My name is Adrienne Walker-Pittman. I am 52 years old and a 16 year Brain Injury Survivor. Some of you may remember me as the Spokesperson for Baltimore/Washington International Airport. I am and will always be married to the love of my life, Jerry O. Pittman.
I was the spokesperson for Baltimore/Washington International Airport until January 27, 1996. On that day as we were packing to move to our new home in Baltimore County, I was struck by a stolen car driven recklessly by a juvenile who was fleeing the Baltimore County Police in a high speed car chase. My left leg was amputated above the knee at the scene. My husband tells me that I flew up in the air like a rag doll and landed on the ground banging my head. Blood was pouring from the half of leg that I had left on the left side of my body and I was out cold. He saw the paramedics wrap my severed left leg in a towel and place it in the ambulance with me. I was 37 years old and my life will now be changed forever.
The ambulance took me to Johns Hopkins Bayview Hospital where I remained for 65 days, 15 of which I spent in a coma. The remaining 50 days were spent at Maryland General Bryn Mawr Rehab for my inpatient treatment. Because of my closed head injury, I don’t remember anything about the time I spent at Maryland General. My outpatient TBI treatment was spent at Sinai Hospital’s RETURN! Brain Injury Program.
I remember how I did not want to go to Return!. I hated going to ‘that place’! My husband called my mother to have her convince me to go because it was important for my recovery. I believed that the people at Return! did not know what they were doing and therefore they could not help me. In other words, my brain told me I was fine and I did not need their help!
Looking back now, I realize that they weren’t crazy, they were trying to help me but I continued to be in denial. The RETURN! Staff knows exactly what they are teaching you and why because they want you to get better just as much as you do! Their goal is to help you get your life back so you can function at home, at work and in society. If you give them a chance by allowing them to do their job and work with you, you will succeed with some adjustments.
Once I accepted that the RETURN! staff was on my side, it made a big difference in my recovery. I needed to listen to my instructors and be obedient which I believe is what God wanted me to do. We were so involved in trying to put my life back in order that we decided to contact the Brain Injury Association of Maryland much later in the recovery process.
On the day before we moved, our four year old son Evan spent the night with Pop Pop and Nanny Walker so he would not be in the way when we were packing. When I think back now, the accident impacted everyone, even Evan. The children at daycare told him that they saw the accident on television and that I was dead. So his father got permission from the doctors so he could visit me. Evan came to my hospital room, carried in his Dad’s arms and took a picture of me to show to his classmates at daycare to prove that his Mom was not dead.
As I think back, you would have thought that Evan was right there when the accident happened. We would go to the shopping center near our home or go to the grocery store to get Evan his favorite snack. I would park in the handicap space and we would get out of the car walking together from the parking space to the grocery store. If Evan saw a car coming toward us he would ‘FREAK OUT!’ Evan either stands there to stop the car or tries to shield me from the vehicle. It just reminds me that everyone was impacted by what happened, even Evan.
My brain injury was devastating to both my husband and my son as both of them had to learn how to deal with the ‘New TBI Me.’ They had to make major adjustments – personally, emotionally and socially. My son Evan would often ask, “I wonder if my mother will ever be able to crawl on the floor with me again and greet me when I come home from school?”
My husband Jerry says, “Watching my wife put on her leg prosthesis every morning and take it off every night reminds me that the pain will be with me forever.”
Yes, life is different now because there are new challenges. I guess the biggest challenge is that I have realized that I am in denial and I will always be to a certain extent because you have to believe in yourself even if no one else does. You also have to have a support system because you cannot make it on your own after having a TBI. Your life will never be the same to your family, your friends, and especially to the person who sustained the life-changing injury.
The key to making it after having a TBI is how you adapt to the TBI You! Since my son played sports year round, we would ask the coaches to make accommodations like allowing us to drive the car on the field or sit close to the field/court so I could see my son play football or basketball. I was not afraid to speak up or ask for assistance. You have to speak up or else you will feel as though you are being left out, separated from everyone else.
After working for the State of Maryland for 20+ years, I decided to take disability retirement. This is something I would have not done had it not been for my TBI. The free time I have now allows me to give back by supporting BIAM events and activities and attending brain injury, memory and amputee support group meetings to keep me sharp and support others like myself who may not have a support system. It is also fun to socialize with ‘Like-minded’ folks!
Once you are away from the hospital system and rehab, you have to keep your mind active by participating in groups to stimulate your thought processes.
If you don’t you may get depressed and give up.
My life has definitely changed. I am now on disability retirement. I no longer ride bikes, ice or roller skate with my son because I don’t want to fall and incur another TBI or damage my leg prosthesis. My days are planned. If I drive, especially to an unfamiliar place, I get directions or use my GPS to get to my destination without frustration and before running out of gas.
Since my accident, it has been more expensive for me to drive between wasting gas and initially having a few accidents. When we go on out of town trips, my husband literally has to set out everything we need to take because if I do it, I will probably forget something that I was supposed to bring for myself. He now has to think for two people not just one. That’s why I am and will always be married to the love of my live, Jerry O. Pittman. God blessed us with a wonderful son, my super star quarterback football player, Evan Jerron Pittman and I have inherited two beautiful children, Kendrick and Carenda.