10: Treasures from Tragedy

10: Treasures from Tragedy

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Recovering from Traumatic Brain Injuries

Treasures from Tragedy

Example is leadership.

~Albert Schweitzer

It is difficult to find treasures in the midst of a devastating tragedy, but there is always beauty to be found among the ashes.

It was spring 1997. I was enjoying my new little family in Little Rock, Arkansas. I had married and moved five hundred miles away from my family and friends in Louisville, Kentucky two years before. I saw it as an adventure! I was starting a new life in a new town with a new husband . . . and now a precious baby, Andrew.

As I was driving to a cookout with my three-month-old son in tow, my happy life changed in an instant when my car was t-boned by a teenager on a neighborhood street. An emergency room nurse witnessed my collision. That was the first of many blessings, as he ran over and administered CPR to get me breathing again. The second blessing was that Andrew was unharmed, asleep in his car seat. God saved our lives that day. That was the ultimate blessing.

I have no memory of my accident or the months I spent in the hospital. After being comatose for two months, I graduated from critical care to the brain injury unit. My family members in Louisville kept tabs on me through my parents, who rented an apartment in Little Rock during my hospital stay. They still like to tell funny stories about my behavior during that time. That is one of the treasures of having a brain injury. I can’t remember the awful and inappropriate things I said and did during my immediate recovery.

My current job is to discover what God wants me to do with this interrupted life of mine. I have poor balance and an odd sounding voice, so no more marathons or singing for me. It’s time to develop a new set of skills!

My husband divorced me after the accident, sending me back to my family in Louisville. I would have felt completely abandoned had I not come home to a very large family intent on getting me back to a high-functioning and happy life. I’m heartbroken to have missed my son’s childhood. Life has not turned out as I dreamed, but I could not have been the best parent and also continued the hard work of rebuilding myself. My son was well cared for in my absence and is a fine young man today. Another treasure!

I can still remember that evening when my father and I arrived home in Louisville from packing my belongings in Little Rock. One by one, family members came over to welcome me home. My sister Julie helped me unpack and organize my clothes. It was a loving gesture. But since we are the same size, I think she might have been looking for things to borrow, too.

My family’s desire to help me led them to the Brain Injury Alliance of Kentucky (BIAK) that serves brain injury survivors and the families who care for them. My brothers Dan and Andrew, my sister-in-law Ann, and I have all spent time serving on their board of directors. The real treasure that came from all of this was that my family began and organized the first Brain Ball in 2004, a gala that raises money to enable BIAK to continue helping and supporting the brain injury community. I have the privilege of choosing another brain injury survivor each year to receive the award, honoring their courage, perseverance and service to others. The Brain Ball has become one of the most prestigious fundraisers in Louisville. And it always leaves my family feeling grateful that they began this wonderful affair.

But since the Brain Ball happens just once a year, what could I do to make my life useful the other 364 days? With no family to care for anymore, what was my purpose? Before the accident, I would go for long runs to ponder such questions. Now I go for long, slow walks. I have always been very regimented and dedicated to getting enough exercise to stay healthy and fit. Could I make something useful for others out of my passion for fitness?

Intent on finding a new purpose, I began studying and ultimately became a certified personal trainer. A therapist from Vocational Rehab suggested I teach exercise classes in senior homes and facilities. They even purchased a portable sound system and microphone so that students could hear my soft voice over the music I play. In 2010, my career in Senior Fitness was launched!

My classes are relaxed and fun. Students sit in, or stand by, a chair while stretching and toning their muscles. My years as a physical therapy patient have given me much insight into how the muscles work together to produce a strong and flexible body. All the balance training I have received has given me even more tips and cues to share with my class. Balance work is important for everyone as they age.

My local newspaper featured a story about the classes I teach. It recognized some of the seniors in the class and celebrated how they were able to become stronger, while having a good time in the process. My classes were so well received that I went back to study for another certification as a Senior Fitness Instructor. A friend in the marketing and advertising business designed a logo and webpage for my business, Silver Strength.

My disability seems to bring out the good in people. It certainly brought out the kindness and generosity in my four brothers. Since my brain injury, I can no longer drive. I have a driver to get me to and from classes on time. Since I pay my drivers more than I charge for a class, I must teach two classes each day to have my income exceed my expenses. My brothers cover my driver expense, allowing me to enjoy my little income.

Another treasure is that a family friend started a scholarship at my high school for a student exhibiting courage and determination under hard circumstances. It’s called the Mary Varga Life of Courage award. It’s such a thrill for me to see the scholarship recipient’s excitement and gratitude when his or her name is called. I was also selected for membership in my high school’s Hall of Fame. It was such an honor and a testament to how far I have been able to go since I graduated from Assumption High School.

All of these blessings and treasures have not taken away my disabilities or the difficulty they add to my life. But these treasures show me that if you keep trying and laughing and loving, in spite of your problems, others will be inspired to make an impact in their own little corner of the world.

~Mary Varga

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