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January 2017 Debbie Salvador

February 26, 2018


Debbie Salvador - January 2017

In 1951, at a mere six months of age, Debbie Salvador was sick with spinal meningitis for nearly two months and then suffered a cerebral hemorrhage. The injury left her with a weakened right side, including foot drop and a "lazy" arm. As she grew up, she also realized that she interpreted the world differently than other kids (upside down and backwards) and that she had to manually turn things right side up in her brain. Teachers felt bad for Debbie because it was difficult for her to move around with braces on her arm and leg, so she never had to go up to the blackboard during class and was able to keep her cognitive challenges hidden.

At around eight years old, Debbie had her first surgery to shorten her hamstring cord in her weak leg. She was part of a group of children undergoing experimental surgeries and they were first paraded in front of an auditorium full of people. Debbie was later molested by the individuals who prepared her for the surgery, and when she woke from the anesthesia she pulled the IVs out of her arm and pulled her hair out. Her father was so distressed by this that he then had a nervous breakdown. The surgery itself was also a disaster: they shortened her muscle too much, which left her with significant tremors. She was then put on Valium, which her mother told her was a vitamin.

In school, Debbie did very well in math and science, and very poorly in English. In high school, her short hand teacher caught her writing upside down and backwards and tried to have her thrown out of school. Fortunately, her bookkeeping teacher came to her rescue and she was able to finish high school.

After school, Debbie worked at Woolworths. One day, a man came in and asked for a corkscrew. Debbie didn't know what one was and the man thought that was cute, so he asked her out. They dated for a couple of years, and Debbie hid her brain injury from him. After they married, her husband became increasingly abusive.

Over the years, they lived in Massachusetts, the Caribbean, New Hampshire, and Maine, all while the physical abuse escalated and Debbie's abuse of alcohol increased in turn. At one point while she was drinking heavily and still taking the Valium initially prescribed to her as a child, she began hallucinating. She quit taking the Valium cold turkey the next day, but continued to drink heavily.

When they lived in New Hampshire, Debbie had to go to the hospital so many times (her husband continually blamed it on the dog) that the hospital notified the police. At that point, Debbie and her husband moved to Maine. Debbie tried to get sober, but her husband would not let her go to AA and at one point forcibly poured alcohol down her throat.

After 20 years of abuse, Debbie left her husband and got sober all in the same day when she ran away to Bangor in 1989.

Within a couple of years, Debbie's body began to fall apart. Since 1990, she has had over 30 surgeries: she was wheelchair-bound for a year and at one point she had to be on antibiotics for nine months to fight a serious infection. Ten years ago, Debbie was taking 45 medications, barely knew who she was, and was taking weekly ambulance rides to the hospital. Eventually the decision to reduce her medications was made, and she has been doing great since then. She has been on crutches since 2008, but after the success of a recent back surgery made a tremendous difference in her mobility, Debbie has been working hard to get off of them.

Debbie is grateful to be alive and doing as well as she is. She continues to work on her rehabilitation at WestSide, often working to strengthen her right side with activities like coloring and playing Battleship and Mastermind. She is a member of AA and loves to give back through her volunteer efforts. Over the years, she has volunteered at hospitals, with battered women, and with the Brain Injury WINGS support group, which she has been involved with for the last six years. Debbie has overcome so much in her life and she is an inspiration to us all.