In December, 2017, RLF provided a grant to enable a young US Army/US Air Force veteran, Harmony Allen, to attend and participate in the panel discussion Faces of Female Brain Injury, sponsored by PINK Concussions at the National Institutes of Health Workshop: Understanding Traumatic Brain Injury in Women.
My name is Harmony. I originally joined the military in 1999, and served in both the US Army and the US Air Force. I had a great love for the military and aviation. I first started as an aerospace medic. Later in my career I discovered a love for skydiving and found that there was a position opened at the Air Force Academy as a jump instructor. I started to do training jumps to meet the requirements and obtain the licenses I needed. Around my 100th jump I had a hard opening and a high-velocity skydiving accident on December 30th, 2006. In simple terms, I jumped at 18,000 feet and broke my neck at 5000 feet, going 120 mph. If not for the quick action of my fellow skydivers, I would have died before reaching the hospital. I was intubated and in a coma for a week, rated at a 7 on the Glasgow coma scale, which is the most severe head injury possible. I don’t remember much about the two weeks after the accident. As you can imagine, it was a tough time for me and my family. Once my physical injuries healed, I stayed in the military and I continued skydiving because no one told me not to, no one told me there was anything wrong with me. They were wrong. Way wrong.
I was left with frontal lobe damage with deficits in attention control, emotional control, social behavior and judgment. I had problems with decision-making, voice volume control, and a subsequent unexplained blown pupil left me virtually blind in my right eye. But none of that was diagnosed for almost 3 years. I went from doctor to doctor, looking for answers as to why I couldn’t remember things, why I wasn’t the ‘same old Harmony.’ Finally, in 2010, I was diagnosed with Traumatic Brain Injury. But with the relief of that diagnosis, came the pain of being discharged from the military. My dreams shattered, hopes of a 20-year military career following in my dad’s footsteps ended as abruptly as my parachute had opened.
I’m now a veteran rated at 100% disability. After months, years really, of treatment at the TBI unit of the Tampa VA, I learned of the PINK Concussion group, a non-profit focused on female brain injury. Upon joining, I was opened to a world of thousands of women with head injuries and now had a support network that would help me forever. The co-founder, Katherine Snedaker, asked if I would be willing to tell my story at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as they were having a symposium to talk specifically about female brain injuries and part of it would include a section on military. I thought, this was an opportunity that I could serve my country again and help other females with head injuries like me. I knew I had to get there, but I live in Florida and the NIH is outside of Washington DC! I felt a calling to do this and especially to represent women military on the PINK panel. Katherine worked very hard to find a group that would be able to help me get there. That’s when I met Resurrecting Lives Foundation, who offered to help me make it to the NIH.
I was speechless! Without RLF I would not have been able to make it to the PINK panel to help other women with concussions! While I was at the NIH I was able to bring awareness to the fact that as veterans we need to look outside the box of just IEDs and Humvee rollovers, that there are many ways military members experience brain damage, including our paratroopers, who can receive their injuries from parachute accidents. I was also able to bring up the idea that there should be a ward made for female veterans with TBIs since most of the members are males who receive brain damage and it can be hard to find space for the female injured. I also brought up the idea to include questions for providers to ask specifically related to head injuries as a lot of the symptoms can look like mental health symptoms, resulting in missed diagnosis like mine. My ideas were heard and actually included in the white pages by the NIH. I would never have been able to bring these ideas up if it wasn’t for the PINK Concussion organization asking me to join the PINK panel. I would never have made it to the PINK panel if it wasn’t for Resurrecting Lives Foundation! I owe you guys somuch and thank you again for giving me that opportunity!
Katherine Snedaker, LCSW, and Executive Director of PINK Concussions, also thanks RLF “for their grant to help Harmony travel to the PINK Panel at the NIH Workshop…. Harmony shared her incredibly moving story at the PINK Panel with the 150 members of the conference at our lunch meeting, and really was able to connect the participants of the medical conference with the true purpose behind the research – the need to help female veterans.”
RLF is pleased to have helped Harmony and Katherine to impact the future of TBI research for female veterans.