We are an all-survivor panel of experienced speakers. Our presentations
- Use video, PowerPoint, resource brochures and props (skateboards, helmets)
- Inform and engage the audience about brain injury from the survivors’ points of view
- Are delivered with passion and first-hand experience of injury, recovery and support
- Include audiences at all grade levels in an interactive discussion
- Can be offered in classes, school assemblies and PTA meetings
- Advocate for safety, prevention, support and resources
Several of the speakers on our Panel are also public speakers. For more information, click on the “Resources” tab above and then click on the “Speakers and Presenters” page.
Contact us for more information and to schedule a presentation in your class, assembly or meeting:
*Thank you to Professor Enie Vaisburd and her Pacific University class for their beautiful collaboration in creating the above video.
Who we are
Fern Wilgus: Founding Member
Hi, my name is Fern Wilgus, and in 2007 and 2009 my life changed dramatically due to strokes. Recovering from a brain injury is challenging, frustrating, and fearful. I made a commitment to myself that I would not just exist but LIVE, no matter how well I recovered. My challenge was: nothing showed up on any of my tests (CAT, MRI). My first Neurologist said I was “embellishing my symptoms.” The second Neurologist sent me for a Neuro-psych exam, and I was rated in the low quadrant. For all practical purposes, I fell through numerous “cracks.” Persistence by my primary doctor got me rehab care that I so badly needed. I vowed at the time that no one should go through what I went through. I had a choice of either suing for defamation of character or doing something about “filling the cracks.” I chose the latter. My goal is to inform and enlighten that non-brain injury world about brain injury, not just from professionals but from survivors. We have first hand knowledge of brain injury and of its challenges, accomplishments, and recommendations for setting goals, working hard and striving for success.
Cheryl Green: Founding Member
My emphasis is on ending the silence and stigma around mild traumatic brain injury, especially disability that comes from repeated injuries. I am trained as a speech-language pathologist. Combining that training with my own experiences of many mild brain injuries from sports for over 27 years, I talk about the subtle and strange ways mild traumatic brain injury affects your social life, emotional control, and even your abilities in school and work. There is often shame and misunderstanding around the athlete who “looks just fine” and can’t figure out why some things that were easy one day are hard now. I joined the BIRRDsong Speakers Panel to share professional resources with students and teachers and open the dialogue about the reality of how even a mild injury can change your brain.
Jeff Black: Founding Member
I am a proud recovering man with a traumatic brain injury from 05/27/2007. The recovery road is not as smooth as I would like it to be though it is the one that I am on. My accomplishments are many post-accident and it is something that I work on all the time. In the past seven years I have been accepted to an international art show three times of which once I placed third. Though I do not have my construction and remodeling company anymore, I still retain a vast amount of knowledge, skills, and abilities of the trade. Between these two passions I have accomplished making my 20th anniversary to my beautiful wife and being a father for our two wonderful children. Despite what many say that I am the survivor in reality it is my family that is the true survivors for they are the ones picking up the pieces and helping me along.
Joan Miller: Founding Member
I’ve been living with a TBI since June 12th 1999 as a result of a young man’s choice to drink, drive, crash into our car and then leave the scene. After many grueling years I spent putting myself back together, I’ve dedicated my life speaking to students and people throughout the community about choices, and consequences. I begin by explaining how alcohol can have permanent damage to the underage brain and have the potential of bad decision making and possibly changing the course of a promising future. Underage drinking can be the start to a life of self-destruction due to the chemical changes in the brain.
I’ve often wondered if the young man who hit us had a drinking problem in his teens, and if someone had only reached him earlier, like I’m doing to the students, things may have turned out different. I’m an example that through resilience and good choices, anything’s possible; to embrace the world and touch a life. It’s all about choices! By taking the focus off yourself and putting it on others, we can all work together making a positive difference in this world.
Jamie Wirth: Member
In 2008—my freshman year of high school—I got a concussion at basketball practice. Before I was fully recovered from my first concussion I was hit again which then gave me second impact syndrome. As more months passed numerous other symptoms arose and I continued to get worse. If I knew then what I know now about concussions I could have prevented a lot of damage from being done. That is why being on the speakers’ panel my goal is to educate, bring awareness, and to make people think twice before returning to their regular activities. Concussions change you emotionally, physically and mentally. Having a brain injury has given me the opportunity to reach out to others who are living with one as well. As important as it is to inform you, I also want to give you hope; because it’s completely true that brain injuries do change you, but I believe it can and should be for the better.
Gordon Viggiano: Member
We were a typical family: we lived trying to do things right — working hard, providing for the family, following Christian values. On Gordon’s 51st birthday, out of nowhere, a terrible thing happened: he suffered a massive stroke! One might say we were dealt a dirty card, but we see it differently. The experience has been a true test of faith and perseverance.
Our journey of recovery is still in progress. Gordon is now 6 years post-stroke and we are happy to report that he is getting better all the time. We will discuss this life changing experience and the lessons that have come along with it. Our hope is to inspire people and help them see that good things can happen, even when one doesn’t think it is possible. Gordon is certainly not fully recovered from his stroke so this isn’t an “I did it and you can too” speech. I am in the middle of my recovery and so my perspective is from “the trenches.”