Kim’s trauma and her contagious smile

Kim Smith TBI patient, traumatic brain injury, gunshot wound, recovery, speech language pathology, rehabilitation

Kim Smith was a veteran public-school teacher. One day, out of the blue, her life changed forever.

A home invasion resulted in a gunshot wound to Kim’s head. Rushed to Hennepin Healthcare, she recalls her first memory of her long journey to her current state of recovery.

“I vividly recall first coming out of my coma and the nurse asking me, ‘What do you remember?’ and then rushing to get my doctor,” she explains. “Then Dr. Wermager came into my room and, as calmly as possible, said, ‘Kim, you did fall, which caused your facial fractures, but you also suffered a gunshot to the head. You’re at HCMC, you’re in good hands’.

“You must have the wrong person,” Kim said to the doctor. “I knew I had fallen and experienced an awful ringing sensation in my head but, I could not believe what he was telling me.

“But his manner was so calm and reassuring I began to accept what he was saying. And as soon as I did, the people at HCMC shifted my focus to the future.”

Kim’s doctors sat down with her and asked what her goals were. “I told them I wanted to be able to walk, eat a meal without a straw, and speak without a stutter. They responded by creating a game plan that broke it down into small goals.”

It took a month for her to sit up and bear weight. Goal. Then she stood up with a walker. Goal. Then she shuffled with a walker down a hallway as a nurse followed her with a walker in case she fell. Goal.

“It was so easy for me to get discouraged and depressed, but they never let me dwell on the negative. When needed, the doctors, nurses, and therapists would set new goals to keep my mind and body moving forward.”

Kim stayed in the ‘good hands’ of HCMC for the next two months, placing all her trust in them as they lifted her back on her feet and steadied her until she was able to transition from full-time HCMC service to Home Care Rehab.

Over the next few years, her primary physician, Dr. Allison Wert became her team ‘quarterback,’ coordinating care between multitudes of clinics and specialists. Everything from the Traumatic Brain Injury Center to Orthopedics, Dentistry, Speech-Language Pathology and Optometry.

Kim Smith TBI Patient, traumatic brain injury, gunshot wound, recovery, speech language pathology, rehabilitationToday Kim can joke, “I like to say, I was Humpty Dumpty, and they put me back together again.”

Gradually, the prospect began to emerge that she could return to her work as a teacher. However, she had lost vision in one eye and still suffered lasting effects of brain trauma.

“HCMC exceeded all expectations in preparing me for this new chapter” explains Kim. “My speech pathologist, Allison Carolan prepared me for work re-entry by planning my classroom workspace, coaching me on movement and positioning my body in order to compensate for my limited vision, equilibrium issues, and depth perception challenges—thus ensuring I could navigate my professional world.”

Kim’s journey came full circle when she fulfilled an early promise she made to her doctor: “One day I will return as a volunteer and help other patients.” And that is how Kim has paid it forward: navigating patients through the halls or just sitting at their bedside.

Kim’s smile is contagious, but so is her positive attitude. She inspires all who come in contact with her.