Jennifer Field was 17 when a car accident left her comatose and severely brain injured. Few expected her to survive. But she did.
Fewer expected any kind of recovery. And it HAS been a battle. Step by agonizing step, for nearly 20 years. Now, she travels the country, performing a one-woman show, re-living her story so that others who’ve suffered traumatic brain injuries never lose hope.
Doctors tried to discourage Jennifer’s mother from holding out hope, even when she noticed a difference.
Her mother told her that when she’d say, “Doesn’t Jennifer look great? She’s really doing much better,” the doctors would tell her, “Don’t you understand how serious your daughter’s injury was? She will never get better.”
Jennifer says, “Now, 17 or 18 years later I’m still recovering. I mean, my cousins, my whole family, who live down here that I haven’t seen in almost a year are amazed by my speech by my movements. The brain is constantly recovering. The doctors don’t know. They just don’t know. No one knows about the brain.”
“Someone said to me, ‘Are you drunk?’ And I get so, instead of just not caring and just going on and I’m like, ‘No I had a head injury, okay’? It’s like, not a very good response.”
Yet, she’s chosen not to run away and hide. In fact, she purposely puts herself out front. She tells her story again and again, reaching out to new audiences and people all the time.
“Because I feel that not only does telling my story help others which I want to do so much, it’s a constant rehabilitation for myself. Every time I tell my story a little piece of my trauma leaves. It’s like I’m healing myself.”
Still, she has to relive it again and again. You have to wonder if she wouldn’t prefer being able to run away from it. Her response is frank and surprising.
“No, because it is my life. I am my accident. It’s like way back in the beginning I said, you know I just want to be normal. Forget about this, I don’t want to ever be thought of as having an accident but now since I’ve gotten better, I am so grateful for my accident. For the fact I had a head injury. I am just so grateful for everything that has happened to me because it’s given me a new appreciation for life. It’s given me so much.”
She realizes how difficult it is for people to truly understand that concept.
“I do. Because I wouldn’t have understood it. And I don’t think you can truly understand it until you accept your injury. And I remember looking at people talking to me and saying you need to accept what happened to you. And I would think, god damn it! How could I accept this? How can I accept my injuries and everything? It’s the most horrible thing that happened to me! And I don’t even know if I’d call it accepting, but in a way, something happened as time went on.”
At the time of the accident she was one of the top equestrian riders in the country, an Olympic hopeful. It was a dream she desperately clung to, but when she finally let go, a new one became even clearer.
“My dream is to have my foundation become very successful and to help people experience everything they could hope to experience and acquire all the help they need and I want to perform my one woman show all over and if that turns into a tv show, a movie, I want to write a book with my mother.”
She’s already off to a great start. The J. Field Foundation, inspires and informs those affected by brain injury of alternative treatments. It even plans to help defray the costs as many are not covered by insurance. And she’s performed her one-woman show for the general public, educators, and even doctors.
And she managed to find time to graduate Magna Cum Laude from Wheaton College. She discovered something very profound, that disability does not limit ability, desire or even pride.
“I’m a new person. And I was really… born again. And I have a new life, which I feel is filled with a brain or a mindset that is much more forgiving and much more appreciative and grateful for the things you might take advantage of. You know for the little things — walking down the stairs, which is very difficult for me especially with my eyesight. It’s just a huge, everything is a big accomplishment.”
She hasn’t just accepted who she is, she’s proud of who she is. She has something many spend their whole lives searching for. She has a purpose.
“I found it again. Me as a person, I need that feeling. I need to be all eyes upon me”
Click here to learn more about Jennifer and the JField Foundation. You’ll also be able to order a dvd of her one-woman show, A Distant Memory.