An Interview with Stephanie Burdick, Traumatic Brain Injury Survivor and Advocate

Stephanie shares her perspective on living with a TBI in Utah.

Stephanie was involved in a surfing accident in 2015 which left her with a traumatic brain injury. Throughout her recovery, Stephanie has been alarmed at the complexities and difficulties facing those with TBIs and other disabilities. Discovering how brain injury survivors are marginalized and pushed into homelessness and incarceration motivated Stephanie to advocate for equity-driven policies like Medicaid expansion and funding for community services for individuals with disabilities.

Stephanie joined the Board of Trustees of the Disability Law Center in 2018. We sat down with her this month to learn more about her experiences as a TBI survivor and advocate.

Q: What brought you to TBI advocacy work?

A: When I was in the hospital, rediscovering what it would take to speak clearly and walk normally again, I coincidentally happened upon an article about a tragic incident in another state where a TBI survivor was struggling to communicate under stress and was shot by a police officer. My heart felt broken in ways I’ll never forget and I promised God that day that if I could learn to speak and communicate clearly then I would never stop speaking up for those who don’t have the opportunity to do so. Since then, I’ve learned about the many injustices facing TBI survivors every day and I’ve realized there is so much work to do!

Q: What are some of the more misunderstood aspects of living with a TBI?

A: Millions of TBI survivors walk around the world with an invisible disability and are often mischaracterized or mislabeled because others don’t see the limitations and deficits in our brain. Concise communication, sensory processing, decision making, environmental adaptability, and mental flexibility are skills in the brain that many people take for granted. When someone doesn’t have easy access to these skills, it’s difficult for the rest of society to comprehend what living a life without these cognitive skills would be like.

Q: What resources are available for those living with brain injuries in the state of Utah?

A: The Department of Health manages a TBI Fund: a great resource for TBI survivors to assist in providing neuropsychological exams and resource facilitation. On April 1, Utahns under 100% of the federal poverty line can access Medicaid and this will be an incredibly important milestone for many TBI survivors across the state. I encourage all TBI survivors who are uninsured to contact Take Care Utah by calling 211. I am very hopeful that in the next decade we are going to see significant improvements for how we help those living with TBIs by providing better coordination of care.

For more information and resources, visit the Brain Injury Alliance of Utah’s webpage, or call our intake line at (800) 662-9080.