A Note from Debbie

Posted by Annie Pixley

February 4, 2011

A personal story from Debbie Leonhardt for our Brain Injury Blog

Debbie Leonhardt is a survivor, a professional counselor, author, eloquent speaker, friend, and a most gracious lady.  Her story is one that will touch hearts and inspire all who have experienced a traumatic brain injury.  This is her true story, in her own words.

I was desperate.  I had sustained a brain injury in an automobile accident and was struggling to deal with everyday living activities.  After almost burning down my home twice by leaving cooking units on unattended, I finally realized I had a problem and that it wouldn’t go away.  Everything in my life that used to be so easy was now almost impossible to do without putting myself, others or property at risk.  I was frustrated at losing my keys repeatedly, leaving frozen groceries in the car to melt, getting lost going to familiar places and incorrectly dialing the phone numbers of my family and friends.  I couldn’t trust myself with anything, and lived each day in fear.  I was fortunate in that someone who knew me realized what was happening and referred me to a specialist who knew how to help.

I entered an outpatient treatment program and began working harder than I had ever worked in my life!  When my speech therapist, Mia, first suggested using a memory book, I resisted the idea.  I had never needed one before and didn’t want to need one now!   But I was desperate to regain some independence and make sense of the chaos my life had become.  At the beginning, my word-finding and writing skills were so damaged I was only able to keep a simple daily schedule and journal, mostly in list form.  But gradually, with help, I began to understand how to use lists to help me with the skills I needed to not only survive each day, but to thrive.  Even now, I continue to use on a daily basis the techniques, strategies and coping skills that were devised or taught during my therapy.

At the time of my accident I was working full-time in a public school as a counselor, and part-time as a music and youth minister in a church setting.  Because of my functional deficits and extreme fatigue, I was initially unable to return to work.  My first attempts at doing so were disastrous and left me feeling useless.  My self-concept and identity eroded  because I had always defined myself by the work I performed or what I accomplished.  But gradually, over a period of several years while continuing my rehabilitation, I returned to work full-time.

It has been nineteen years now since my accident, nineteen years of growing, learning, sharing, doing and sometimes even failing.  I retired early from the school system and now own and operate my own business.  Some deficits remain, but I wouldn’t change my life or anything that has happened, including my brain injury.  It is a part of who I am, and I am at peace with that.  As you travel your unique journey, my wish is that you also find peace.


One response to “A Note from Debbie”

  1. Stephanie says:


    Thank you for your posting! I too sustained a TBI when I was hit by a truck while walking. The accident occurred almost one year ago. All along my doctors have been telling me that I should be fine within 3 months, then they changed it to 6 months, and then a year. Now that I’m at the one year mark and still having symptoms I am starting to do more research. I now realize that recovery from a TBI can take many years and I may never be the same as I was again. At first this made me feel very disappointed, but I know now that I am not alone in my struggle for recovery.

    Thank you again,


    Stephanie Nimitz

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