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Stories of Survival

I think a hero is an ordinary individual who finds strength to persevere and endure in spite 
of overwhelming obstacles.
Christopher Reeve

It was always important to me that Hopeworks was a place where people could come and share their stories. No two are ever the same, but they share common threads of courage, acceptance, struggle and resilience, and how we overcome those things that scare us, or overwhelm us. They are tales of triumph over tragedy, and coming to terms with our vulnerabilities and losses. I hope they help you through your own journey. In time, I hope your story can be added so that you too may help others who are following in your footsteps.

Have a story to tell? Email me at kate@hopeworks.org.nz

Where there’s a will… 
(The Mike O’Gorman Story)

‘Life was never meant to be easy’ is an adage that Mike O’Gorman can attest to.
At 29 years of age, Mike O’Gorman has a story to tell. His story of recovery is both an inspiration to all those involved in his care and rehabilitation, and a reminder that rehabilitation can be attained through sheer love, support, and will power.

Mike has always been a bit of a thrill-seeker who spent the majority of his spare time participating in activities like surfing, flying his RC helicopters, wakeboarding, snowboarding, motocross riding and hanging out with friends. Mike worked in IT as a Server Engineer and was always a strong-willed, friendly and outgoing sort of guy who enjoyed his independence. According to Mike and all those who knew him, he always took calculated risks and took pride in doing really well at whatever new thing he decided to try. 

In April of 2010, Mike crashed his motocross bike and sustained a severe head injury to the extent that doctors had warned friends and family that Mike may not survive, or that if he did, Mike may be significantly impaired for the rest of his life ...  Read more

Mike has been trying hard to get back to how he was before the accident. He is not able to drive because of a vision problem (homonymous hemianopia) so gets around on his e-bike (electric bike) and catches the train. Nevertheless he would love a job helping someone rebuild PCs or similar IT related hands on work. Troubleshooting has beconme more difficult for Mike since his TBI but he is very keen to get back to computing work on a part time basis. If you have an opportunity for Mike contact info@hopeworks.org.nz

Bridgid Ruden - "propelled into a hurricane of brain-altering occurrences"

In May of 2008, life altering experiences emerged in lieu of my life's vision. Following a bicycle accident peddling on a muddy wet biking trail, I succumbed to a traumatic brain injury, a silent epidemic in our nation. Near death experiences and other's vision of me not continuing to sustain life emerged. When my life returned, I was propelled into a hurricane of brain-altering occurrences that spiraled me backwards in time from forty four years of age to three years of age, as I relearned so many life skills. My prestigious professional career as a Nurse Practitioner vanished. I was saddened, lost, and so empty inside.  Despite my life's turmoil, a flame within my soul erupted as I swam through such a challenging tide. I continued to swim within my brain's whirlwind waves, grasping to create a vessel to display the healing that can arise from suffering. My mind, body and spirit readjusted and my determination continued to excel.  Within one year, after re-learning to read, write and speak, I created and verbalized a Power Point presentation of my life experience displaying how I moved from tragedy to triumph. My health care professionals had never seen anyone with traumatic brain injured progress as I did. I further embellished my life through appearing on TV, radio and published in articles and books. My life's purpose didn't leave me, it merely merged to a higher realm.

My story has been shared nationally and internationally to health care professionals, health care college students, legislators, adolescents, injury survivors, their advocates and the general public.  Health care providers describe my presentation as eye-opening and essential. Attendees are amazed, uplifted, inspired and surrounded with hope and reassurance. Please view my website: www.bridgidruden.com for further information which includes my story, areas I’ve presented thus far, and the feedback I have received.

Ken Collins - Enjoy what life has to offer !

Some of the lessons I have learned after 37 years of living with a brain injury
Four major areas to work on after a brain injury:
Get Organized - Be Responsible - Follow Through – Move On!
Keep stress and anxiety to a minimum because it triggers the fight or flight response in the mid-brain. You don’t have any control of this response and it will increase confusion and make it harder to process information. Be proactive, stay focused, calm and relaxed as much as possible. This will make it easier to think and become less dependent on others to remind you. Mindfulness-based stress reduction can be used to help you control stress and anxiety. This will increase your self-esteem and make life easier.

Get a Day Planner and write down appointments and other important things you need to do. An iPad, iPhone, other smart phones or note pads will work very well because they have alarms to remind you. This will help you stay oriented to time and place. These devices also have GPS and maps. Don’t depend on others to remind you. This builds good habits on your part and will improve your self-esteem and self-confidence in the long run. This will also relieve stress and anxiety.

Get a Large Calendar and put it up on your wall and use it. Put it up at a location in your house or apartment where you will always see it every day. An iPad, iPhone, other smart phones, note pads with calendars and alarms do the same. This will also relieve stress and anxiety by helping you to stay on task and not forget.

Get a Key Holder and put it by your door to put your keys when you come home. Do this every night so you won’t have to look for your keys in the morning. Starting your day off on the right foot will make your day easier and help to relieve stress and anxiety.
Make a To Do List to help you stay organized. An iPad, iPhone, other smart phones or note pads will work wonders with this activity. These tools will help you stay organized and will help you relieve stress and anxiety. Making a list before you go shopping for food will also save you money by cutting down on impulse buying.

Get lots of rest and slow down. Many times we try to do too many things at once and nothing gets done. Sleeping on an issue or concern can be the best way to help you figure it out. Getting enough rest will give you valuable energy to think better and problem solve difficult situations. This will also relieve stress and anxiety.

Set up a routine and stick to it. This will help to relieve stress and anxiety and make it easier for you to follow through with what you have planned. This will also help with familiarity. By doing the same thing every day you will you will start building trust in your capabilities again and this will increase hope. With hope anything is possible.

Eat healthy foods and get lots of exercise. This will help you get the energy you need to get the blood/oxygen circulating to your brain. Get a dog and take it for walks. In my case - I have 9 dogs and they take me for walks every morning and night. I have been married 3 times and now have 8 dogs, a cat and parrot. They also give me the unconditional love and companionship I need to feel good about myself and be happy. This also relieves stress and anxiety.

Find ways to relax that aren’t counterproductive to your well being. Abusing alcohol and drugs to “relax” is counterproductive. Taking long walks, Yoga and Tai Chi are much better for you and will make processing and problem solving much easier. This will also relieve stress and anxiety.
Be patient and pay attention. Become an active listener. Hearing what people have to say is more important than listening to what they say. Watch their body language. Sometimes when I get distracted - it is harder to understand what a person is saying. Stay relaxed and focus. Take deep breaths because nothing works better than getting blood filled oxygen to your brain. This will also relieve stress and anxiety.
Be around positive people and people who care about you. Nothing is more depressing than listening to someone always complain about their life and what is going wrong in the world. Become active and don’t just set around hoping things get better. Quit talking about it and do something about it instead.

Don’t take criticism personally because constructive criticism can make you a better person in the long run. Remember that your family and friends want to help but sometimes they don’t know how. When people don’t understand things they criticize it. Many people don’t understand what you are going through. Don’t hold them responsible for their ignorance. Grudges will only hold you back from being able to move on.
Lighten up on yourself, your family and friends who want to help you. Worry less and smile more. Be content with what you have because there are others how have it much worse than you. Find ways to stay active and less isolated. Get out of your head and into the outside world. Thinking too much about a problem or issue can be depressing and increase stress and anxiety. This will trigger the fight or flight response and you will be like a dog chasing its tail.

Be good to yourself and don't take life so seriously. Don't let the little things get you down. Move on and try not to be critical of mistakes you make because in the early years of your recovery there will be too many of them to count. Learn from these mistakes and move on.
Be happy with yourself and don't try to live up to others expectations. Most importantly - don't set unrealistic expectations for yourself. Take one step at a time - don't run before you can walk.

Enjoy what life has to offer and take pride in your accomplishments! Every accomplishment is a victory – no matter how small. Every day is a new day and learn from yesterdays mistakes. Make the best of everyday and move on. If I can do it - so can you!!!!

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions. - Wolfgang Wolf

Q. How long is a piece of string? A. That is exactly how long the rehabilitation process is.  Of course, this is nonsense. It depends on a number of things. There is, for example, the medical condition – or how much damage there is to the brain. Then there is the care and support someone receives. That is, in hospital and at home. Also, the type of personality someone is, and, of course, how they react in the face of adversity. 

It is that personality that determines to a large extent whether or not we go out there and take part in life again. It gives us the perseverance to plan an outing that wouldn’t have required any planning before fate threw a spanner in the works, and the ability to fight off the loneliness that envelopes us when we are confined to our home.  Put simply, it gives us the confidence to make decisions again.

After a stroke, an accident, a head injury, or any other life changing event we tend to lose confidence. Depending on our outlook on life it takes more or less time to partake in society again. Influencing the length of this process is the ability to make decisions. But decisions can only be made by a confident person.

Decisions we are pleased with are a reward we give ourselves. It’s like the old slap on the back. Hence our confidence grows. Unfortunately we can’t do this often enough. Decisions are made for us because everyone assumes, for whatever reason, that there is something wrong with the brain.

One of the hallmarks of a brain injury is processing information, or should I say the diminished capacity of it. This means it takes a little longer to reach a conclusion. The difficulties encountered trying to make sense can seem quite trivial to an outsider. Even to a caregiver this can reinforce the belief that the brain injured person requires more assistance than necessary. A consequence is often impatience on part of the caregiver, and an unwanted answer for the brain injured.

The end result is that the people around us take away the breeding ground for confidence to flourish.


There must be untold numbers who walk away from a head injury every day, saying 'I'm OK'.  And then they aren't, but no one knows why. 

I walked away from a car accident at the end of 1976.   I could remember saying I"M OK, over and over.  By the time the headache came on, I had forgotten the blow to my head. 

All I knew was that my emotional life spiraled out of control after that.  Psychologically, I was not OK.  I lost touch with my friends, couldn't keep a job and used men as stepping-stones to cross a void of isolation.  I was struggling to survive the only way I could. 

I made it.  Even with my remaining deficits, I was lucky, very lucky.  I know that now. 

God bless you


The most helpful thing for me was remembering the accident after thirty years.

iM ok

"From the driver side window I see an oncoming shape.  The brake is under my foot.  A blast of impact comes and a rising wave of crumpling metal carries me weightlessly along its crest.  The car slams to a halt and a deep and sudden silence rings.  I'm OK. 

A deafening blow lands at my crown as my left shoulder crashes into something hard.  Inside a booming vacuum comes the whisper of a crunch.  The sound is wrapped in unbearable pressure then it is gone in a burst of welcoming light.  I watch from the back of my skull as neon satellites circle and the brightness implodes. 

 I open my eyes to shades of gray.   Plastic-covered dials stare vacantly behind the steering wheel.  My head feels scooped out and raw as a jack-o’-lantern. 

A flash of yellow light as the door clunks open.  Cold air and tumbling voices... “...everyone OK... you hurt... is anyone...you OK?”

“I’m OK,” I breathe.

“Are you hurt?”

“I hit the window,” I say then turn my head to the glass and see it intact.  Unbroken; there is no spider web of cracks though I’d heard the soft sizzle of give.  

“I’m OK.  I just hit my head on the window.”   


I glance right and see her struggling out of a sprawled position.  She is bleeding from her forehead and it smears her face as she wipes it away.

Stupidly, I ask, “You OK?”

“Think so...you?”  

I look to the rear-view mirror.  Nothing remains but the bracket.  A dark spatter of blood crosses the ceiling over Karen's head.   My arms and legs move readily.  No blood.  Nothing loose or useless. .I find the crown of my head tender and numb as if Novocaine was wearing off.   

I’m OK. 

“Yeah, I think so.  I just hit my head on the window.”

Karen composes herself on the seat as her door squeals open. A scarf is pressed against her forehead.  A male voice assures us that an ambulance is on the way as we sit in stunned silence.

The interior of the car feels smaller; is smaller.  The seat is ratcheted forward but crazily twisted backward.  The lower panel of the dashboard is wedged across the foot well, the free end jammed into the passenger floor. 

“I’m getting out,” I say and swivel into the door gap.  I ignore a bystander’s cautioning stay put.  

“I’m OK,” I say as I plant my feet in the street and stand up.

The night is cold and Christmas lights twinkle on street lights and in windows.  Snow clings in yards and on rooftops and rimes the edges of the roads.  

Onlooker’s murmur and their warm breath is snatched by the wind.  Headlights blaze as cars pass slowly.  

My Comet is crumpled with an ugly snarl ripples across the hood.  The left headlight is gone from a gaping socket.  A piebald T-bird, primer spotted like a Paint horse, sits on the road with a smashed front end.  Steam rises and the night air scrubs it away.  Debris covers half of the four-lane roadway.  

Police arrive with red lights swimming in the night.  An ambulance pulls up behind.   

Attendants hurry to us.  Blood pressures and pulses are taken; questions are asked and answered.  Karen needs stitches and something about her knee.  A penlight coaxes my eyes back and forth and fingers wave - how many do you see?  I answer correctly.  

“I'm OK.  I just hit my head on the window."

A headache flares like distant lightning.

The other driver is uninjured and gives his statement to police.  He forgot to turn on the headlights at dusk.  I can’t recall which way I was turning.   The police ask my version.  I didn’t see him.  Witnesses confirm that I failed to yield the right-of-way to oncoming traffic and he was oncoming in darkness.  Failure to use safety belts elicits a check mark on paperwork but little comment from police.  No tickets are issued.  

Buckle up for safety, Buckle up... Keep your seat belts fastened, always buckle up...  Traveling in your car, whether near or far...

Karen has gone.  A rush of adrenaline washes through me as the ambulance rolls away.  The retreating red and white doors. AMBULANCE, spelled out in black capital letters.  Warm exhaust swirls.  

A drum beat joins the dog-whistle ache in my head.   I stand in the cold without continuity or purpose.  A solitary longing as people go about their business.  

A policeman approaches and asks me something.  I nod with relief and gratitude.  

He turns and walks away and then looks right.  The planes of his profile in stark contrast to the darkness.  Red, white, red, white.

I can’t recall what he said. 

I exhale and my breath disappears in the night."