A circular photo of Jessica Damico over a blue and white background

Tell us about yourself. Where are you from and when did you get started with NCHPAD?

I am from Harrisonburg, Virginia, and I started with NCHPAD about seven or eight months ago.

What NCHPAD programs have you been part of?

So, I first started with MENTOR, and then I went through GROWTH. I’ve been a part of Coffee Club, and the other night I was in an introductory meeting for State of Slim. So, I’m hopeful I get into that next round!

What did you like about any of the programs? 

Well, the main thing I really like about the programs is the sense of community. The only time I associate with others like me is when I’m a part of my brain injury group. It’s great having that community and meeting new people. I’ve definitely made friends through these programs!

Tell us about your journey the last couple of years. What have you learned and what message do you have for others with traumatic brain injuries?

Well, next month will be two years since my accident. That first year, I learned how to walk and talk. I’ve learned how to eat again and so many great things. But my doctor at the inpatient rehab center, Sheltering Arms in Richmond, Virginia, told me positivity is crucial for your healing. So that has stuck with me. I’ve set my boundaries for positive environments only and stuck with that. So, I would say that for great healing and recovery, positivity is important, no matter how you find it. I find it through my spiritual connections, and it has been great for me.

Your hard work was recently recognized by Brain Injury Connections of Shenandoah Valley. What did that mean to you?

That was such an honor! I loved it. I was emotional. I also learned that in the Shenandoah Valley, there are 13,000 people with brain injuries. It took me back! It was such an honor, and I feel so blessed to be recognized for my recovery.

Tell us why you would recommend a NCHPAD program or NCHPAD Connect to someone else.

I go back to that sense of community. There are so many other positive people who are also facing a disability of some kind. That connection and advice and just being able to bounce things off each other has helped me learn a lot. I’ve learned so much about brain injuries and strokes. It has been wonderful!

Is there a particular person you’d like to give a shoutout, like an instructor, health coach, etc?

[Mindfulness instructor] Alison Shapiro was amazing. She even worked with me one-on-one. I learned a lot about strokes through her because my brain injury caused me to have three strokes. She said it’s important to practice mindfulness. That has stuck with me, and I practice that constantly.

What brings you joy in your personal life?

My husband, kids, my church family and the fact that I am a homesteader! We have chickens, and we’re incubating chicken eggs. We had two new hatchlings this morning! Seeing them being born, loving them, and feeding and nurturing them brings me so much joy.

You’re a regular on the Coffee Club sessions. What has been your experience with Coffee Club and what would you want others to know about it?

It has been a really positive experience. Stephanie [Ward] includes everyone. She recognizes everyone. She draws your attention to the topic you’re learning about and asks questions. She even lets you know about the topic in advance, so if it doesn’t relate to you and maybe you want to miss that one, that’s okay. But I love it because I learn a lot from it. Our last session was about music therapy, and the presenter [Haleigh Black] on there was so amazing. I’ve been in it for 13 weeks, and it’s been a great part of my healing journey.

Is there anything you’ve learned from NCHPAD that has impacted your life? 

Through MENTOR, I learned a lot about brain injuries and strokes. But I learned about the nutrition side of things, too. If you were to ask me, I would have said I ate a pretty healthy diet. But I never would have known the types of foods needed for brain healing and the Mediterranean diet. I also had no idea what mindfulness was until Korantema, an instructor, was in a class. She spoke about it, and we practiced it every week. It has been wonderful and I’ve learned a lot.

You can read more of Jessica’s story and learn more about her award on the WHSV website.