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Joanne Susi

"I lost consciousness in the helicopter and I remember thinking I was dead, and that this was the end…then nothing,” Jim has no memory of his time in the hospital during his stroke, but came out the other side dedicated to fight his way back. And fight he did!
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Ryan Farrell - Family Stories

GATERyan Farrell suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury in a cheerleading exhibition in 2010. In the articles below, each of the Farrell family members share their personal experience with Ryan's Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). A brain injury doesn't just affect one person, it happens to the entire family and community. Family, friends, teammates and co-workers are all affected by a single brain injury.



ryanRyans Story:  Before April 18, 2010, I was a typical 18-year-old: I was finishing up my freshman year at college, planning out internships and possible career paths, and was setting my sights on living in New York City.  I was on the cheerleading squad, had just finished the initiation for my sorority and was looking forward to all of the clubs I would join at school.  My life was nearly perfect.

While performing with my cheerleading squad at a fundraising exhibition, a flyer on top of my stunt group fell and landed on me. I did not receive immediate medical attention and was encouraged to keep performing. A short time later, I collapsed and did not regain consciousness. I had sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI), along with a collapsed lung and fractured vertebrae in my neck.  I endured two emergency craniotomies, my skull bone-flap was placed in my abdomen to preserve its viability, and I spent the next two weeks in a medically induced coma.  There were so many unknowns.  The only thing my family knew for certain was that I had suffered a TBI and that the road ahead was going to be lengthy and arduous.

My recovery continues each day. I have spent the past four years fighting to regain control over my life, to return to as much of my old life as possible.  I have lasting physical and cognitive effects from my brain injury.  I’ve had multiple surgeries to fix the alignment of my right eye.  I have ataxia as a result of my injury which gives me a jerky, unsteady walk and causes involuntary movements of my muscles. Because the injury was to the left side of my brain, it affected the right side of my body. 

BIA-MA has given me an outlet to turn this negative into a positive. I’ve been able to share my story as a survivor speaker to bring awareness to teens and young adults of the detrimental impact that brain injury can cause not only on the survivor but on the entire family.                                                                                                             


dadDad Remembers: Everything changed when I received that call from my wife. Our youngest daughter, Ryan, suffered a TBI at a cheering exhibition.  As I rushed to the hospital to be with my family, my thoughts were of both of my girls. Courtney was preparing to graduate college and begin her life.  Ryan was finishing up her first year at college, with all the promise that the future held for her.  As I entered the ICU and saw Ryan lying there on life support, I was devastated. Her life, our lives, were never going to be the same. It became a matter of “if she survived” and if so, what type of a life would she have.

Ryan’s TBI permanently altered our family. Despite the challenges of living with a TBI, Ryan is a truly inspiring person. We are incredibly proud of her compassion for others especially those who have also suffered severe brain injuries but are not as fortunate in their recovery.  Her work with BIA-MA has and will continue to be an important part of her recovery. Over the last four years, we’ve realized the necessity of organizations such as the Brain Injury Association of Massachusetts. With your support, BIA-MA can continue to advocate to improve sports safety and help prevent future head injuries. I strongly feel that had Ryan received better attention as soon as this occurred, the outcome could have been different. 



momMom's Memories: One of a mother’s worst nightmares is that phone call informing her of an accident/injury involving her child. That call came in the early afternoon of April 18, 2010.  Having been unsuccessful in reaching Ryan earlier that morning on her cell, I was becoming somewhat concerned.  Call it a mother’s intuition. I knew something was not right when a call came in on my landline (which is rarely used). A paramedic from the Poughkeepsie, New York area informed me that Ryan was being transported to the hospital after being injured at a cheerleading exhibition at the local mall.  No other information was given.

My oldest daughter Courtney (who was home from school that weekend) and I left immediately for the 3+ hour drive to the hospital.  About an hour into the ride I received a call from the neurosurgeon at the hospital stating that “I am going in to operate, she also has a collapsed lung and broken neck and I don’t know if I will be able to save her”. Ryan had suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury.

I don’t know how we managed to get to the hospital in record time.  A million thoughts were running through my mind.  I was running on auto pilot. I was preparing myself for the worst, but nothing could have prepared me for what I actually saw.  My little girl lying there in a coma with her head all bandaged up and tubes and wires attached everywhere.  I was devastated.  How could this have happened? This is something that happens to others, not us.  

The following week involved two more surgeries to her head and a number of other procedures.  We sat vigil in her room and what little sleep we had was in the chairs or floor of the ICU waiting room.  The only clothes we had were those on our backs.  We weren’t prepared for this!  What if Ryan never regained consciousness? And if so, would she ever be able to walk, to talk to know who we were??  Would Ryan ever be able to live a normal life?

Ryan was in a medically induced coma for two weeks, including her 19th birthday.  She spent a total of 20 weeks in in-patient facilities where she received intensive occupational, physical and speech therapies. After more than 4½ years of struggling and countless uphill battles, Ryan’s strength, positive energy and infectious personality has helped her to persevere. Ryan was determined to return to college (after missing an entire year) and graduated in May 2014. Ryan’s injury and recovery process has been a life altering learning experience for me.  I have days of feeling extremely angry and frustrated. Safety rules and regulations should be in place for every sports participant, not just those of contact sports! I am constantly worrying about my “adult” daughters and their safety. I would love to be able to wrap them in a bubble for safe keeping.  A TBI is something that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

Then I am surrounded by Ryan’s smiles, humor, positive energy and optimism.  As quoted by a friend, “Thanks for being an awesome role model for me and other people.  Ryan you are living your life in a way that so many others should be, with purpose, understanding, inspiration and sheer optimism.”

We have been extremely fortunate to have connected with the BIA-MA.  This wonderful organization has enabled Ryan to become involved in her passion- communications. She is a speaker for their Prevention Department which, in part, educate teenagers on safety in sports and making good choices in their everyday living.     



courtneyCourtney - Ryan's sister: At the time of Ryan’s injury, I was a senior in college getting ready to graduate- I had come home for the weekend and was getting ready to go back up to school that afternoon when my mom got a phone call from the paramedics who had been first responders to Ryan’s injury. They asked my mother “if she was Ryan Farrell’s mother and that she needed to come up to New York because her daughter was in the hospital”. At this point we were not told anything about the severity of her injury. I decided to go up to New York with my mom and decided I would just return to school the following day (little did I know that I wouldn’t be returning to school until the end of that week to get a change of clothes).

Ryan’s college is 3.5 hours away from our house- while still in western Mass on the Mass Pike, we received a call from the neurosurgeon who needed permission from my mother to operate on Ryan’s brain as she had suffered from a severe brain injury and needed immediate surgery to stop the bleeding on her brain. The surgeon assumed that my father had been driving the car. Upon hearing this I started hyperventilating (we had just lost my grandmother to an aneurism in December of that year).  I kept telling myself that it would be okay and that she would be fine although we really had no idea how she was doing or if she was even going to live through the surgery. When we arrived at the hospital we were still not given clear information (usually seems to happen in times like this). I honestly don’t really remember what happened after that- my father was working in Albany at the time so he got to the hospital later that afternoon. The neurosurgeon met with us that afternoon and basically told us that it did not look good and that we should prepare for anything.

We were allowed to go see Ryan in the ICU that night- I almost vomited/fainted upon seeing my sister hooked up to every machine imaginable including a respirator. I remember thinking that it wasn’t real life, just a bad dream, this is something you see on Grey’s Anatomy not in real life and especially not to your sister. Other family members showed up that night and we all “slept” in the ICU waiting room on the floor. That night, one of the ICU nurses, Patty, told me something I would never forget- she said that “she could see in my sister’s eyes that she was still there and would come back”; that sentence was my driving force to keep strong for Ryan’s recovery. About a week later, the day after I had left (my mom made me go back to school) Ryan underwent an emergency craniotomy, due to too much pressure and swelling on her brain. I remember thinking of what the nurse had said to me on the first night she was there and I knew that she would be alright, and I still believe it is true to this day when I look at Ryan and see how far she has come.

I want to share my story and my sister Ryan’s story because I feel that it is important to show that a brain injury affects everyone in the survivor’s life, especially family. Although I did not go through what she went through mentally and physically as far as her recovery process- I felt helpless then and still feel helpless at times now because I can’t help her through her daily struggles. I went through a guilt phase where I constantly struggled with why it happened to her and not to me. To watch your best friend and sister struggle and have no power to help them is like being in a nightmare where you have absolutely no control. Throughout Ryan’s injury I learned new ways to be supportive and sometimes the best support was just being there even if I had nothing to say. I have honestly never in my entire life met someone who is stronger or more of an inspiration to others than my younger sister (and I'm not just saying that because she is my sister!) She has honestly overcome more obstacles in the past four and a half years than most people will experience in their entire lifetime. Her injury was a life changing event and I can’t say that I would have been able to handle it with the same strength, grace, optimism, and will power as she has. Even with everything she has been through, I don't think I know anyone who is more passionate about life and making others happy than she. She is always smiling and bringing positive energy to every person she encounters,- perfect stranger or best friend- and I don't know many people who can say that they are capable of doing that.

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