BIRRDsong Co-founder Joan Miller accepts Overcoming Adversity Award at St. Mary’s Academy

Joan Miller is a graduate of St. Mary’s Academy. Earlier this year, they held an awards ceremony for several graduates who have done an exceptional job of overcoming adversity in their lives. When Joan was nominated, St. Mary’s Academy called several BIRRDsong members and personal friends to ask for stories about what a wonderful person she is. We were so glad to share our experiences about what a positive influence Joan Miller is for individuals and the community.

Here is a video of her being introduced at the awards ceremony and then giving a speech. Congratulations, Joan!


Speakers Gordon Viggiano and Jill Viggiano on AM Northwest

Gordon Viggiano is a very experienced, seasoned public speaker. After having a stroke and developing a language disorder called aphasia, he continues to offer wonderful, dynamic presentations. Gordon and his wife Jill were on the TV program “AM Northwest” to promote their new book “Painful Blessing.”

May 13th
9:00 am
ABC, Channel 2

Learn more about Gordon’s story and Gordon and Jill’s public speaking work at

Read a summary from the book, “Painful Blessing” here:

You really do not want to miss this! Gordon and Jill have a fantastic presence. And as a brain injury community, we want to see more people with aphasia given media attention and being valued as public speakers.

Would you like to perform with Disability Art and Culture Project?

If you like to perform onstage, and you’re looking for a place to do that, we’ve got one for you!

The Disability Art and Culture Project is having our 6th Disability Pride Art and Culture Festival this May, and we are looking for more performers.

Please consider applying if you sing, dance, act, read poetry, make films, or have other kinds of performance to offer.

There is no audition. You just fill out a form describing what kind of performance you will do and tell us about yourself. You can find the form by clicking on this sentence.

This is an amazing festival. It happens every other year, and it always brings a huge crowd of people from all over the city. Please join us. We are welcoming and excited to have all types of people from all walks of life. Everyone is welcome.

The deadline is listed as April 1st. You may apply up through April 11th!

Tyler Presnell on AM Northwest

From the AM Northwest website:

“Story Published: Mar 24, 2014 at 10:32 AM PDT

At 14, Tyler Presnell, his twin brother and his younger sister were in a violent car wreck, passengers in a car driven by a close family friend. That friend was 16 and had been licensed less than a week. The crash nearly killed Tyler, but it did not kill his spirit. Having gone through multiple surgeries, stints in intensive care, constant pain and months in a wheel-chair, Tyler knew that he had an important message to share. His speaking career started over ten years ago while he was still a patient in the intensive care unit at Legacy Emanuel Hospital in Portland, Oregon. Tyler speaks of his family, his lifelong recovery and the subsequent pain, and the challenge of living each day with over 80 percent of his short-term memory gone.

To find out more about Tyler or to have him speak at your school or organization click here.”

By the way, TBI survivor Tyler Presnell lives in the Pacific Northwest and is an accomplished poet. See him perform many of his original pieces on his YouTube Channel here. He’s also been doing outstanding public speaking for many years. You can contact him through his website to have him come speak to your group:

“Who Am I To Stop It” documentary film on Pacific Northwest artists with brain injury

Just in time for Brain Injury Awareness Month (or People With Brain Injury Appreciation Month), we have some scenes to show you from a local documentary film currently in production. The film is being made by BIRRDsong member Cheryl Green and features artists who have each had a TBI.

You can read about the film at

Watch the scenes here:

News of interest!

British Lawmakers Intensify Focus on Head Injuries


Spurred by the momentum the issue has gained in the United States, Parliament is examining a tightening of the rules governing the response to sports-related concussions.

Or, copy and paste this URL into your browser:


Injured ‘Spider-Man’ Dancer Discusses His Lawsuit


A cast member of “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark,” whose foot and leg were partly crushed during a performance, discusses his lawsuit in his first interview since the accident.

Or, copy and paste this URL into your browser:


Brain Trauma Extends to the Soccer Field


Researchers found C.T.E., a disease linked to football and boxing, in a soccer player who loved to head the ball, although they said the cause was inconclusive.

Or, copy and paste this URL into your browser:

NW FilmCenter Hosts 37th Portland International Film Festival

This year’s film festival has 104 feature films and 24 short films! Here are a couple recommended by a BIRRDsong member:

Fri, Feb 7, 2014
8:30 PM (World Trade Center Theater)

Sun, Feb 9, 2014

3:00 PM (World Trade Center Theater)


DIRECTOR: Jeff Reichert, Farihah Zaman – UNITED STATES

As the national debate over the future of healthcare continues on, this heartfelt film takes a step back from the politics to give an emotional, on-the-ground portrait of those who live every day without proper access to medical care. Unable to afford treatment, an estimated 45 million people in the US lack access to preventative care and often suffer through illnesses in the hopes that they’ll just go away. Remote Area Medical documents the annual two-day “pop-up” medical clinic operated by the nonprofit Remote Area Medical (RAM) in Bristol, Tennessee. During that time, doctors, nurses, and support workers provide care for hundreds of people who can’t afford routine medical checkups, dental exams, and prescription eyeglasses that most take for granted. A moving portrait of a one-of-a-kind community assembled to secure a better future for us all. (80 mins.)


Wed, Feb 19, 2014

6:00 PM (OMSI)

Fri, Feb 21, 2014

7:00 PM (World Trade Center Theater)



“C-Booth,” the trauma bay at the LA County Hospital, was the first, the toughest, and the best training ground for ER doctors in the country. But when the hospital moved to a modern facility, the dedicated medical staff faced a growing crisis. Code Black follows a group of young doctors as they grapple with the divide between their idealistic expectations for improving patient care and the realities of an underfunded and overly bureaucratic system. McGarry—a full-time doctor at the hospital while making the film—explores the frustrations. How and why do they persist in saving lives in the face of thwarting regulations and paperwork? As one doctor states, “More people have died in this square footage than in any other location in the United States. On a brighter note, more people have been saved here too.” (78 mins.)

General Contact

Phone: 503-221-1156 x10

Fax: 503-294-0874


New call-in radio show on Brain Injury Radio Network with BIRRDy Cheryl Green

I’m excited to announce that the Brain Injury Radio Network (BIRN) has signed me on to run a once-monthly call-in streaming radio show!

The Art of Brain Injury Radio Show Banner shows a photo of a woman with brown hair and a purple shirt, smiling at the camera. There is a sketched brain in the shape of a heart and Brain Injury Radio Network logos. Show details are written in multiple bright colors and a bubbly 1970s font.

[Image description: The Art of Brain Injury Radio Show Banner shows a photo of a woman with brown hair and a purple shirt, smiling at the camera. There is a sketched brain in the shape of a heart, and Brain Injury Radio Network logos. Show details are written in multiple bright colors and a bubbly 1970s font.]

Banner details:

Brain Injury Radio: Take your voice back. The silent & voiceless epidemic. The Art of Brain Injury hosted by Cheryl Green. 1st Tuesday of each month. 5:00 pm Pacific Time. -855-473-3711

This new streaming radio show will be focused on art. Whether it’s your personal expression, therapy, political statements, or pure fun, what does art bring to your life? What are you working on? What are your dreams? How can you–as the whole, complete person you are–reach for those dreams? What obstacles can we work together to break down? If someone says you’re voiceless, how can you use art to let them know you are not voiceless? You may have been silenced, but you have a voice.

This show is focused on peers. Anyone at all can and should listen. But the focus is on those of us who have been stuck in the role of patient or stuck in the role of dependent on others or stuck left to fend for ourselves. The arts can be an incredible tool to showing people that we are who we are, and we are wonderful. We are not broken and in need of being fixed by an outside expert. (Of course, if you want rehab, you should get it! I did! But it’s to improve some skills, not to fix a broken-down, less-than person.)

Think about how you can–and do–reach into your community and reach out to other communities. Paint, draw, film, photograph, sing, tell a story. Tell us about the art of living with your brain injury. Tell us about the art you make.

My debut show:–with-cheryl-green

We’re 5:00 — 6:45 pm the 1st Tuesday of the month. Follow the link above to listen online and dial 424-243-9540 to talk, ask questions, and share.

New concussion law will protect young athletes: Guest opinion by David Kracke

Gone are the days when our kids’ coaches could feign ignorance about concussions. If the flood of information over the past four years about concussions and their seriousness wasn’t enough to educate our youth sport coaches (since the passage of Oregon’s 2009 landmark concussion law known as Max’s Law), then the recent implementation of Jenna’s law is. As of Jan. 1, anyone who coaches our kids, in whatever league, must know about concussions and must know what to do if one of his or her players is suspected of having a concussion.

Jenna’s Law, named after Sisters, Ore., athlete Jenna Sneva, requires all youth sport coaches to get educated about concussions and to implement protocols for an athlete suspected of being concussed. Max’s Law requires all high school coaches to follow a similar concussion protocol. Those protocols include immediately taking the player out of the game, getting the player checked out by an appropriate medical professional and not allowing that concussed player to return to play until he or she has been cleared by a medical professional to do so.
The motivation behind Jenna’s Law and Max’s Law is simple: If one of our young athletes is concussed and if that athlete suffers a second concussion before the first concussion is allowed to heal, then that athlete is at significant risk of second impact syndrome (SIS). Max Conradt, the namesake of Max’s Law, developed SIS after he suffered a second concussion within a week’s time of a previous concussion, and the passage and implementation of Jenna’s Law, where all of our youth coaches are held to the same standard as high school coaches, is the logical extension of the enlightened policy behind Max’s Law.

Jenna’s Law is a sweeping education bill that will benefit Oregon’s young athletes for all time. The law requires all coaches and referees to take one of the available (and free) on-line concussion education courses and then to use that education to protect our kids. The law further provides that the parents of players and the players themselves (who are 12 years old and older) take one of the on-line concussion courses.

What the law will do is create an entire community of players, coaches, referees and parents who are educated about and aware of the terrible risks posed by concussions. It promises to be one of the most important youth protection and education bills ever passed by the Oregon Legislature and it further promises to be a literal lifesaving law.

A coach is given a tremendous responsibility when he or she is entrusted with our kids and we, as parents, are tasked with doing all we can to keep our kids safe, so when the Legislature passes and the governor signs a bill of this magnitude, we all have a responsibility to abide by it. If just one child is spared the ravages of SIS then this new law will be worth everything. If even more young athletes are spared, it will be closer to a miracle.

David Kracke is an attorney in Portland.

Find this article on the Oregonian online at

Chris Whedby’s journey with AVM

I was eating a nice hangover brunch in February 1997 when I got a “something’s really bad is going to happen” feeling. The next thing I remember is a fireman asking me who the president was. At some point on the way to the hospital I realized that I had had a seizure, but was too disoriented for that to have an emotional effect on me.

In the ER, I was treated poorly at first. I smelled like I stayed up late drinking beer, which I had. A good friend was visiting for two days, and we went out until 2:00 AM. I’m sure the nurses thought I seized due to alcoholic withdrawal. They sent me for a CAT scan, and shortly thereafter, they became very, very, nice. I was still fuzzy, but I began to get worried. A few minutes later, a doctor came in and explained that I had an Arteriovenous Malformation (AVM) in my left parietal lobe. (For any ER nurses out there, remember this. Y’all treated me like this was my fault.) I was given IV Dilantin, which really hurt. I was then told to go see a neurosurgeon, and a friend came to pick me up.

I went to see the neurosurgeon the next day. He explained to me wham an AVM was, and the treatment options. The first question I asked was “Have you done surgery on an AVM before?” When the answer was “no,” I basically got up and left. Someone had to be his first, but it wasn’t going to be me. Luckily, a friend of a friend was the president of the nurse’s union at the Oregon Health Sciences University hospital. She asked around, and found me the one doctor in town who specialized in AVM’s, Dr. Stanley Barnwell.

Upon consulting with Dr. Barnwell, we decided the best course of treatment was a two step procedure: a cerebral embolization, followed by Stereotactic Radiosurgery. Dr. Barnwell said he had done this many times before, and didn’t seem the slightest bit worried. I guess I wasn’t feeling too worried myself, at that point.

The next week, it was time for the embolization. I was partially awake during the procedure, but all I remember is him tapping at the catheter entry point near my groin, and a couple of jokes he told. In retrospect, I know he was checking on my brain functioning. Recovery was fine, and I went home the next morning.

Two or three days later, I went in for the radiosurgery. They put a halo on me and had me take a CAT scan. I cannot describe the pain. Neither valium nor morphine even touched it. It felt like my head was in a bench vise. (I later told my female friends that giving birth was nothing compared to this, and I didn’t even get a baby out of it,) After a CAT scan, I waited…and waited…and waited for the computer to process the information needed for the procedure. Finally, they were ready for me. My halo was bolted to the table, the docs left the room, and a robot arm began to circle my head. Later, the halo was removed (thank God,) and I went home.

The next day I looked like I had been beaten up by Muhammed Ali. I could barely open my eyes, as my face was so swollen. My friends looked at me with horror.

Then, everything was fine for the next five years. I thought I’d gotten away scot free. I went off seizure meds after three years of no symptoms, and all was good. Then, in 2002, I had a big, bad generalized clonic-tonic seizure. I went back on meds, and had a horrible couple of years going through one seizure med after another. One made me so ill I had to curl up into a fetal position with the lights off; another messed up my blood lipid profile, tripling my overall cholesterol; another gave me migraines. Finally, the one that worked was lamotrigine. I’ve been stable on that med for almost ten years.

I was in my second year of a Masters in Psychiatric Nursing Practitioner program when things started to go wrong. My attention and memory began to slip, and I became dyslexic. To move on to the next level of the program, I had to write an essay. That’s when I knew something was terribly wrong with me. I just couldn’t do it. I managed to spit out a couple of poorly written paragraphs, but it was rejected, of course. Then it started to go really wrong.

Soon, I couldn’t follow a conversation, would forget what I was looking for, would have to rewind movies several times to remember the plot line, etc., etc.. I was sure this wouldn’t last. I have a B.A. in Psychology, and was well read in brain science. I knew the brain was somewhat plastic, but was unable to follow basic cognitive rehabilitation. That’s when the depression spiral set in.

I had always prided myself on my ability to take in, process, and store large amounts of information. I had a 4.0 grade point average in nursing school, and didn’t even have to work very hard. Now I couldn’t remember how to add and subtract. I could no longer go skiing and rafting with my friends, couldn’t converse with any true intelligence, and began to sleep 12-14 hours per day. Seizure meds plus depression were shutting me down. I could still do things like work on my house at that point, but could only work a few hours per day. redoing was the last major project I did until 2013.

I got SSDI in 2008 after accepting I wasn’t going to recover fully. My depression continued until I just couldn’t function. I had a two good friends left, and they would come over every few months to reorganize my house. It looked like I was a hoarder, but it was just complete disorganization. They saved my life.

Then beer entered my life. Due to my situation, I was a cheap drunk, but was becoming a drunk nonetheless. I drank for a couple of years, didn’t for a year, went back for a year, and I’m now off the stuff for good. It wasn’t a good idea, but it did get me through the really bad part of my deteriorating cognitive function. I never drank during the day, though.The combination of being a cheap drunk, and being sober during the day helped keep my brain from turning into total mush.

About two years ago, things began to stabilize. Before my injury, I was an extremely avid reader. I still can’t make tin through a novel, but I began to read, and comment upon, news and opinion sites on the web. At first, I couldn’t make it through a one page story, and what comments I wrote were disorganized, and had very poor grammar. Very slowly, I began to read longer and more complex articles, and my commenting was becoming more cogent. After two years, I began to be followed by other folks, and was gaining a reputation as one who would make informative and to the point comments. What these folks didn’t know was that it would take me an hour to write something that others could write in five minutes. I had to constantly look up words for spelling, and would spend minutes deciding whether a comma was needed, or not. (Should I have put a comma after “needed”?)I also knew what I wanted to say, but would lose the word, and had to describe the meaning, and then search for the word on Google, etc.. This was some of the best therapy I have had.

At the present, I’m up to about 75% of my previous cognitive ability. I still can’t read a book, but if I give myself enough time, I can write fairly well. I sold my house and bought a 600 square foot condo, which is manageable. I’ve made a new friend, and feel like winter is turning into spring.

The next step is what I am doing right now: Writing an essay for the first time in ten years.

It isn’t hopeless. You just have to meet and accept the person you are now. This person resembles the one you used to be, but is not the one you are a now. Your skill set will have changed, but you will still have one. Your old friends may not have been able to cope with the loss of the person that they knew, but new ones will appear if you are open to the possibility.

Right now, life is good. I’m pleased to have found BIRRDsong. The next step in my recovery is to help and befriend folks who are going through what I’ve gone through. I know intimately the depression, grief, and hopelessness of losing a chunk of one’s life. I was a counselor for twenty years before my injury, and I hope to use the skills I still have to be productive and helpful. I have spent much my life in service to others, and I need to get back to that in one way or another.

Thanks for reading, and I hope this will be of some help to someone.

Chris Wheby