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Interview: Dixie Fremont-Smith Coskie, author of Unthinkable: Tips for Surviving a Child’s Traumatic Brain Injury

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(Interview conducted by Tyler R. Tichelaar of Reader Views.)

Dixie Fremont-Smith Coskie is passionate about being a mother, writer, fundraiser, public speaker, and advocate for the disabled. Not just the mother of eight children, she is also the mother of a child who suffered a severe traumatic brain injury. Dixie helps raise awareness and funds for traumatic brain injury through working with both national and local organizations, as well as through many charity events that help benefit children.

Dixie has become a writer of care giving articles, both on the web and in health and medical-related magazines such as the “Health Monitor.” Dixie shares precious tips for other parents who face a traumatic injury or illness. She also provides caregivers support, resources, and advice. She recently contributed five tips on stress and care giving to “Empowered Patients” on CNN. Dixie and her son Paul are engaging, motivational speakers, sharing their inspiring story to give comfort and hope to other families facing serious illness or injury. Their story has been featured in “The Saturday Evening Post,” and the two have made numerous appearances on TV and radio.

Dixie attended Pine Manor College and has worked as a teacher’s aide at the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Deaf and at the Kennedy Day School in Brighton, Massachusetts working with emotionally challenged children. Dixie also currently works as a Personal Response Associate for a medical alert company, helping those in need. Dixie lives in Upton, Massachusetts with her husband and eight awesome children.

Welcome, Dixie. It’s an honor to get to interview you today. First of all, will you tell us a little about your son and his traumatic brain injury? How did the injury happen?

Hi, Tyler, and thank you for taking time to interview me today and for asking about my son, Paul, who at the age of thirteen was struck by a car while riding his bike — without wearing a bike helmet. Paul suffered numerous injuries, including severe trauma to his brain. In that single instant ten years ago, five days before the Twin Towers crashed to the ground, my family’s world was changed forever by traumatic brain injury (TBI).

Suddenly, my family was dealing with a life-and-death situation, nothing that we’d ever really thought about. The medical world was very foreign to us, and in a word, we were terrified. We waited and prayed constantly at our son Paul’s bedside. Would he survive? Even worse, all the while we questioned what would happen if he did. What would his limitations be? Would he be permanently handicapped? Would he have any quality of life?

Paul was given last rites. What proceeded was a month-long vigil in the intensive care unit where Paul lay in a coma while doctors and nurses worked frantically to keep him alive. When Paul’s eyes finally did open, he could not process information. He could not move his body. He could not speak. He didn’t even know who I was.

Sadly, I have come to find that when parents are suddenly thrown into a catastrophic situation — such as being told that their child has been born with a significant birth defect, or has been severely injured, or has been diagnosed with a life-changing or life-threatening disease — they all experience the same universal emotions: fear, grief, helplessness, and hopelessness. What every parent in these situations craves is HOPE. Hope that their child will survive. Hope that their child will not suffer. Hope that their child will get better and have a meaningful and happy life.

Dixie, I’m sure that this is a touchy subject, but may I ask what difference his wearing a bike helmet would have made in this situation? Do you or Paul feel guilty over his not wearing one?

Tyler, it is not a touchy subject at all, and actually because Paul was not wearing a helmet, both Paul and I have become advocates to help get other kids to wear helmets. Paul will be the first to tell other children that “wearing a helmet might not look wicked cool, but it’s way cooler than getting this badly injured — it’s “unthinkable” not to wear a helmet. We know now that had Paul been wearing a helmet his injuries would not have been as severe.

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