The Brain Injury Association of Michigan
Derek O’Neal, Michigan resident, recognizes that his traumatic brain injury sustained in 2004, after a deer smashed into his windshield, set his life on a new course.
A former military officer and automotive manufacturing business leader acknowledged by Black Enterprise Magazine as a rising star, O’Neal never expected to evolve into an active spokesman for The Brain Injury Association of Michigan, or to serve on its Board of Directors.
His CV reflects a life of achievement and discipline. Perhaps his military training prepared him to navigate the difficult terrain of being a survivor. God does indeed work in mysterious ways.
He joined the United States Army in 1981, after graduating from the prestigious College of William and Mary. He completed Army Officer Candidate School training with honors, and was deployed to Iraq and Kuwait during Operation Desert Shield and Storm.
In 1993, he gained the distinction of Army Inspector General, and today, he is able to admit that his injury has in a certain tangible way, played a role in helping him become more of a whole person. He told a Hope Network audience after his “graduation” from intensive rehabilitation therapy, how challenging it had been to accept his status as a brain injury survivor. “Something really important that I have had to accept is that I have a brain injury and that this made me a different person,” he told his audience comprised of other survivors, family, friends, medical staff and supporters.
Right after his accident, he was discovered unconscious on the scene and later lapsed into a month-long coma. Consequently, he underwent several brain surgeries to preserve his life, and also endured being pronounced clinically dead.
His road to self- acceptance began once he launched into intensive rehabilitation at Hope Network.
It would not be hard to consider that O’Neal may have surely had some kind of divine intervention, and coupled with the support he availed himself of through The Brain Injury Association of Michigan, Hope Network and his family, he now devotes much of his time to serving the needs of other persons walking down the same path he walked.
The Brain Injury Association of America operates a network of 40 chartered state affiliates throughout the nation. The outreach being done by The Brain Injury Association of Michigan to persons who have been affected by traumatic brain injury, and their families serves to bring the community closer in coping with the devastating consequences, and offering motivation to forge ahead despite the injury.
According to some alarming Center For Disease Control statistics, out of the 14 million who suffer traumatic brain injury in the United States each year, 50,000 die and 235,000 are hospitalized.
Part of O’Neal’s mission today involves sharing his personal story in an effort to spread awareness about the incidence of traumatic brain injury, discuss prevention methods and offer support to others.
Alarmingly, the incidence of traumatic brain injury appears to be higher than other life threatening medical conditions like MS, breast cancer and spinal cord injuries. The devastating consequences can include job loss and depression among others.
Someone very wise once said: “Disability is not inability.” O’Neal through his recovery process serves as a testament to that truth, and his collaboration with The Brain Injury Association of Michigan teaches us valuable lessons about the power of charitable endeavors.