"You lose everything you knew or had in a blink of the eye and awake to another person who has to relearn and get to know the new person you have awakened to."
In 2009, Nancielee Holbrook was going to dinner with a friend when they noticed a car was broken down on the side of the road and stopped to help. A truck driving 60 mph hit their car from behind injuring both Nancielee and her friend, causing them to be life-flighted to the hospital. On that day, Nancielee suffered a traumatic brain injury and her life was forever changed.
“I lost the job of my life,” says Nancielee. “I was an officer at Mass Maritime Academy and just loved it but I couldn’t do it anymore.” In addition to having to give up her job, she also lost many of her friends following her brain injury.
“You get left behind, because your friends, they change,” says Nancielee.
Once an avid hockey player, Nancielee can no longer play the sport she loves. “That was such a big part of my identity and part of my world, so now I have to change that as well,” she says.
Determined to get her life back and find herself again, Nancielee and teammates Sue, Paula and Wendy on her former hockey team, the Bulldogs, came up with the Never Give Up Hockey Tournament, a three-day women’s tournament, which kicked off in 2012. The tournament was created to raise funds that will go to the Never Give Up Fund, a fund that “lets survivors know that they’re not alone and that people do care,” she says.
Nancielee hopes one day the tournament will become large enough to raise money to provide a survivor with a scholarship for a camp, activity or transportation home for the holidays.
“Some days you want to give up because the isolation alone of a brain injury can be difficult and your everyday existence is difficult,” says Nancielee. The tournament “kept me going.”
Although some days can be challenging, Nancielee says she is thankful she never lost her ability to speak, is now able to live on her own, drive and has made progress in her rehabilitation.
Nancielee is not the only brain injury survivor in her family. Her nephew, William, who suffered a traumatic brain injury from a severe auto accident, is a permanent resident at a rehabilitation facility who will never be independent. Nancielee says going to visit her nephew helps her put her own experience in perspective and inspires her to help brain injury survivors, especially those who are living in long-term care facilities.
"They’re lonely. I think that people don’t understand from survivors’ point of view the things you go through,” she says.
Although her brain injury greatly impacted her life, Nancielee is looking toward the future and focusing on helping other survivors.
As a brain injury survivor, “you lose everything you knew or had in a blink of the eye and awake to another person who has to relearn and get to know the new person you have awakened to,” says Nancielee.
“I’m hoping [that I can] not only let survivors know they’re not alone, but also let families know both sides of the fence.”