Hair stylist Molly Deimeke was ecstatic in February 2015 when she passed a certified educator test for John Paul Mitchell Systems. Although she has aced the yearly certification exam many times, the 2015 test marked a milestone because it was her first test after a traumatic brain injury in May 2014.
“I lost my ability to read,” Deimeke said. “I had to start over, at the kindergarten level. The test was harder for me than it’s ever been. Before the accident, I would cram a week before. This time, I studied every day, beginning in December and all the way through January.”
Kristel Kronk, MS, CCC-SLP, speech language pathologist at Mizzou Therapy Services, helped Deimeke, 32, of Martinsburg, Missouri, regain her ability to read and speak coherently. It took a team of experts in speech therapy, physical therapy and occupational therapy to help Deimeke recover motor skills and cognitive function that she took for granted before her accident. Deimeke attended appointments twice weekly for four months before her physician cleared her to drive again. She then returned to styling hair and teaching other hair stylists.
“Speech therapy was the hardest for me,” Deimeke said. “Physical therapy was the easiest for me because I enjoyed it but balance was the hard part.”
Becky Edwards, MPT, MHA, clinical supervisor and Rock Steady Boxing Coach of Mizzou Therapy Services-Business Loop, said difficulty with balance is a common problem for those who have sustained a traumatic brain injury or have been diagnosed with a neurological condition such as Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis.
“When you hit your head, it can cause damage to the inner ear and affect your balance, known as vestibular dysfunction,” Edwards said.
A self-described risk taker who loves to travel, Deimeke was overseas in Laos when she fell off a double-decker truck serving as a taxi. She fell approximately 10 feet onto the street and then rolled 20 feet down a hill, witnesses later told her. Deimeke injured the left temporal lobe, which controls language and memory.
Deimeke doesn’t remember her injury or much of her early treatment, which included surgery in Thailand to stop her brain bleed and a long hospital stay in St. Louis before returning to her family home in Martinsburg, Missouri. Deimeke does recall, however, all of her experiences in Columbia at Mizzou Therapy Services and the Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinic with her physician, Peter Hwang, MD.
“If I wouldn’t have done the therapy, I would have stayed in a weird childhood place,” she said. “I didn’t know at that time I had to go through all of these steps to heal me but they guided me through the steps I needed to take here.”
Deimeke joined a support group for brain injury survivors and said it helped her move forward. At a support group meeting, she became fast friends with the group’s facilitator, Dina McPherson, a fellow brain injury survivor. They chat like old high school friends about their lingering TBI effects, such as losing their sense of smell and tricks to spice up foods since their sense of taste is diminished.
“You never heal 100 percent from a brain injury,” McPherson said. “People learn to adjust as best they can, but both the brain and the person will never be exactly as they were before the injury.”
Deimeke said she is grateful to be alive and is thankful for her outstanding rehabilitation care and ongoing support through the brain injury support group.
“Hearing someone else has struggled with something that you are struggling with really helps you to see that you are not alone and gives you hope,” Deimeke said. “Now I want to teach other people by telling my story.”
It’s been two years since the accident, which led to brain surgery, six weeks of in-patient hospital care, four months of outpatient physical, occupational and speech therapy and two years of natural brain healing, but Deimeke’s dedication and hard work never wavered.
She is a now a national color educator for John Paul Mitchell Systems and a traveling hair and make-up artist. Deimeke is taking her talents and creativity mobile — giving her the opportunity to do the work she loves all while sharing her story and educating others about traumatic brain injuries.