Perham woman talks about living life after a traumatic brain injury

Kellie Smith.JPG
Perham's Kellie Smith has been living with the effects of a traumatic brain injury since being involved in a head-on collision in 2015. (Vicki Gerdes / Forum News Service)

DETROIT LAKES -- Perham's Kellie Smith doesn't clearly remember the head-on collision in which she and her daughter, Olive, were involved on Nov. 30, 2015, en route to Detroit Mountain.

Though Olive, who was 3 at the time, escaped relatively unscathed, her mother was not so fortunate.

"I had what is called a closed head traumatic brain injury," Smith said, somberly. "I sustained a severe concussion and smashed blood vessels from the impact."

At first, Smith said, she suffered from debilitating migraine headaches; even now, nearly four years later, she still has episodes of dizziness, as well as impaired vision and depth perception.

"Anything closer than 18 inches is doubled" in her vision, she says, and she can sometimes walk into things that appear further away than they actually are, because "depth perception is hard for me."


"I also have no peripheral vision in my left eye," she added.

Though she doesn't struggle to read as much as she did in the months following the injury, thanks to intensive occupational and vision therapy, it's still not as easy as it used to be.

But the thing she struggles with the most, Smith admitted, is her short-term memory, and processing information.

"I survive off my phone," she said, adding that she leaves herself a lot of notes and calendar reminders. "I have to set reminders for basically everything."

Smith, who started a traumatic brain injury and concussion support group in Perham a couple of years ago, says that she takes every opportunity she can to heighten people's awareness of the long-lasting effects that such a injury can have, not just on the people that live through it, but those who care for them.

"My husband doesn't really talk about being my caregiver," Smith said, "but that carries its own struggles ... he's been a fantastic support for me."

For instance, Smith said, right after she sustained the injury she was referred to a specialist in Pittsburgh, but because she couldn't fly, her husband Jacob drove her out there and back again, once every six weeks at first, and then once every three to five months for checkups.

"He altered his job schedule so he could go with me," Smith said, while Olive would usually stay with family members.


"I was discharged (from the specialist's care) almost a year ago," she added. Now, she is able to go to doctors within a few hours of her home for most of her therapy appointments, and sees a chiropractor in Perham for her day-to-day needs.

"It's such a quiet injury," she said, adding that to people who don't know her, she looks "completely normal on the outside."

"I'm very stubborn, in that I want to take care of myself, do things myself," Smith said. "You don't want to lead by introducing yourself as someone who has a brain injury, but sometimes, you have to."

One of the things she's had to learn, Smith added, is that if she doesn't let people know about what's happening, and pushes herself too hard, she has to pay the price, in the form of headaches, confusion and heightened emotions.

"I have to pace myself," she said. "But I do still push myself sometimes. There's still that inner struggle going ... that's something I still have to work on."

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