Book Review: Me Now – Who Next? The Inspiring Story of a Traumatic Brain Injury Recovery By Angela Leigh Tucker As Told by Bill Ramsey
Reviewed by Mary Ickes
As we gathered for Angela Tucker and Bill Ramsey’s presentation at Bookfest 2014 last May, a gracious young woman waved us into the room. Since I had not yet seen their book, I assumed she was the Bookfest volunteer assuring an orderly session. The room filled to capacity then Mr. Ramsey introduced her as Angela Leigh Tucker. I have no idea what I had expected of a traumatic brain injury victim, but certainly not this composed young woman. My experience proves correct one of Mr. Ramsey’s tenets… we understand and know very little about traumatic brain injuries.
After Angela Tucker graduated from the University of Central Florida (2000) with a major in mass communications and a minor in creative writing, Hunter Public Relations in New York City hired her. Enthusiastically dedicated to her work, she was promoted to vice president at age 29. In 2003 she met Rich Betancourt, a musician with a promising future who… worked at Best Music Rental in Long Island City as the sales and office manager. They married at Camp Ton-A-Wanda in Flat Rock, North Carolina, on September 22, 2007.
Avid baseball fans, they attended a Yankee’s night game on July 31, 2008. As they drove home… a fast-moving tractor-trailer literally hurtled across the high concrete median barrier and crushed their SUV. Rich died instantly; Angela was trapped inside a metal pancake. Realizing that she had little time left, first responders requested a helicopter for airlifting to the Westchester Medical Center. Doctors diagnosed a break in her atlas/axis that connects the skull with the spine and protects the brain stem. Additionally… her brain and bones were so severely injured that her survival prospects did not look good at all. A week later, doctors announced that Angela would live, but could not predict her physical and mental recovery time or her coma’s length.
Comatose patients are rarely transferred to another hospital, but after numerous surgeries, Angela was moved to Helen Hayes Hospital so doctors and therapists could assess her condition and establish a therapy plan. Returning to consciousness six weeks after the crash, she quickly proved herself a… remarkably inquisitive and… recovery-focused hard worker.
Unable to live alone after discharge from Helen Hayes Hospital in November 2008, she moved to Laurel Park, North Carolina, to live with her father and stepmother, a nurse practitioner. With their assistance, Angela established a new recovery team, including Care Partners in Asheville.
Four months after the crash, Angela attended a meeting of the Public Relations Association of Western North Carolina… as a way to stay connected to the profession she had enjoyed for so many years. Mr. Ramsey writes: It took me four months to get to know her well enough to make a proposal to her. She and her situation needed to be captured in a book.
Mr. Ramsey thoroughly researched Angela’s life and traumatic brain injury experiences. Rather than adding a fictitious element by asking family and friends to recall her childhood, they relied on her scant memories to… demonstrate that… memory gaps become a part of life for traumatic brain injury survivors. He did interview high school and college friends to better understand Angela as a teenager and adult. In New York, Mr. Ramsey interviewed a nurse and paramedic from the helicopter crew, Angela’s nurse and therapy team at Helen Hayes Hospital, and her boss and co-workers at Hunter Publicity.
In North Carolina, he talked to her Care Partners’ team leader and the therapists, along with her family. After Angela returned to live in New York City, he interviewed by phone the director of the Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine where she initiated… vestibular therapy and cognitive remediation sessions. Except when the information may have devastated her or her presence might have inhibited honest answers, Angela attended and contributed much to the interviews. Mr. Ramsey’s diligence resulted in a multifaceted book.
He writes of Angela’s courageous battle to re-learn walking, bathing, dressing, eating, reading, and writing, while simultaneously tackling cognitive issues: the process of knowing, perceiving, and remembering. A cell phone reminds her to take medications, and she cooks with a microwave because she forgets to turn off the stove. She recalls Rich and their home, but not their wedding day. To portray the full impact of traumatic brain injury, Angela agreed with Mr. Ramsey that an overview of her financial devastation must be included. As of January 2014, publication date of Me Now – Who Next?, a foreclosure had destroyed her credit rating, her medical bills were $800,000 and still accruing, and a lawsuit was stymied because the truck owner destroyed evidence.
From Angela’s experiences, Mr. Ramsey branches into discussions about the causes and consequences of traumatic brain injuries and poses many questions. Especially relevant to her case: Considering the extent of Angela’s injuries, why did her insurance company refuse to extend their eight-week rehabilitation limit?
Mr. Ramsey’s book, through no fault of his, suffers from an obvious lack of editing and proofing. His editor should have deleted the extraneous verbiage and corrected the grammatical errors. Even so, traumatic brain injured patients and their recovery teams will find an invaluable resource in Me Now – Who Next? The large print was chosen specifically for that purpose.
Incredibly, this tragic tale of loss and ongoing recovery was the background of the glowing young woman who greeted us last May. Angela’s talk answered our most obvious question: How could she be so composed and merry after such devastating tragedy? She explained that she had divided her existence into a First Life and a Second Life. She diligently deals with the losses and problems from her First Life with exercise, meditation, medications when necessary, and keeping busy, so she has the energy and motivation to achieve her Second Life of: 1) advocating for traumatic brain injury survivors and their families, 2) singing again, and 3) finding her second love. As you will read in the bio written by her, Angela Leigh Tucker is doing very well in her Second Life. What a woman!!
Angela Tucker: In August, I will assume the role and responsibilities of chairperson of the New York City chapter of the Brain Injury Association of New York State (BIANYS). I was also invited to join the board of directors of the Brain Injury Association of New York State. The first program that I’m excited to support is the 7th annual Journey of Hope fundraising gala. At the BIANYS 32nd Annual Conference this past June, I joined four other presenters on the Ask the Experts’ Panel. I spoke about how the power of meditation and prayer has greatly improved my recovery.
In his youth, Bill Ramsey wrote sports columns for the local newspaper. During his forty-year professional career, he wrote technical manuals, magazine articles, and business newsletters. In retirement, writing about real life issues remains his passion. Now, over age seventy, his small town upbringing continues to influence his thinking. He enjoys reflecting on life experiences to share in complete candor. He is willing to share Ms. Tucker’s story with local groups of twenty or more.