Hilary Zayed's career goal was to become a therapeutic riding instructor. She loved horses and thought that teaching special needs' children would be a way to combine teaching and riding. Her goal required a four-year college degree in any field. She went to USM and chose art education as a major.
"During a second semester drawing course, my instructor told me that I stunk!" Hilary laughs.
She opted for a degree in special education and elementary education. As it turned out, a horseback riding accident was the impetus that led Hilary on a personal journey to reinventing herself into that artist no one expected her to be.
In April of 2006, Hilary was riding her Tennessee walking horse, Poppy, with a friend, exploring a wooded trail.
Hilary explains, "Poppy was feeling lazy and we rode for several hours, just enjoying the day. That's all I remember until I found myself lying on the ground, alone."
Later she was told that her friend, riding ahead of Hilary, turned around and saw Hilary about eight feet in the air above the horse. They surmised that Poppy bucked and threw Hilary off. She landed on the ground with such impact her riding helmet cracked.
Hilary was taken to the local hospital emergency room where she was diagnosed with a damaged pelvis and a concussion and discharged home with instructions to rest. Hilary, who was teaching at the time, assumed her normal role when school started shortly thereafter. However, she became increasingly challenged by a deteriorating mental and physical condition.
She experienced dizziness, progressively severe headaches and chest pains. Intermittently seeking medical treatment for these symptoms did not eliminate them. She was referred to a neurologist who diagnosed her with post concussion syndrome.
"I went through three years of spiraling with new symptoms replacing old ones. I was so discouraged and lonely because no one could help me," says Hilary.
Her neurologist ultimately made a referral to New England Rehabilitation Hospital of Portland (NERHP)'s Brain Injury Clinic for more intense therapy. Hilary's treatment program at NERHP's included occupational, speech and recreational therapy. Her limitations included difficulty with balance, vision shifts and the inability to separate background noise from something or someone she was trying to listen to. Her cognition was impaired.
"We worked on many of the basic life skill activities that a person needs to be self sufficient, such as scheduling, organization and planning my day, week and even my sessions," says Hilary.
Her biggest challenges were problem solving and community mobility. To remedy, her therapists helped her through real-life situations to help her learn how to deal with unplanned events. She spent months working on driving skills, working on reflex, attention and cognition.
In the end she was able to resume driving on her own, but limits herself when she feels overwhelmed or tired.
"I am learning how to accept limitations and that's okay," says Hilary.
Discovery Through Recovery
While in therapy at NERHP, Hilary expressed her interest in art and attended some therapeutic art classes, led by Kathy Kroll, Certified Therapeutic Recreational Specialist. Following her accident, Hilary had taken an adult art class in mosaics and brought some of her pieces to NERHP. She told stories about each piece, how she had envisioned the project and what it symbolized to her. Kathy discovered the huge potential of Hilary's creativity, both therapeutic and educational. She encouraged Hilary to assemble an exhibit of the works she completed during the period of change in her life. Hilary named her exhibit Reinventing Oneself ~ A Personal Journey. The exhibit consists of eleven separate pieces of art, with corresponding passages that speak to the message of her art.
"I wanted Hilary to share her talent with others" Kathy states. "She has not only assembled a visual exhibit, but she eloquently describes each piece and why it has meaning for her. In order for words and art to be meaningful, it needs to be shared. And for Hilary to be willing to do that makes me very thankful. She has touched many lives already."
Hilary has given a presentation to NERHP's Brain Injury Support Group about what her exhibit has meant during the different stages of her recovery. Kathy feels that the process of her art, her displays, her personal stories and her presentations have all played a part in Hilary's rehabilitation and reinvention of herself.
It's Not Over, It's Just Beginning
Hilary's personal journey continues as she explores new paths that are emerging. She has been invited to exhibit her art work within the community, and to speak about the experiences she has had to overcome while living with a brain injury. Hilary hopes to use her exhibit to tell the story of Reinventing Oneself ~ A Personal Journey, as a way to educate others about brain injury, to open up conversations for people to talk about their own personal journeys, and to find connections and new opportunities for reinventing oneself.