“Sister Kenny and Courage Center taught me how to live my new life.”
~ Cheryl Wilson, client
In 2000, at age 35, Cheryl Wilson was the mother of two sons and well established on a professional career path as an executive administrator. At 36, she had a motorcycle accident. Doctors at Mayo Clinic, where her battered body arrived, gave her a 50/50 chance of survival.
“I’m alive only by the grace of God,” Wilson says today at 48, 12 years later. “Evidently, I’m a part of his bigger plan.”
Following her accident, it took Wilson a year to heal well enough to consider working again. She found that her thinking was different from her pre-accident thinking. The injury to her brain affected many functions, most notably her executive processing and cognitive functioning skills. As a result, Wilson held jobs only for a short time. She couldn’t pay attention to small details, buckled under stress, and became fatigued easily. Suffering from severe depression, she struggled through nine jobs in eight years. “I felt worthless and finally gave up, filing for Social Security Disability Insurance – another first for me – in 2011.”
Wilson sought help from Sister Kenny Rehabilitation Institute. Every other week, she worked with a neuro-psychiatrist, who helped her understand the emotional impact of living with a changed brain. She also worked with an occupational therapist, who “taught me how to think smarter, not harder. She taught me to listen to my body when it tells me I’ve overscheduled myself. And she taught me organizational skills to help me manage my life better.”
Wilson’s drive for self-sufficiency and work would not be denied. “I went to Anoka County Workforce Center for help finding employment. An advisor there suggested that perhaps I was attempting to do work that my skills no longer fit. She suggested I go to Courage Center to have my skills assessed and determine what type of employment my new post-injury brain was best suited for.”
At Courage Center, Wilson met Tanya Dyer, a vocational evaluator. An assessment revealed that Wilson still possesses a brain with aptitude for clerical and administrative work, but not for high-stress, long-hour positions, which overwhelm her processing capacity.
“That was such a relief!” Wilson said. “Tanya helped me define the parameters of my skills and understand that the reason I had not succeeded at so many jobs was because their demands fell outside of my brain’s capacity. Finally, I could stop beating myself up. I was not a failure; my capabilities had changed, so I needed to find work that better fit the new me.”
To achieve that goal, Wilson attended Courage Center’s Work Readiness Program. “Three mornings a week, for six weeks, I went to work at Courage Center, performing a range of administrative tasks: keyboarding, filing, handling phones and email. I learned how to take direction and follow new procedures. I learned when to assume responsibility and when to ask for help. In short, I learned how to once again fit into, and contribute to, an office environment.”
Equally important, Wilson learned the limits of her energy. “By week six of the program, we had discovered that 15 hours a week was my max; beyond that, I hit a wall. Fatigue causes my brain to shut down. So part-time work is my new goal.”
In spite of many physical complications resulting from her accident, Wilson is once again working. While she looks for her perfect part-time job, she’s working for Kelly Services as a teaching para (a teacher’s aide), twice a week. She also volunteers at a nearby hospital. She’s staying connected with Sister Kenny Rehabilitation Institute and Courage Center, managing her other health issues, and enjoying her role as mother to her sons.
“What would my life be without Sister Kenney and Courage Center? I’d have no quality of life. No hope or joy of the future. I’d be in the darkness of depression. Sister Kenny and Courage Center have taught me how to live my new life.”