Life Goes On: Finding a Purpose After Brain Injury

Donna O'Donnell Figurski
David Figurski & Donna O’Donnell Figurski

“Your husband has a severe brain injury,” uttered the neurosurgeon before he rushed David into surgery. On January 13, 2005, those words turned my life upside down. Thirteen chin-ups, one more than David did each morning, changed his life forever. Though his brain continues to heal slowly, we realize it will never have the same unique capabilities that it had before that thirteenth chin-up. But that’s normal when one’s brain is compromised. Impairments are expected because cognitive emotional, and/or physical disabilities often occur after a brain injury. Modifications are made, and life goes on.

The part of your brain that is injured will determine what disabilities you will be forced to face. Your brain has several different compartments. Each compartment is responsible for a variety of skills to make your mind and body work together in harmony. If any of the compartments become altered or damaged, the body and mind are thrown into turmoil.

If the cerebellum is damaged, you may have compromised balance, problems with fine-motor skills, and/or slurring of speech. If the injury damaged your temporal lobe, you might have problems with hearing, memory, and/or motor skill memory. You may even have problems with aggressive behavior. Reading and writing may be affected by damage to the occipital lobe. An injury to the parietal lobe may cause problems with naming objects, difficulty with reading and/or writing, and/or difficulty with spatial perception problems that can affect coordination. The frontal lobe determines and steers personality. Emotions and skills for problem-solving are affected when this part of the brain is injured. The thinking process is affected in such a way that inappropriate behavior is often the result when there is damage to the prefrontal cortex.

For a truly balanced life, all parts of the brain will work together in synchrony. But when a brain injury upsets the natural processing of the brain, life can become entirely different or even unrecognizable to the survivor and his or her family and friends.

So how does one do that? How does one close the door on a life that was working just fine? How does one start over? It’s not an easy task.

Here’s what I’ve found to be helpful when embraced:


What are the things that pose problems in your post-brain-injury life? Order them from most problematic to least problematic.

David, my husband, had an injury focused on his cerebellum, which left him with issues of compromised balance, impaired speech, and problems with fine motor skills due to ataxia. It also left him with a swallowing disorder.


How do your disabilities affect your life?

David’s compromised balance basically made him a prisoner of his body. He was unable to leave home unattended. He was unable to drive from our home in New Jersey to Columbia University in New York City where he was a professor. David’s lack of balance was—and still is—the most debilitating effect of his brain injury.

Problem solve

Once you have determined what your disabilities are and how they adversely affect your life, it’s time to figure out possible solutions.

David’s cognitive brain was fine. He could certainly perform his duties as a professor, but the difficulty was his getting to the university. Fortunately, David had two professor-friends who drove many miles out of their way to pick David up and deliver him to his lab. On the days that David did not go into the lab, he was able to work from his home computer. Obviously, life was different for David, but with some adjustments and tweaks, he was able to move forward in an altered manner to continue in a prosperous and productive life.


A positive frame of mind is essential when managing life after brain injury. Brain injury is life altering and life-long. Though many survivors do make significant and noticeable gains, they rarely return to their past selves at 100%. Dwelling on losses can set one up for depression. Keeping a positive attitude, looking for the silver lining, and never giving up are ways to help survivors move forward.

Amazingly, during the past twelve years that David has been living with brain injury, he seldom complained. That doesn’t mean that he wouldn’t turn back the clock in a moment, but it does mean that he is going to live his life to the fullest, no matter what form presents itself. It’s David’s positive attitude that makes life for this caregiver a whole lot easier.

So, don’t let your dreams that were interrupted by brain injury destroy your life. Pick up the pieces, fit them back together, and see what new and lovely creation you have forged. It won’t be the same, but you may even like the “new” you better. I hope so!

P.S. I’ve used my husband as my example. Plug in your specifics for each topic to determine how you can find a purpose after brain injury.

Posted on BrainLine April 28, 2017


Thank you very much for the articles! I had an AVM, with a small Aneurysm growing, in my left temporal lobe ( Spetzler-Martin scale 4, 3mm-4mm with a high blood flow).. I had an embolization and a Craniotomy five months ago. I woke up with Aphasia. I am working through it. This is a new life for me, but I am so grateful. Thank you, again..I want to read as much about this as I can.

Your article was written very well Donna.  You have learned so much through David's injury.  I don't want to say that's a good thing, because no one wants to suffer through the effects of a tbi, but the help you have helped others with your articles that you never would have written otherwise.  

You know I am living with a tbi too.  I will be 32 yrs post in November, that's a long time.  I can only hope my words have helped others too. 

Sincerely, Charles (Charlie) RossJr

Do it your way.  Not the specialists, the experts, not the rehab gurus way.  You live it......... Do what works for you and half the battle is won.  Amazing what can be achieved when you are not trying to live up to others expectations.


"A positive frame of mind is so important"....this is certain;y so very true.....thank you for sharing your story, so many will relate to this(I sure did!)

You made me smile - very BIG when I read your words. " I found your writing very comforting and encouraging." Thank You! That makes it ALL worth while.

Donna O'Donnell Figurski

Craig, thanks for reading and commenting on my article. I agree with you purpose and passion are key. They are not always easy to find, but well worth working toward.

Donna O'Donnell Figurski

Good points, clearly explained. Purpose and finding ones passion is the key, I think,  Thanks for sharing


P.S. "When one dream dies, new ones will open up...even if it takes a long time."
Best wishes from the First City to see the light

Thanks for sharing what works!  A brain injury as you say in the article is life altering and life long.  I found your writing very comforting and encouraging.

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