• dizziness or loss of balance
• fatigue or drowsiness
• difficulty sleeping
• nausea or vomiting
• Uncoordination
• Blurred vision or double vision

Cognitive symptoms can include:
• poor concentration
• short-term memory loss
• difficulty finding words
• trouble with multitasking
• change in school performance

Emotional symptoms can include:
• irritability
• sudden emotional outbursts
• anxiety
• depression

HCMC advises that “even the mildest of brain injuries is a serious medical condition and [one] should seek medical attention ASAP.”