An Evening of Reflections
Guest Speaker, Sandra Destrempes
March 9, 2017
I’m Sandra Destrempes, I’m a biker, swimmer, I’m unique and I am grateful. I am a retired teacher after 22+ years, a traveler, an artist, and a bird lover. I grew up in Mass and I am a sister to Anne, Kathy, and Charles. I am loved and I am a survivor.
On May 4th 1969, I was involved in an accident at the age of 9, I was walking to a nearby store and was hit by an oncoming car. I was taken to the hospital by ambulance, I was unconscious because my forehead hit the ground, and caused me to black out. I was treated with bed rest and was discharged 9 days later. I had multiple contusions of my forehead and the main areas of the brain, frontal, temporal, parietal, and occipital lobes. In addition, I injured my arms, back, legs, and chest.
While I was in the hospital I experienced extreme difficulty in moving, including unsteadiness in walking. I was scared, I felt alone, and I cried a lot. After the accident I had nightmares, flashbacks, and experienced depression and fatigue. In 1969 I did not receive treatment for my cognitive deficits, because there was not the understanding of rehabilitation for brain injury, at that time.
Many of my deficits with executive functioning did not show up until I was in middle to high school because the frontal lobe is still developing up until we are all in our 20’s. Often, a person who has a head injury, as a child is thought of as not motivated, not trying, and a disciplinary problem because of the later effects from the injury to the frontal lobe. I was even diagnosed as having an Auditory Processing disorder in 1980, my last year of high school: Boy did they miss it!!
I remember in 4th grade we were learning the states. I worked with a teacher for relearning the material, however, what I was hearing or seeing made no sense, it didn’t process. My response was crying and feeling discouraged, because the teacher just reviewed the material. I didn’t know what was wrong with me.
In high school, I learned to play the drums in the marching band by a friend moving my feet, while I moved the sticks with my hands, at the same time. This too is a part of the brain injury in which motor functioning and coordination was effected. I learned to play the cymbals with somebody teaching me how it was supposed to sound. The next day, during band class, it was now my turn to play. I could not track the music for, it’s a Small World, but, my friends cued me when it was time. CRASH, I put the cymbals together and everyone smiled. I needed that cueing.
I attended college, where they supported me, because they knew I had ability and with the accommodations, such as reading my tests, study buddies, and tutors, I graduated with a BA in Sociology and Recreation and a minor in Social Work. Even then, I never told anyone, that when I read, my eyes went to the middle and the bottom of the paper, not top left and scanning down through the page like most people. I was visually overstimulated, and I am still.
I returned to college in 1991 for my teaching certificate. In 1994 I returned for my masters in reading and graduated with honors. This took so much energy. I used to find someone who knew the information and listened to them so I could process the information better. However, later when I needed that information, it was like having to re-learn it all over again.
Though I had a lot of success, it wasn’t until the last 4 years of teaching that I began to experience problems as school district requirements changed resulting in overstimulation to where I could not process the amount of information. Particularly, I had trouble writing lesson plans, newsletters and was extremely disorganized. I felt that these challenges affected my relationships with students, staff, and friends. Later, I was not able to perform my teaching responsibilities due to lack of stamina, decreased eating, sleeping, increased anxiety with severe depression.
It was at this point when I walked into Origami with an MRI in hand showing that I had old blood in my right frontal lobe. It would be later found that old blood would also be found in my left frontal lobe. It is here at Origami, that I learned that I had experienced a TBI, when I was struck by a car, at the age of 9. This knowledge answered SO many questions for me, initiated even MORE questions, and started me down the real path to recovery.
On November 10, 2014 Dr. Wyatt, and the Origami team, put me on medical leave. This hit hard for me because my career had led me to teach and travel all around the country including Hawaii, New Mexico, Grand Rapids, and Lansing, those were some of the best years of my life. It is so hard to accept that something you have been doing for so long is no longer a part of your life.
I have turned to my faith to help me adjust. From a book on hope: “Trust me here and now, you are in a rigorous training on an adventurous trail, designed for you alone. This path is not of your choosing- but it is my way for you. I am doing things you can’t understand, that is why I say Trust me”.
Through therapy I have learned strategies to help me cope and improve my functions and emotions. I have been working on my speech, vision, psychology, and my brain injury strategy toolbox which I carry with me everywhere. In speech therapy I started off very confused. When I attempted to complete a task called Simon Says, which is a phrase transformation activity, following written directions, I had to use a graph paper to keep my letters moving from line to line in alignment. I would have to do a single worksheet, no lie, 12 times or more to be able to get it right. Getting a vision examination has really helped. I now have prisms in my glasses which have really enhanced my visual and spatial skills to where now I can draw pictures in perspective; I could never do this before.
The big picture is my acceptance of myself, recognizing I have had a severe injury for approximate 24 million, 177,000, 600 minutes, give or take a minute or two and how it has impacted me. My hard working nature, humor, faith, and resilience are a big part of my understanding and acceptance. There is and always has been a little fighter in me.
Because I am accepted here at Origami, I have been able to grow and start a new chapter in my life. I have been able to demonstrate both growth and progress through my therapies. The work is not done. I have been like this for a long time and it will be a continual journey through this path to consistently incorporate the strategies learned.
I would like to give thanks to Short Holwerda. She was a huge help, especially with Simon Says. Judy Daverman and Lois Holwerda, and my sister Ann Ganey, who supported me and visited me. Thank you to Lisa at the YMCA for their class called HIIT for all of your patience teaching me balance and coordination movements; Emily from Art from the Heart at Peckham, where I was able draw dimensionally due to Dr. Conrad’s glasses.
I would like to acknowledge Dr. Elliott, author of The Ghost In My Brain who responded to a heartfelt letter from me how his book touched me. And, to Dr. Micheal LeRoy from Calvin College who responded with understanding and prayers following my letter to him inviting him to this evening’s presentation. Isaiah 58:8. Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; Then your righteousness will go before you and the glory of the Lord will be your read guard.
I would also like to give thanks and appreciation to my friends at Next Step Group, it is so helpful being around people who have experienced similar circumstances, and it makes me feel like I am not alone. Thanks, also, to Dr. Palarski for being there at the beginning for helping me deal with my emotions. I would like to give my biggest thanks and appreciation to the whole Origami staff, thank you! It is only by grace and faith that I have experienced success with leading me to a new path.