My Wife’s Inspiring Battle With Traumatic Brain Injury and PTSD



The five-year anniversary of my wife Shelly’s traumatic brain injury just passed last week. Her life, and our entire family’s life, was forever changed in a split second on that cold day in January of 2013. We had a freak accident happen within our home. A home-made bottle of ginger ale was taken from the refrigerator to the kitchen sink to be poured out. Shelly was busy and didn’t pour it out right away. As it sat on the counter for a few days, it went from cold to warm, and it slowly fermented. As it fermented, it turned into a bomb. The bomb happened to detonate at the exact instance that Shelly walked past it in the kitchen. The force of the blast through the tiny opening of the 2-liter bottle knocked Shelly unconscious to the ground. We estimate that she regained consciousness about twenty minutes later. She was bloody, her face was swollen and there was ginger ale splattered all over the kitchen.

Dazed, she called me immediately. I was at work, running a natural foods store in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. It took me a bit to understand what had happened. She sent me a picture of her face. I was horrified at the sight of her swollen, bloody, black and blue face. We lived in tiny and remote Victor, Idaho. I called neighbors to see if any were home that could take her to the doctor. Everyone I talked to had already made the commute to Jackson Hole for the day. I look back now and realize how foolish I was in not calling an ambulance. But nonetheless, Shelly got herself to the car. The car was covered in ice. It was zero degrees outside. Between scrapping the windshield and running the defroster, after several minutes, she was able to see out of a tiny corner of the windshield and she drove the mile to the Victor’s lone health clinic.

The nurse and doctor that immediately saw Shelly was appalled at the sight of her face. They immediately thought she had been a victim of domestic violence. Shelly was able to explain what had happened and the doctor quickly called me. I was on my way to cross the mountainous Teton Pass on the thirty-minute drive home to Idaho. The doctor was extremely concerned about both her eye and nose. Thinking her nose and eye socket were broken. She told me the nurse would be driving her to the small hospital in the town of Driggs, which was ten miles north of Victor. I navigated the ice-packed roads to meet Shelly at the hospital. I could not believe how black, blue and swollen Shelly’s face was. The result of the CT Scan came quickly. The hospital doctor explained that her nose was broken, but her eye socket was fine. She told us how fortunate she was that this was the only extent to Shelly’s injuries.

We went home very confused as to how this kind of accident could happen, but also feeling lucky that this was the extent of it. As we entered the kitchen at home, we saw sticky ginger ale everywhere. I also saw the 2-liter soda bottle lying on the ground, intact. The bottle cap was in the dining room. I cleaned up, Shelly rested and we counted our blessings.

The next day Shelly went back to work. She had recently started a baking business that had really taken off. She shrugged off her injuries and dug into her many baking orders at the nearby commercial kitchen that she rented space in. As the days passed, her nose and face hurt, but she was healing up and life was getting back to normal.

Fifteen days after the accident Shelly called me at work to ask me to bring food home for dinner. She started to talk, but couldn’t get the words out.   Panic stricken, I quickly left work and drove home. I called the doctor and told her what had just happened. She told me that we needed to see a neurologist right away. The neurologist only visited our remote valley only twice a month, but she explained that he would be there tomorrow and for us to come in. As I rushed into our house, I was greeted by Shelly sitting in the living room. She struggled to talk and barely could walk. I was numb with shock.

That next day we visited the neurologist. He told me that Shelly was much like a soldier that was hit by a bomb at war. She had a traumatic brain injury and she would not be getting better. This was our “new normal” and I needed to adjust to it. He said this all in such a matter-of-fact way. This gentleman certainly lacked bedside manner! At one point he asked Shelly why she talked in such an “infantile” way.

From this day forward the true journey began. I quickly realized that there must be better care than this rude, insensitive doctor. Walking and talking had become so difficult, she was having to learn how to do this again. Parts of both her short and long-term memory were gone.  I was working for what turned out to be a non-compassionate jerk that did not like that I needed to cut my workload from 70+ hours per week to 55 or so. We had no family nearby. We moved to the Tetons less than two years earlier, so Shelly had not made close friends yet. We were isolated, alone and facing bigger hurdles than anyone could imagine. We had two children that quickly stepped up and helped however they could. Dylan was 17 and Taylor was 12.

The closest large city to us was Salt Lake City, Utah. It was five hours away. I made an appointment at the University of Utah Neurology Department. Shelly was furious with me and did not want to go. She did not realize how severe her situation was and how she desperately needed help. In Utah I learned that we were extremely fortunate that Shelly did not lose her life that January day.

I was falling apart. I would cry uncontrollably as I drove to and from work. I was not a stranger to tragedy. My fiancée had been killed over 20 years earlier (My Story) and now I was driving down the road crying and saying “why me again” and “why Shelly”. But as I walked through the door at work or at home, I tried to appear to have it all together.

I had never considered Shelly a very patient person. But I was becoming amazed at how patient Shelly had become with herself and her situation.   I was feeling sorry for her and for myself, but she would have none of that. She started working each and every day toward improvement. Baby steps were being made. Fairly quickly we discovered that western medicine does not know how to really handle traumatic brain injury. Their answer seemed to be to over medicate every symptom. They had limited answers on how to truly treat the root of the problem.

We also learned that Shelly had what was called an “invisible injury”. Her face had healed up nicely, so she looked great! People cannot understand how severely injured a person can actually be when they look great. Friends and family started to think she must be fine, since she looks so good. That was hard, because we needed so much help, but people didn’t understand that at all.

We eased away from “Western medicine” more and more. There were a couple of local “alternative” medical providers that started to do wonders for Shelly. One provider worked on manipulating her central nervous system in a way that was re-wiring her brain cells. The other did amazing work with acupuncture and acupressure. We traveled to Arizona to learn “Neuro-feedback” treatment that we could do from home.

We would constantly experience small milestones. Milestones such as; driving to the corner to pick up Taylor at the bus stop, cooking a simple meal or walking to the mailbox down the street. Shelly kept working so hard and was so aware of each improvement she had made. The milestones acheived gradually became bigger and bigger.  We had become so close as a family. Myself, Dylan and Taylor were the only people that truly knew what a courageous battle Shelly was fighting. On the rare occasion that we would see friends or family, they would only get a small glimpse of her struggle. It was  hard for them to truly understand the magnitude of the battle.

A little over a year and a half ago we moved back to Arizona. I feel like this has been the single best thing for her. Friends, sunshine and familiar surroundings have been amazing for her.

So many areas of her injury have improved. The post traumatic migraine headaches occur far less often. In my estimation, her motor skills are now 80% of what they were prior to her accident. Some of the areas greatly impacted are; her mapping skills are gone.  She struggles with any type of  multi-tasking. Simple math has become difficult.  Areas of both her short and long-term memory are still affected. She spends hours each day doing brain exercises that help her continue to make improvements.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is the biggest repercussion of her injury.  The PTSD is still very severe. Her brain remains in constant panic mode. Noises, commotion, sudden and abrupt changes all create complete havoc on her brain. I have become extremely aware of our surroundings at all times. I try to quickly make appropriate adjustments when necessary. She is able to go to Taylor’s varsity basketball and football games. But with earplugs and sitting away from the band and the majority of the crowd. She is able to drive the surface streets in our far western Phoenix suburbs and for a few miles on the freeway when traffic is light. But she certainly cannot drive across town on the interstate. The two worst nights of the year for her are 4th of July and New Year’s Eve, as the fireworks put her in uncontrollable tears and fear. There are so many examples of things that trigger her PTSD. To see her so quickly in such fear is both helpless and heartbreaking to me. My biggest goal for us is to find the proper treatment to help combat this PTSD “flooding”.

I am Shelly’s caregiver. There are many things that she can no longer do for herself. But being around her every day, I can’t properly express how inspiring she is to me in her courageous daily battle. She deals with the ramifications of her brain injury and PTSD with such positivity and grace. I am in awe of her strength and optimism.

Shelly is truly my hero.




46 thoughts on “My Wife’s Inspiring Battle With Traumatic Brain Injury and PTSD

  1. Allow me to say how much I admire both of you in your determination to fight this battle. We had a similar situation in our extended family that was the result of illness rather than injury, but we watched for more than 20 years as they bravely carried on their struggle and never lost hope. Stories like these remind us how precious is the time we have with those we love. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. So inspiring Bob. Your journey with Shelly is amazing and filled with so much love. Thank you for sharing your story. You both are always in my heart. 💞

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Precious ones….I am humbled by your journey. I completed a series of 20 sessions of Neurofeedback (in Tulsa, OK) for my TBI, and it made a huge difference in my anxiety level. Also, practicing EFT daily (Gary Craigs) has made a huge impact on healing my PTSD. All my love to you.💜

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hello,
    I have a TBI from a car that hit me from behind doing 38 mph and i was at a dead stop at a RED light. My head bounced of the steering wheel like a weeble wobbles. I can only slightly imagine what your wife went through to be hit in the face with that bottle cap. I too went to work the next day, I had a very important meeting I had to be at and my bruises would heal, like your wife, but work needed to go on. I too went to the doctor, and then to a neurologist with the bedside manner of a jack-ass. He even went so far as to write in my chart that he thought I was faking my injuries so that I wouldn’t have to return to work. I find you and your wife my heros – you’ve been through so very much and found encouragement within and for each other. I cannot work either, have short and long term memory issues and find life to be a very big struggle most days. All I can say from the bottom of my heart, Thank you for sharing your story with all of us. You’ve touched my heart in such a very special place. with love, Marie

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Holy crap. Thank you for sharing your story. As a fellow natural foods and mountain lover, I can imagine myself in this scenario and boy, is it terrifying. My father makes his own apple wine and it exploded once while we were out for dinner. Could have definitely killed whoever was standing next to it. Oh my God I am so happy Shelly is getting better. This is an amazing story. If you haven’t already, look into the ketogenic diet. They have been doing studies with TBI patients in repairing the brain. It might help. Best of luck to you both. Wow.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you for sharing for sharing your story. Jan 2003, I was in an auto accident and experienced severe brain trauma. Because I was the alternative girl already that was the route I took in recovery and have been told multiple times the reason I recovered was because I didn’t have the surgeries or over medicated. The recovery was long and took a lot of work, but I believe the reason was for me to have the experience and know how to help others. I have since written an award winning book, created healing tools for others, and opened a non-profit healing center. I would love to discuss with you further.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Thank you for following my blog and liking my recent post here:
    The notice I got led me to your own space here and I have read through your story. I’m sorry for what you have been through, not just the tragedy which alone is more than most can bear, but also the condemnation of your moving on and finding happiness with a special person you are able to share your life with. I don’t have to try to imagine how hard it is to live with the effects of brain injury, it is very real for me as you will know from my blog. It is rare in my experience to have a man be able to openly and honestly share his personal feelings and experiences the way you have done, especially publicly, and I’m certain it will be helpful to others because of your sincerity in doing so.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Ann. It has been quite a journey. It’s really felt good to share my experiences and see that it’s helping others in their journey. I had all this bottled up for too long. Thanks for reading 🙂


      1. It’s very enlightening to discover how our own sharing of a real story and its often adverse effects us seems to give others the permission to open up themselves. Too often we humans wear masks and guard ourselves against letting people into our private experiences. Then something difficult happens and changes that for us, and the more real we become with others, the more real our relationships become and people around us start to respond by letting down their own guards, and beautiful relationships happen – the one we have with ourselves, and those we have with others. Take care 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

  8. A truly amazing tale, reminding us how hard life can be for any of us at any time. I second the encouragement re Neural Biofeedback — it’s a very logical form of retraining our neural pathways and has worked wonders for me in dealing with childhood trauma. It grew out of the work with PTSD called EMDR, or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, that showed that neural pathways can be “reprogrammed.” My therapist and I did a little EMDR work, but most just a very gentle, simple reconfiguration of traumatic memories is what’s worked. Have faith in the approach you’ve taken. I send encouragement and gratitude to both of you.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I have finished the blog as of now and await updates as they come. What an amazing man you are and an amazing family you have. I don’t have any experience with a traumatic brain injury, however, I experience PTSD from a years long traumatic time. Prior to my diagnosis, I thought PTSD was something either a soldier had or a person who experienced a one time traumatic event such as a mass shooting or rape. I had no idea it can be something to struggle with because of on going abuses. When you wrote of Shelly’s PTSD, I felt like I was not alone. My triggers are not the loud noises, it is more a tone of voice, an escalation of a verbal conversation, certain phrases being said… it is a difficult and scary thing. I admire you for sharing, I admire Shelly for continuing to fight and I hope today is a day of conquering! Please tell Shelly to keep on keeping on, I am rooting for her ❤ And to you, thank you for loving the way you do. You have brought your fiance' to life again and I feel sad the world lost a gal like her so young and you have shared Shelly's challenges in a beautiful way that has helped me remember I too can be strong and overcome what knocks me flat. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Karen, wow…your words brought me to tears. Thank you. It feels so good to know that after all this time, I am finally touching and helping others. My heart goes out to you in your battle with PTSD. One day at a time. I am working on another piece that will be posted soon. Again…thank you for reading, commenting and your encouragement 🙂 Bob


  10. Hi, you don’t know me but I write for a sailing and adventure travel blog. If you ever have time, I recommend you and your wife learn to sail. It’s done wonders for PTSD and puts people back in control of the controllable. We discuss this a bit on the site. We are

    Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s not a perfect solution but it’s helped me with my PTSD and I think it could help others. Puts folks in control during times of stress and allows them to make important decisions that have an immediate effect. If you guys ever come to the West Coast, I’d love to take you sailing.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I put my money where my mouth is,,,I sail and have PTSD, but I also write about it and try to help others gain awareness that there might be great alternate solutions. Western Medicine is a bit bundled up sometimes. There’s also a place here in San Diego that does equine therapy for PTSD that’s quite successful.

        Liked by 1 person

  11. I am so sorry for all that you have been through as a family and especially that medical professionals let you down. I not only have experienced being ignored in the medical profession (because I do not look disabled) but also because I was a coroner death investigator and have read through what probably amounts to thousands of pages of medical records for my cases. I also spent 30 years as a cops wife. I have studied PTSD to better understand many of the suicides I saw as well as to be a better listener to my friends on the job who faced life or death situations. If no one has suggested this yet, have you tried essential oils to possibly help with some of the anxiety? I know from experience that certain smells and sounds can immediately and drastically effect someone with PTSD. I am sure ginger-ale is not a calming scent to Shelly. I have been using essential oils for some time now. My go to is Peppermint oil. It calms my stomach as well as helps with my chronic migraines. I have hyperosmia and am very sensitive to perfumes. I have come to realized that being in a crowd I smell all the different people and it feeds into my claustrophobia, especially when I fly several times a year. Peppermint under the nose helps me with that. There is now a blend from doterra that is a calming blend. Some people prefer Lavender. Obviously this is no quick fix but if it helps at all, then it is a step forward. There is also a digestive blend that helps with nausea and such however it does have Ginger in it and if that is a trigger then it might be counter productive. I won’t go anymore into my story but I would like to follow your blog and Shelly’s story. Having met and interviewed many homeless/transient people who are veterans I firmly believe undiagnosed or improperly treated PTSD is a big factor in why so many cannot live in mainstream society. Prayers for continued treatment that is helpful!


    1. Hi. Thank you for reading and for such a thoughtful response. Shelly loves peppermint oil. It is especially effective for the post-traumatic migraines. She has tons of allergies, so unfortunately a lot of the other blends she’s unable to try. It’s been quite a journey. I really appreciate you following :). I look forward to following yours now too!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. What a beautiful tribute to your amazing wife. She is definitely an inspiration for all!

    We had a freak accident in a rental home (after our home was struck by lightening). Unfortunately my six year old lost his life in the accident. My 3 year old son and I witnessed it. I can very much relate to the struggle in moving forward, especially with PTSD. Wishing you all much love and strength in your continuous journey.


    Cara M.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Cara for saying that about Shelly.
      I am so sorry about what you and your family has been through. The pain can be so unbearable and torturing.
      I will be following your blog too. Writing can be so therapeutic….


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