What Doesn’t Kill Us Makes Us Stronger, part 1

A German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, actually said it more eloquently: “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.” I thought this title was fitting for the couple I’m highlighting this week. I met Greg and Laura Nordfelt at the 2013 Brain Injury Conference, just two years after Greg’s motorcycle crash. I’ve enjoyed our friendship and watching this couple get stronger through their traumatic experience

Written by Greg Nordfelt

Greg headshotI am a three time Traumatic Brain Injury Survivor (TBI). By looking at my picture, you’ve already noticed I have a huge forehead. Many have told me I could rent space out on it as a billboard. Well it’s also a magnet to immovable objects. That’s why I’ve had three TBI’s. The first was in high school when I was skiing at Alta. I fell on a mogul run and hit the post of a sign that ironically said, “SLOW SKIING”. I hit it head on with the left side on my forehead. The second time I was racing heavy bicycles in England downhill on the wrong side of the road. I didn’t make the turn at the bottom and my front tire hit the guard rail. I hit a lamp post head first, again with the left side of my forehead. The third time I crashed my motorcycle into a bed of Lava Rocks and, again, I hit them, you guessed it, with the left side of my forehead. I am an adrenaline junky, but unfortunately my forehead had a crazy attraction to all of those immovable objects which eventually caught up to me.

Last August was our 5 year anniversary of my accident. We drove to Coeur d’Alene, this time in a car, to meet with Kootenai Health’s executives, two surgeons, and the critical care team that save my life. This was my first time to meet them consciously. I wanted to thank them individually, face to face, and hug them so they would know how grateful I am for what they did for me and my family!

Greg & Laura-Gala

2016 Greg & Laura, Festival of Trees

The press showed up and articles were written. We were on the cover of magazines. They asked us to be their “Spokespeople” for their Festival of Trees. It’s a black tie fund raising Gala.  They asked us and we agreed to help them set a donation record. They were expanding their Emergency Department and Operating Room, the two areas that saved my life. They called us the “talent”. Put us in wardrobe and makeup. They ran out of spray for my face and said I’m “Ruddy” and “Scaly”! I’ve crashed into too many immovable objects and my “talent” and “cover” days are over! We helped them set the record they asked for and raised over half a million dollars!

My primary focus after I got home from the hospital was keeping my marriage with Laura because the TBI divorce rate is huge at 70%. My second focus was keeping my family together. Everything else I had was intently driven into relearning how to speak, read, write and walk again in Neuro Rehab. I worked harder than they asked me to so I could get my job back!

Unfortunately, I lost most of my friends and communities. They became the casualties of brain injury. As a survivor, I ruminate, isolate, avoid loud noise, bright colors, confusion, strangers and crowds. I fatigue easily.

As a result, I was no longer the late night party animal I used to be. I wasn’t as apt to go on long road trips on a whim. I avoided situations where I would get over stimulated and fatigued – the exact opposite of my old self.

I woke up one day after fighting to recover and realized I was a newer version of my old self and I had lost the human connections I once had. The good news is our neuro rehab physicians and therapists not only helped me remap my brain, but gave me tools which helped me nurture my most valuable relationships. Now it was up to me to reach out to friends and family and hold fast to the human connections that were dear to me.
On my second outpatient speech therapy session I learned my biggest lesson after my accident and it had nothing to do with learning how to talk again.  It had everything to do with being taught how to nurture the most important relationship I had – my marriage! I showed up complaining about having my first disagreement with Laura since the accident.  Remember I didn’t have my wits about me yet and could barely speak, so disagreement was a huge stretch!  I sat down across the table from Kim with a huff.

Greg & Laura-landing pad.png

2016, Greg & Laura Coeur d’Alene Hospital Landing Pad

“What’s wrong?” Kim asked. I tried to explain what happened the night before with Laura. After a few minutes she said, “Greg I’ve heard enough. Where’s Laura?”

“In the car,” I said.

“You need to stand back up in your walker, walk to your car and ask her nicely to come and stand next to you.” Then say these words to Laura.  I’m sorry.  I love you.  Thank you for all you are doing every day to take care of me and then HUG her.

This was the most important thing I learned in all of my therapy, by far!  It was an awakening moment for me. I learned that day I was a traumatic brain injury survivor and others were working their butts off to take care of me.  And, I need to thank them – often.

Thank you Greg for sharing and to your therapist, Kim, who told you what caregivers need to hear often. You are an inspiration and definitely stronger by your experience!

Greg had a 35 year career with Zions Bank and was Senior Vice President before the accident. Now he is a motivational speaker and a professional member of the National Speakers Association. The year 2016 was a big year for Greg as he was the Utah Speech and Hearing Association’s (USHA) Ambassador was awarded Survivor of the Year by the Brain Injury Alliance of Utah (BAIU) in October. He is a mentor and volunteer with Neuro Rehab patients and caregivers at IMC and is writing a Memoir expected to be published in 2018.

 To see Greg’s website visit: www.gregnordfelt.com

On Wednesday, Laura’s will share her perspective.

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