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May 12, 2017

Mothering after Brain Injury: Kelli Johnson's Story

Mothering is challenging for anyone. Mothering through and following traumatic brain injury can be even harder.

Kelli Johnson is no stranger to these challenges.

The 2011 Craig graduate from Wyoming was the mother of three young children when she sustained a traumatic brain injury in a skiing accident. Kelli was skiing at a resort in Casper with her oldest daughter, five-year-old Elise, when the pair was struck by a speeding snowboarder. Tragically, both Elise and the snowboarder died on the slopes. Kelli’s C1 vertebrae was fractured and her brain was injured when her head hit the snow and her brain hit the opposite side of her skull.

She was transferred to Craig where she underwent months of rehabilitation with her husband Chauncy by her side. The Johnson’s other children, three-year-old Milli and baby Logan, were able to stay at the hospital with their parents throughout the recovery process.

“Having the apartments on-site made it as much like a home situation…they allowed me to take such good care of our children while I was caring for Kelli,” says Chauncy.

Kelli credits Milli and Logan with giving her the strength to recover and push through her grief. The family spent many hours together on the skybridge, their favorite place in the hospital. Milli was also involved in Kelli’s therapies. “I think that was a huge component in my healing. I had those tangible people there loving me and supporting me and giving me a reason to recover.”

After she discharged and returned home, the Johnson’s relied on friends and family to help with the kids while Kelli continued to recover. She made sure that she got plenty of sleep at night and naps during the day.

“This required Chauncy and friends to pull off because of the kids—but as I progressed in my recovery I was able to phase off naps and started pulling my own weight day and night!”

The family has gone on to have two more daughters, Reese and Leilani. They have moved to a family ranch outside of Thermopolis, Wyoming, where Kelli cares for her children and a growing menagerie of ranch animals. The couple have partnered with the National Ski Areas Association, sharing their story through the #RideAnotherDay ski safety campaign. Kelli received the Inspiration Award at the 2017 Craig PUSH fundraising gala.

Kelli offers the following advice to other mothers who are recovering from a TBI:

  • Be patient with yourself and others. “It takes time to get to the point in recovery that you should/can add more to your plate,” she says.
  • Be organized and focus on executive skill planning. “Lay out the kids’ clothes, have a menu, keep track of chores on a chart,” she advises.
  • Listen and remember the advice from your doctors and therapists. “Be willing to be teachable and look at yourself in a mirror to see your strengths and weaknesses, and adjust accordingly,” she offers.

"Kelli is an amazing mom. She just lives and breathes her children," say Chauncy. "I think she's the best mom in the world, I feel so blessed to have her."

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