Joan Miller

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On June 12th 1999 I was almost killed by a hit and run drunk driver. My husband John and I were attending a business conference in Ogden, Utah when it happened. I was left with numerous injuries however the permanent injury, the one that would change my life was a TBI. My injury was so severe I was given a 3% chance of survival.

After a four-day coma I woke to a world I no longer knew; all the rules had changed. After being flown via medical jet back home to Portland OR, I spent a month of intensive rehab in the Rehabilitation Institute of Oregon (R.I.O.) at Good Samaritan Hospital. It was there I learned to navigate my new world safely and start my ‘new normal.’ I had to learn to walk, talk, eat, bathe, and try to make sense of the world I had just been thrown into. After being discharged from RIO I began two years of physical, cognitive, and visual outpatient rehab. It was, to say the least, grueling however it had to be done. Being blessed with a wonderful Husband who felt his sole purpose was to protect and support me, and surrounding myself with family, friends, and professionals who had only my best interest at heart, I worked on recovery.

My first personal step was to forgive the drunk driver who nearly killed me and seriously injured my husband. I knew the young man did not wake up with the intention of doing what he did that evening. He made a bad choice. By forgiving him, I let myself move forward.

In working with local support groups, I, John, my sister Shawn and a few other survivor friends, realized that brain injury survivors could benefit from working with a peer group, a group made solely of survivors and their families/caregivers who would come together to share their struggles and their successes.

That was the birth of BIRRDsong – Brain injury Information, Referral and Resource Development. Inspiration for the ‘song’ part of the name came from knowing we all keep a special song in our hearts. It’s personal and strong enough to take us to places we thought we might never see. We call on that song for strength, reminding us to keep putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward. Even if it’s a baby step to pick up the phone and call someone when something is troubling you and you need an extra ear or maybe a hug.

I firmly believe my brain injury was the greatest gift I’ve ever been given. It’s allowed me to discover my purpose which is all about helping others discover their strengths no matter how ‘banged up’ they are. We’re all put here for a purpose and not just to take up space.

It is so important to surround yourself with others who keep supporting you on your journey. That’s exactly what I did and still do. See doctors and therapists who specialize in brain injury and are willing to listen to you and who you feel comfortable sharing with. Always remember to put the most important thing first, you! You are still a vital part of society and, like everyone else, you deserve to be heard. You are NEVER a brain-injured person, you are person with a brain injury. Don’t let your injury define you; you are not your injury. You are a person who is now living with a brain injury. The emphasis should always be on you!

I’ve been published: July 2015 – TBI Hope & Inspiration online magazine

To Be Inspired – Stories of Courage and Hope after Brain Injury – David & Sarah Grant

My biography – Learning to Make Toast – by Kelly M. Sharp – will be published sometime early this year.

At you can read my blog, check my calendar for speaking engagements, and find out the most recent information about publication of my biography.

If you’re struggling through rehab and adapting to your new life, remember there’s a light at the end of your tunnel and it’s me holding a flashlight and my hand is reaching for yours. Just keep moving forward.

You’re Worth It!