“People don’t realize the impact of traumatic brain injuries because they’re not visible,” said Dr. Cheryle Sullivan, a former Longmont physician. “There are lots of misconceptions.”
Cheryle has dedicated a large part of her life to traumatic brain injury (TBI) education and advocacy. She’s written two books on the topic, Brain Injury Survival Kit: 365 Tips, Tools and Tricks to Deal with Cognitive Function Loss and Brain Tips, and contributed to Chicken Soup for the Soul: Recovering from Traumatic Brain Injuries. She also led the effort to develop a TBI speaker’s bureau at the Brain Injury Association of America, and travels nationwide to teach medical providers, educators, and the public about the complex, yet common disability.
That’s because she’s living with a TBI herself. Years ago, Cheryle was a physician living in Longmont when a day skiing in Winter Park abruptly ended with a backwards fall. Despite wearing a helmet, Cheryle experienced a concussion, the sixth in her life. The cumulative effect of these blows to her brain resulted in permanent disabilities. She was just 45 years old.
Cheryle’s symptoms weren’t immediately noticeable, especially to herself. A mild headache was shortly followed by confusion, double vision, sensitivity to noise, agitation, and short-term memory dysfunction.
“Every time I give a talk about TBIs I talk about my struggle to find transportation – before I found Via.” Cheryle Sullivan
With no family in the area, Cheryle struggled to find a way to travel from her home in Longmont to TBI rehabilitation appointments in Boulder. She couldn’t drive safely, and public transportation was too overwhelming. “I’d fall asleep on the bus and miss my stop. I’d struggle with transfers and figuring out routes. It was cognitively draining.”
Cheryle didn’t qualify for some accessible transportation services because she passed their in-person walking assessments. “But I couldn’t remember where I was, had double vision, and couldn’t cognitively process the public transportation system,” she explained.
The frustrating struggle to find rides ended when a dear friend introduced her to Via Mobility Services. “Via was a life saver,” Cheryle said. And no assessments were required to qualify.
“My driver, Charlie, would carefully walk me from the shuttle to my appointments and pick me up right in the waiting room,” she said. “Via treats people with disabilities with respect 100% of the time. They allow people to just be who they are.”
Cheryle learned that she could use Via for more than medical appointments. After progressing in her healing, her rehab therapist advised her to make time for fun and social connection. She began walking on Mt. Sanitas in Boulder with a TBI support group. “My wonderful Via driver Charlie would pick me up right at the trailhead,” she said.
Ongoing cognitive challenges from the TBI meant Cheryle was unable to continue her work as a physician and administrator. Yet she has continued her practice of caring for others by writing and speaking about a disability that affects 5 million people in the U.S.
“Every time I give a talk about TBIs I talk about my struggle to find transportation – before I found Via,” Cheryl said. “One of the biggest barriers for people with TBIs is getting the services they need to live more independently. Via was my partner in independence.”
Cheryle supports Via through her donor-advised fund and has named Via as a beneficiary of her trust.
Learn about simple ways to leave a legacy and support people with mobility limitations well into the future.