March is brain injury awareness month and I wanted to take this time to shed light on this issue that is dear to my heart.
“According to the Brain Injury Association of America, each year an estimated 2.4 million children and adults in the United States sustain a traumatic brain injury (TBI), and another 795,000 individuals sustain an acquired brain injury (ABI) from nontraumatic causes. TBIs can affect the functionality of the brain and affects thinking, reasoning, and memory. Whether the victim is an adult, a child, or an infant, TBIs can have a major impact on individuals and their families”.
My hope is that by sharing my personal experience; my family’s story will inspire, uplift and motivate you. May you embrace these words and take the initiative to achieve all that you want, because it is possible! No matter what you may be going though. You can overcome and in the process of pushing through, you can become your own hero.
It was a big night for my little brother, the great rivalry match up. He was a freshman at the time. He played soccer for Skyline High School in Idaho. My brother was basically born with a soccer ball. His soccer career began at the age of 3 and the rest is history. The game was intense. During one of the plays, the goalie came out onto the field, the ball was in the air; the goalie and my brother charged up to gain possession. As they both went into the air, the goalie elbowed my brother in the head. He rubbed the area of impact bur brushed it off quickly and kept playing. Soon after, he laid out on the field, unconscious.
It had been a couple years since my family moved to Idaho. My sister and I lived in Ca. I vividly remember the phone call I received from my mother where she said- “he doesn’t wake up”. My heart shattered into a million pieces and my world stopped for what seemed like a million years. At that moment I wished I could run to my family and be by their side but I couldn’t. My little brother, unconscious and 909 miles away.
With his permission, I will share with you part of our story as a family, from my perspective and the affects TBI can have on the people surrounding the victim. My brother suffered an injury to his head during a soccer game; this injury put him in a coma and was diagnosed with retrograde amnesia (RA). RA is memory loss of events that happened before the incident.
My brother was 14. He lost 14 years of childhood memories. That alone, was a traumatic blow for the whole family.
Imagine having a loved one in front of you, it can be your mom, dad, sibling, anyone, but they don’t recall who you are. Like a clean slate; they don’t know you existed. How would you feel? What goes through your mind? How do you cope? How can you help? This is what we (my family) endured. For me, it was the most difficult part. I remember the awkward moment when I introduced myself to my brother again as I held him tight and cried my eyes out. He didn’t know our parents, our sister or any family member. At the age of 14 he was starting his life, again. He was a blank page and there was nothing we could do. That feeling of helplessness, to this day, has never gone away for me.
After the accident he had difficulty speaking, walking, sleeping, he was a body simply walking and living, but as I remember, my little brother was gone. His happy spirit, the spark he once had was gone. He lost his identity of who he was as an individual or where he came from. He didn’t know a single thing about himself, what he liked or disliked. He knew nothing. He would turn to us for reassurance and guidance. His personality changed. He was short tempered and chose to isolation at times. He had to create a new him from scratch and I can’t begin to imagine how difficult that has been for him.
Going back to school was extremely difficult. He was in high school and all his previous knowledge was gone. He had to relearn everything, something as simple as the alphabet needed to be reintroduced. Academically, he had to begin from the bottom and learn as much as he could to get back on track.
All we could do was help him, motivate him and be there for him. The rest was up to him. He had to get up on his own, he had to cope with what happened to him and use all that energy of anger and frustration and channel it to get back up on his feet and hit PLAY.
I say he is my hero because he was his own hero. He found the hero inside of him and used it to achieve and succeed. He worked day in and day out to better himself. It was a constant battle. He graduated from high school with honors, he was able to get back to the sport that ripped from him and excel. He was able to inspire others. He has been able to create a renewed version of himself.
He is now a Junior at Boise State University, majoring in Accounting and Finance. He is also working. Last year was a tough year for him. He was experiencing difficulty with his balance, breathing and heart rate. We didn’t know what it was until he saw a specialist. He found out he had abnormal brain cells that were affecting all of the above. It was not cancerous (Thank God!) but it was something that needed to be addressed. He went through radiation treatment while working and going to school for about a month. The treatment has helped him but he will need to take care of himself and periodically see his doctor.
5 years later he continues to hit PLAY. Recovery is a daily process. I asked him what was the hardest part and he said, “ not remembering my past. I have 5 years of memory. Not knowing what shaped me as a child or where I come from. All I have are stories”.
I am proud of him and the man he has become and yet to be. Although some of the core pieces are missing, he has us; his mother, father and sisters to hold those pieces together for him. It takes love, support and a lot of patience to help those going through a traumatic event. It has been an emotional roller coaster for us all and we will continue to fight with him. Everyday we fight with You, Ernie. J. Benitez!
His favorite sayings are “all in” and “everyday I fight”. This may be my brothers fight but we have a battle to fight. I hope this reminds you to fight everyday! May you continue to grow. May you fight to be better than yesterday. No matter the battle; be your own hero and fight! Fight with all your heart and soul. My brother has done just that and he has taught me so much in the process. He has overcome and persevered. I am grateful to God that my brother remains on this earth today. All glory is to Him and I know He will continue to take care of my forever little brother.
Brother, you are my hero and you will continue to overcome. We love you, #TeamErnieB!
Seek Wealth in your Health,
To learn more about brain injury and how you can help prevent TBIs, please visit, the CDC at
Famous Faces and TBI
Ernie Irvan (NASCAR legend)
Amy Davis (Miss Utah ’04)
And many more...
Brain injuries are Real and can happen to anyone.