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Digital Journal Reports

article imageUsing words to heal a brain injury: A profile of a Digital Journalist Special

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By David Silverberg
Nov 4, 2010 in Internet
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How did journalism help Kim I. Hartman recover from a life-changing accident? In this profile of a prominent Digital Journalist, you'll learn how one woman uses writing as therapy for a serious brain injury.
"Words become trapped inside your head, and I struggle to get them to come together so they make sense not only to you but to those around you," says Kim Hartman. This is how Hartman, 49, describes dealing with the aftermath of her brain injury that upended her life in 2008.
"Everything becomes a new challenge," she says in a phone interview from her home in Charleston, West Virginia. "From above you see yourself dress, one leg at time. Sometimes you sit and wonder which leg goes first."

The day everything changed

In November 2007, Hartman's grandmother passed away and the emotional toll made it difficult for her to sleep. To deal with insomnia, Hartman was prescribed a sleeping aid called Zolpidem, generic Ambien. That October night in Hurricane, WV, she took the medication after watching some Survivor and CSI.
Falling asleep was easy, Hartman recalls, and it was the waking-up part that was unexpected. After falling asleep that night, Hartman awoke at St. Mary's Medical Center in Huntington, WV.
With no recollection at all of how she got there, Hartman was confused. She looked down at her body and discovered she had wounds everywhere; she suffered a broken arm, a crushed elbow, lacerations across her body, partial tearing of her head and face and a serious brain injury.
After taking a prescription drug  Kim Hartman says she sleepwalked  getting into her car and driving...
Courtesy Kim Hartman
After taking a prescription drug, Kim Hartman says she sleepwalked, getting into her car and driving without remembering it. She sustained a brain injury after hitting a bridge and being thrown through the passenger window.
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Doctors and nurses told Hartman that witnesses reported seeing her driving. She was driving while sleeping and hadn't done up her seat belt. Eventually, she hit the side of a bridge and was ejected from the passenger window.
"I went to bed and when I woke up a day or two later I was no longer the same person," Hartman said. "I was gone and at this point I am not expecting 'me' to return. I look in the mirror at the injury and then look in my eyes and I see eyes that are mourning a loss. It's a loss of me, and I am never going to be able to come back whole again."
Hartman is furious about the whole ordeal and blames the pharmacy where she got her Zolpidem for t. She says the "sleep-driving" incident was the fault of the prescription drug and now she's fighting back against what she says is "failure to warn." She recently filed a lawsuit against the pharmaceutical company where she got the drug, alleging she should have been warned about its "sleep walking" side effects.
After taking a prescription drug  Kim Hartman says she sleepwalked  getting into her car and driving...
Courtesy Kim Hartman
After taking a prescription drug, Kim Hartman says she sleepwalked, getting into her car and driving without remembering it. She sustained a brain injury after hitting a bridge and being thrown through the passenger window.
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"Had I been warned about the complications, I wouldn't be paying for this for the rest of my life," she said.
She underwent seven facial reconstruction surgeries and skin grafts over 18 months, including several to help her craft a new ear. Three surgeries also helped reconstruct her arm.
Hartman says physical therapy is helping her heal superficially, and medical advances are assisting her, too; she received a cutting-edge prosthesis which "replaces the joint between the long bones of the forearm in the area of the wrist," the device's press release states.
But pain relief and regaining motion is only a fraction of the recovery process. In a cognitive sense, she says writing has been one of the key methods to find her voice again.

Literary therapy

Hartman admits her recovery is painful and arduous, but writing and blogging has helped her immensely.
"[It's] a way to rebuild my cognitive abilities," she said. "Some days my work is a mess and I hit delete. Other days I can type out something that is understandable but still in desperate need of editing."
Recovering from brain injuries won't happen in a finger-snap, Hartman has learned. "Rebuilding cognitive skills takes time. Creativity is a must," she asserts. "Writing helps me gauge my progress and gets my mind functioning every day."
After taking a prescription drug  Kim Hartman says she sleepwalked  getting into her car and driving...
Courtesy Kim Hartman
After taking a prescription drug, Kim Hartman says she sleepwalked, getting into her car and driving without remembering it. She sustained a brain injury after hitting a bridge and being thrown through the passenger window.
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DigitalJournal.com readers were introduced to Hartman in April 2010 when she covered the West Virginia mine disaster, publishing seven articles on this big story. Since then, her interests have ranged from NASA discoveries to unusual cooking festivals to important international news. She has written more than 307 articles for DigitalJournal.com and uploaded 592 images at time of writing.
So why was Hartman attracted to DigitalJournal.com?
"I liked the content when I first saw it and there wasn't any bickering like what I saw on [other sites] where everything was so political."

The early days

Born in Hollywood, Florida, Hartman spent 12 years in the state before moving to Bunker Hill, West Virginia. She enjoyed her high school days, playing sports and socializing with friends before enrolling in Shepherd University. Soon after, she got her real estate license.
Hartman spent 17 years as a self-employed "multi-million-dollar-selling realtor," as she describes it.
"Like anyone out of college, I was looking to make a lot of money," she says.
In 1995, Hartman quit her real estate job to move to coastal North Carolina in search of something that would fulfill her "mind, body and soul" and "not my pocketbook," she said.
Venturing down a spiritual path, Hartman began exploring alternative medicine such as reiki and metaphysics. In North Carolina, however, there wasn't a central resource to find info on these subjects. That's when the journalism bug bit her, and she started publishing a magazine called Coastal Connection. The magazine is described as "a spiritual, new age, metaphysical magazine that brought practitioners and individuals together through short stories and advertising, events and more."
This photo of Kim Hartman was taken in late October  2010.
Courtesy Kim Hartman
This photo of Kim Hartman was taken in late October, 2010.
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Alternative health practitioners supported Hartman's publishing project and the ad dollars rolled in. They also helped her shape the content of the publication and it gave her an opportunity to share her own spiritual experiences.
Hartman says her interest in the magazine waned and she sold it to a new publisher in 2003 and she went on to work to get her MBA. That changed when she got in the accident.
"I woke up unable to spell Masters in Business Administration," Hartman recalls, saying her IQ dropped by more than 40 points (to 84) overnight.

Today and Tomorrow

Married in 1983 and divorced eight years later, Hartman has a 23-year-old married son, a daughter-in-law and a two-year-old granddaughter. She finds solace in visiting her nephews and granddaughter.
"Little kids don't have an idea of beauty and perfection," she said. "I can play with them and not worry that they think I look deformed or disfigured. They don't care, they don't know any different. They love me and I love them even more because of it."
Kim Hartman puts up a sign outside the St. John s Episcopal Church in Charleston  West Virginia.
Courtesy Kim Hartman
Kim Hartman puts up a sign outside the St. John's Episcopal Church in Charleston, West Virginia.
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Hartman's biggest passion today is travel.
"I also love to kayak, but I haven't been able to since the accident with the injuries to the arm, wrist and forearm," she said. "I would like to find an adaptive brace of some kind and a new kayak that would fit it and allow me to get back on the water and paddle again."
Hartman says she wants to go for a week-long paddling trip in the Galapagos Islands, which "would be a sign of having been victorious, of having survived odds that would have defeated others."
She would also like to swim with the stingrays at Stingray City off Grand Cayman. She'd also like to take her granddaughter to Disneyland and regain the ability to hold her hand with an injured arm.
"That would comfort me in ways that very few will understand," she said.
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