Personal Injury

years after accident, TBI victim suffers but hasn’t lost her spirit

On July 10, 2002, Susan Riddle was driving with her family when a drunk driver’s SUV landed on her windshield. Riddle’s husband and son emerged from the vehicle unharmed, but Susan was not as fortunate. Kent Riddle had to perform CPR on his wife as he waited for help to arrive. Having sustained a serious traumatic brain injury (TBI) in the crash, Susan would spend weeks in a coma, months in a hospital, and years in rehabilitation. Her fascinating story was told in BE Healthy magazine.

Riddle’s experience illustrates how the symptoms of TBI can vary dramatically between victims, depending on which of the brain’s structures have been damaged. The degree to which a TBI victim recovers is also highly variable and largely unpredictable. Riddle has no memory of the time between the day of her accident until August 25 – the day, as she said, that her “brain just turned on.”

After emerging from her coma, Riddle changed hospitals and began intensive therapy, relearning basic tasks such as talking, walking, and brushing her teeth. But she remembered none of it.

By mid-September, Riddle recovered enough to go home. She feels fortunate that her recovery was so rapid. Mostly, however, she is grateful that her cheerful disposition and positive attitude remained intact.

“A lot of people with TBI (traumatic brain injury) have real anger issues that come out,” she told BE Healthy.

Although speedy, Riddle’s recovery was not 100 percent. Many years after the accident, Riddle still has not recovered peripheral vision on her left side. Because of her vision loss, Riddle’s driver’s license doesn’t permit her to drive beyond a 10-mile radius of her home. She relies heavily on family to take her to places she wants to go. She can’t see tree branches on her left side and gets hit in the head frequently when she’s out walking her dog.

Facial recognition is her other lingering problem. Riddle easily recognizes the people she knew before the crash. When she meets new people, however, remembering them later isn’t an automatic process. She has to carefully observe hairstyles, facial features, and other characteristics.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 1.4 million Americans suffer from TBI every year. TBI is also responsible for about 50,000 deaths in the U.S. every year.

The number of people in the U.S. living with TBI is widely estimated to be between 2.5 million and 6.5 million. Many common cases of TBI occur every day but often go unreported and untreated.

To listen to Susan Riddle’s tell her story, click here.