DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
The Brain Injury Association of Hawaii points out that brain injuries occur from illnesses as well as accidents. Jo-Ann Inouye had a brain injury from viral encephalitis in 1975. She said she does not even remember the whole semester at USC. She has struggled to recover and has come up with a collection of "little tricks" that aid her memory functions.
Brain injury sufferer’s book highlights coping strategies
Jo-Ann Inouye was having the time of her life at the University of Southern California when all memory of the college, her music studies and even of herself was wiped out.
At age 53 she is still trying to rebuild her memory and independence after a brain injury caused by viral encephalitis in January 1975.
She transferred to USC after two years at the University of Hawaii and was in her second semester there when friends found her in a coma on the floor of her apartment.
"I thought I could do everything -- go to classes as well as practicing, studying and have fun with my friends," she said. "I kind of ran myself all the way down."
She caught a bad cold, and doctors told her "the next bug that came along" caught her with her resistance down, she said.
The 5-foot, musically talented woman described her fight to get her life back in an interview to create awareness about brain injuries and the consequences.
She was in a coma about 1 1/2 days and in the hospital for six weeks. She dropped to 82 from 102 pounds.
Her parents, Ralph and Hideko Inouye, two brothers and sister rushed to her side. "They thought I was going to die," she said.
She came home to recover after discharge from the hospital, suffering "weird" memory loss and occasional seizures. She had to learn to talk and walk again.
She said she seemed to understand "high-functioning things" like math and English but could not remember what happened the day before.
"I was so depressed," she said, asking herself, "How can I function if I can't even remember yesterday? I had to relearn how to do things pretty much on my own."
She helped herself with "little tricks." She was always running out of money because she did not remember if she had any, so she hid money in her wallet. Remembering to fill the hiding place is another problem, she said.
She likes to wear clothes twice before washing them but could not remember what she wore or when. So she devised a method of hanging them in the closet that tells her how long ago she wore an item.
"I wanted to know who I was," she said, so she spent hours going through boxes of reports, papers and pictures. She would completely forget them and do it again in a couple of days, but she began developing a "substitute memory."
She started recording her medicines, seizures and other things she wants to remember in a journal. She advises anyone with a disability to write things down, saying, "It relieves a lot of stress."
The hardest part was accepting the change from being at the top of her college class to not remembering anything, she said. "I became very difficult psychologically because I was very angry at the whole world, thinking, 'Why me?'"
She said she took a lot for granted growing up. "Suddenly, when I lost it all, I became more aware of what things really meant."
Determined to recapture some of those things, she started "playing around" with the piano and violin and eventually "noticed I could still play."
She started doing jigsaw puzzles to develop her memory, and takes puzzles and games to Brain Injury Support Group meetings to encourage others to do mental exercises.
She returned to UH carrying a map because she was always getting lost on the Manoa campus. Despite many difficulties, she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in music in 1981 with help from the university's Kokua Program.
Her next big challenge is to get a driver's license, she said, waving a driver's manual. But she must be seizure-free. She takes two medications for seizures and usually knows when one is coming, she said.
Inouye said she has had a lot of help from the Brain Injury Association of Hawaii and Epilepsy Foundation, and she volunteers for the association.
She has incorporated her experiences and "tricks" into "A Guide for Brain Injury Survivors and Caregivers and Resource Directory for Services in Hawaii."
For more information about brain injuries, call Lyna Burian, executive director of the Brain Injury Association of Hawaii, at 956-0867.
Brain injuries cost isle hospitals $73.5M
Hawaii hospitals treated 7,290 traumatic brain injuries in 2006 for a total cost of $73.5 million.
Of that number, 78 percent, or 5,689 patients, were treated in emergency departments, and the others were admitted to hospitals.
About 3,008 brain injuries were caused by falls, and 1,388 were due to motor vehicle accidents.
About 931 cases were attributed to "striking," including people struck accidentally by objects or persons, injured in sports or from bumping into objects.
Assaults were responsible for 912 brain injuries.
Causes of other cases were undetermined.
Honolulu had 4,968 traumatic brain injuries; the Big Island, 1,076; Maui, 870; and Kauai, 376.
Source: Hawaii Health Information Corp.