Carole Starr loves teaching and music. An injury to her brain following a car accident threatened to take her passions from her. But seven years after her accident, she's back in charge of her life, spreading the word about brain injury and tuned into playing the piano.
Carole was self employed as a contracted teacher through USM and the Maine Community College network where corporations would request various educational topics to enhance their employees' skills. Carole taught communication skills, supervisory skills, literacy programs and train-the-trainer programs, depending upon the needs of the company.
Carole also played classical violin in community groups and sang high soprano in community chorus. Music was her love and passion since she began playing the violin at the age of nine.
In 1999, a brain injury from a car accident changed her life. She was discharged from the emergency room to home, not having injuries severe enough to require her admission to the hospital. After six weeks at home convalescing from pain and fatigue, she tried to go back to work. She continued to experience tremendous fatigue and noticed memory loss.
She couldn't lift her arm to write on a flip chart and facilitate her class at the same time. Multitasking was impossible. She was extremely sensitive to light and sound. Working 4 hours per week seemed like 400 hours per week. Fortunately, she had a co-facilitator who assisted her with the responsibilities of instructing her classes. She kept thinking that her ailments had to do with the medications she was taking to relieve pain from the injuries she sustained from her car accident and that she would eventually come out of it.
As playing the violin and singing were so important in her life before, Carole looked forward to returning to her music group and experiencing the joy and comfort it brought to her. She states that her first session was like walking into a foreign environment. As she had developed such extreme sound sensitivity, the orchestra noises were almost unbearable. Her violin string broke and she could not manage to change it, even though she had been changing violin strings for years. The fatigue persisted and because she tired so easily, she could only last through 20 minutes of practice. She would be tired for days after practice and have to sleep or rest at least twice a day.
After about nine months of struggling and in denial that she had not been able to make positive gains, Carole's life began to fall apart while she fought frustration and depression. With wonderful family support behind her, she started seeing a physiatrist (physician who specializes in rehabilitation medicine) and went to a brain injury rehab facility. She received some therapy and improved with her activities of daily living. She felt she had made enough gains to return to work a couple of hours per week. However, she was not able to continue and had to apply for Social Security disability. Because the rehab facility did not accept Medicare, Carole and her family researched other rehab facilities that did and New England Rehab opened the door that helped improve her life.
As an outpatient, Carole received multidisciplinary therapy from a team that included occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy, and recreational therapy. With physical therapy, she increased her strength and worked on balance issues. With occupational therapy, she attended “Mindfulness Group," and she received training in managing her schedule, multitasking, and how to function in a distractible environment (practiced by taking a trip to Wal-Mart!). With speech therapy, Carole received attention training. Since her injury, Carole has developed a desire to do things with her hands, so she started making craft items during her recreational therapy, with a special interest in jewelry, cross stitching and painting by numbers.
These activities especially helped with maintaining her attention. It was at this point that Carole was approached to do volunteer work at NERHP which would integrate with the therapies she was receiving. Having positive successes has made her feel better about herself and given her confidence that goals can be attainable.
Today, Carole lives independently, practices healthy eating and meal planning, lifts weights and walks two to three miles a day. Music has reentered her life as well, in a different venue - piano! Carole is receiving lessons from a neighbor who is a piano teacher. By using an electric keyboard, she can turn the volume down. She has started very slowly, so as not to tire easily. The passion is not the same as when she played the violin. She expresses that sometimes she mourns that loss, not only of the violin, but of the social interaction she had playing in the community orchestra. However, she loves that music is back in her life.
Carole continued to volunteer at NERHP even though her outpatient therapy has ceased. She states she has found her calling and that perhaps this new life is destiny of what she is supposed to do - teach. Her brain injury has left her teaching skills still intact, but her direction has changed. As a volunteer, Carole talks with other brain injury patients; she can relate to their frustration and she shares the passage she herself has taken. Carole was instrumental in putting together NERHP's first Brain Injury Workshop and was a panel member sharing her experiences with other brain injury patients and their families. She has taught patients how to make jewelry and crafts.
She recently began teaching basic piano skills to a patient. She assists in the outpatient speech therapy department by transcribing and analyzing tapes. Her ultimate goal is to write a book about her life change, the ups and downs of living every day with a brain injury, and experiencing improvements that have allowed her to grow in unexpected ways.
"For a long time I didn't think I would ever be happy; but I am, “ said Carol. Despite my disability, life feels good again. I have a lot to be thankful for and I want to give back."
Note: Carole Starr would love to hear from patients or family members who have experienced brain injury. Please contact us through this website and your email will be forwarded to Carole for a reply.