Scholarship Spring 2023 Winner Laurel Rogers

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Spring 2023 Schwartz Injury Law Perseverance Scholarship Winner

Laurel Rogers

Laurel Rogers

In her essay, Laurel describes the obstacles she has had to conquer after suffering a traumatic brain injury during high school. The effects of Laurel’s injuries have changed her life drastically, but Laurel’s positive mindset and passion for helping others have allowed her to continue pursuing ambitious goals and inspire others along the way.

Read Laurel’s Essay:

It was the opening night of my high school’s production of Hello, Dolly! The stage was bustling with a pre-show buzz: sound checks, prop placement, and last touches of makeup. Dressed in all black, it was my duty to move large set pieces on and off stage, according to the current scene. The SAINT (Set and Paint) crew had worked tirelessly, constructing and painting a most elaborate backdrop, including a dramatic center-stage staircase and eclectic furniture. I had engaged in hours of after-school prep in my first semester in high school, working up to such a pivotal evening where we would reveal our masterpiece to an audience. Despite working behind the scenes, I knew every song by heart and would mime most dance numbers on the side with fellow back-stagers. Just minutes before the doors opened, every final detail was being carefully placed.

The next moments, I have trouble recalling. A large backdrop composed of metal panels, suspended midair above the stage, was adjusted. In an instant, the gears malfunctioned, and the heavy backdrop came crashing down. My head happened to be in the perfect, unassuming stage right locality. I suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury on that November evening in 2018, which affected the rest of my high school experience tremendously. I had little idea of the hundreds of headaches, eighty-eight days of missed school, and over twenty doctor inquiries to follow.

I spent the following three years recovering from a freak accident that left me in perpetual survival mode. Not only did my body suffer but my mind and relationships did too. School activities left me in bed for days with extreme migraines and the required focus that classwork demanded sent me home frequently. My life was characterized by anxiety-induced headaches and headache-induced anxieties. Friendships became hard to manage. I last-minute canceled events and trips that seemed too overwhelming to manage alongside pain. My academic and social life were totally limited, which was completely uncharacteristic for a studious 4.0 student and friendly performer. Doctors offered potential diagnoses but not answers: allergies, hereditary migraines, social anxiety, poor posture, and more. Provided treatment only aggravated my existing symptoms. Two years post-accident, I was diagnosed with moderate depression and began to suffer a nervous breakdown. Around that time, I first heard the words “Traumatic Brain Injury”.

A Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, is “a form of acquired brain injury, [and it] occurs when a sudden trauma causes damage to the brain”. My injury was mild for its type, but nonetheless, altered my high school years significantly, and prompted me to seek healthy avenues of coping. Implementing consistent and enjoyable activities became valuable in the support of my well-being, as I learned to live with head trauma. The regularity of visits with a counselor whom I trusted, for instance, helped me to process and persevere weekly. I met with a physical therapy team who knew me well and offered emotional and physical support on a bi-weekly basis. Favorite hobbies, such as knitting and playing the harp, provided creativity and accomplishment that was sustainable and adjustable with my pain. The most significant support during this time was a personal belief in God and a faith-based community. During evolving and uncontrollable illness, my relationship with God and with fellow believers became a sovereign stability in my life. To anyone experiencing chronic illness, I would suggest this: implement a flexible but supportive and joyful routine in your life that provides encouragement, support, and accomplishment during a difficult time. These things changed my life for the better and played a substantial role in my healing from a Traumatic Brain Injury.

Over time, it seemed my intense symptoms dwindled with the help of medical professionals and coping skills, but the injury I sustained in 2018 continues to affect my life in small ways. Today, I suffer from head pain when I experience added stress or exertion. I get motion sickness easily. I am pre-disposed to symptoms of anxiety and depression. Focusing for long periods of time exhausts me. These symptoms are minuscule compared to what I could have suffered long term, and I do not take that for granted.

Having just finished my first year studying Special Education at Colorado Christian University, it is clear to me that my TBI experience forced me to develop lifelong skills. Incorporating routine and relaxing practices has been critical to my success as a student. My Traumatic Brain Injury taught me a lot about balance. Every day is a practice in listening to my body and mind. When schoolwork becomes overwhelming, I step back, breathe deeply, and take a break: a quick nap, pick up my knitting, or walk around campus. Additionally, I have grown in self-advocacy. Taking advantage of my school’s resources, including accommodations, professor after-hours, and free campus counseling have been vital for my well-being as a student. Through seeking out this help, I have built many supportive relationships with faculty who care about me. The awareness and advocacy skills I gained through my experience with chronic pain will aid me for the rest of my life and prove helpful in a career working with students with disabilities.

A severe concussion in my freshman year of high school led to many unexpected struggles and losses, but it developed character and perseverance, which I would not have developed otherwise. Where I suffered pain, I developed self-awareness. Where I suffered anxiety, I developed coping skills. Where I suffered loss, I developed a faith in something greater than myself. With the assistance of professionals, I was able to recover from the worst symptoms of my Traumatic Brain Injury almost entirely, and believe I am better because of it. My injury and related health issues have inspired a future career in working with struggling students with disabilities like myself. My Traumatic Brain Injury, for better or for worse, has changed my life and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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