With the NFL "Concussion" scandal beginning to fade from public consciousness, it's easy to forget that traumatic brain injuries are still a serious problem. A traumatic or acquired brain injury can change your life in an instant - whether you're playing pro football, fall off a ladder or get injured on the job. People with brain injuries know first-hand - life is different post-injury.
In the interest of raising awareness, we're using this blog to highlight celebrities who have survived traumatic brain injuries and what they've taken from the experience. If you have survived a TBI, we encourage you to share your story - and what you've taken from the experience - at the end of this post.
Gary Busey suffered a TBI in 1998. Best known for his roles in Lethal Weapon, Point Break and Predator 2, he crashed his motorcycle while not wearing a helmet. Busey fractured his skull and spent two months in the hospital. In an interview one year after the accident on The Tonight Show with David Lettermen he discusses how the accident changed his personal life, shifted his perspective on the world and informed his philanthropic endeavors. He has worked to raise $400,000 for muscular dystrophy and advocated for a skill tests that could result in required helmet use on motorcycles. Busey readily admits that his TBI caused him to act impulsively and has significantly lowered his "mental filters." Letterman even jokes "you're funnier now."
Busey has remained active professionally, maintained a populated filmography and capitalized on his well-known, unique demeanor. Despite his TBI, he was able to continue his acting career, raise a son and even become a major proponent for Brain Injury Awareness. He won $40,000 on the Celebrity Apprentice in 2011 and donated all of it to the Center of Head Injury Services in Missouri.
Steve Young was the San Francisco 49er's quarterback from 1987 to 1999. He suffered a minimum of 6 concussions over the course of his career. He retired early after a tackle by Aeneas Williams left him unconscious on the field for several minutes. Since then he's been an advocate for concussion awareness, prevention and protection. Young even created a collaborative infotainment page on YouTube discussing the prevalence of concussive risk for every player in every sport, the symptoms of a concussion, the risks of returning to the field while concussed, the effect age has on concussion recovery and severity, and what to do if you've been concussed. The mantra of the video is "When in doubt, sit it out."
On June 7th, 2014, A Wal-Mart semi-truck crashed into six cars, putting Tracy Morgan in a coma for eight days and killing his long-time friend James McNair. His recovery was long and arduous. Months later he still required a wheelchair for taking more than "some steps." In September 2015 he made a surprise appearance at the Emmy's, where he shared his first-hand TBI experiences. Using comedy and emotion, he told us that he was starting to feel like himself again. Backstage he shared that he "couldn't walk" and had to relearn "how to stand up and sit down again." Unfortunately, despite improving by leaps and bounds, "Tracy will never fully be himself again" and his therapy has no end date.
Tracy has since returned to showbiz. He's been welcomed back by Saturday Night Live, appeared in three films and has released a new standup special, "Tracy Morgan: Staying Alive." He is an active philanthropist supporting causes like Drug Abuse, HIV/AIDS and disaster relief.
Gabrielle Giffords, Arizona House Representative from 2007 to 2012, suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury from an attempt on her life at a public speaking event at a Safeway near Tucson. The gunman shot her in the head at point blank range and then opened fire on the crowd. Thirteen people were injured and six people were killed including Federal Judge John Roll, and nine-year-old girl Christina-Taylor Green. Here is the NBC report from the day of the incident.
A year into recovery, Giffords resigned from her seat in the house of representatives to dedicate herself to rehabilitation. Here is her resignation letter. In the years following, she championed gun control, founded "American's for Responsible Solutions," which is now known as Giffords. They campaign in congress and have worked to pass legislation that takes guns out of the hands of high-risk individuals.
Mark Kelly, Gabrielle's husband, put it best when he addressed the would-be assassin: "Mr. Loughner, you may have put a bullet through her head but you have not put a dent in her spirit and her ability to do good."
In 2017 she became the third living woman to see have a Navy Warship named in her honor. She fights the good fight and in spite of her injury she is an American hero.
A helmet saved Kevin Pearce's life, but the incident still left him with a Traumatic Brain Injury. He was a professional snowboarder and had his accident while practicing a maneuver called the "cab double cork" on a half pipe. He was preparing to compete against Shaun White for a spot on the US Olympic Snowboarding team. His injury was very severe and cost him his independence, his voice, career and ability to walk.
Pearce's rehabilitation was extensive and he had the support of his family and friends, but he attributes his successful and ongoing recovery to his competitive nature. He will never compete again, but has been able to safely return to recreational snowboarding. He also co-founded a non-profit called Love Your Brain dedicated to raising awareness and improving the quality of life for people with brain injuries and those with Down Syndrome people.
Kevin is very active in the world of brain injury and works very hard to educate and inspire people. Here he is leading a TED talk about TBIs, and this is his website if you'd like to know more about him and his causes.
Kevin Pearce said it best in his TEDx Talk, "a brain injury is like a fingerprint, no two are the same." Evidenced here through these wonderful stories is the fact that TBIs are the hardest thing a person can experience, but that also, to an extent, many of these injuries can be overcome. Their accomplishments are inspiring, and are proof that a new best self can be reached.
Do you have a personal story of surviving a brain injury? We welcome you to share those stories with us below.
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About the Doc
Dr. Bryan Weinstein is a practicing psychiatrist with certification from the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. He has practiced psychiatric pharmacology and psychotherapy since 1997. Dr. Weinstein is the CEO of Life Skills Village.