Her TBI went undiagnosed for 13 years but that hasn't stopped this Navy veteran

Kaylah Jackson
March 26, 2019 - 1:09 pm

(Photos courtesy of Amanda Burrill)

After slipping and falling while aboard the USS Dubuque in 2003, Amanda Burrill knew something didn’t feel right, but it would take 13 years of asking questions and probing doctors before she found out she had a traumatic brain injury.

“All I know, because I don’t remember, is that I was found at the bottom of a hatch,” said Burrill.

Burrill, a Navy veteran who served from 2002 to 2010 as a combat systems officer, rescue swimmer, and communications officer, didn’t understand the breadth of her injuries until after she left the service.

“The joke I tell is I don't just think with my uterus because it's often times the way things are interpreted,” said Burrill. “Trust me, I asked so many places, I saw so many doctors, even after my diagnosis…people are going to doubt you.” 

(Photo courtesy of Amanda Burrill)

Burrill’s initial military medical records note that a neurologist described her as having a headache and a tic—a far cry from what she explained to physicians.

“I’d be giving these same symptoms to medical providers that a lot of these guys were giving but still have this ‘Well, Amanda you're toeing the line coming across as mentally ill and you would just be let go or [be] medically discharged,'” said Burrill. “But that fact of the matter is the problems with balance, reading, and concentration was parallel to what my colleagues were giving [to medical providers]."

She left the Navy with a service-connection for Fibromyalgia and a diagnosis for post-traumatic stress, anxiety, and depression. However, Burrill persisted until she had an “aha” moment.

“It was this reassurance that ‘thank goodness’ I never gave up on this because I was right,” said Burrill.

It was during a neuropsychological test at the VA when she received scan results that explained not only had she sustained two traumatic brain injuries, but also a torn jaw and meniscus, cervical spinal damage, and a hole in her retina.

(Photo courtesy of Amanda Burrill)

Even in her recovery and now, being an advocate for educating others about traumatic brain injury (TBI), Burrill has been able to connect with people in the medical community who want to do more research about how these injuries manifest themselves, particularly in women.

“We still don’t know if there are ways to help women recover versus men,” said Katherine Price Snedaker, executive director of PINK Concussions and a licensed clinical social worker.

Snedaker started PINK Concussions to improve pre- and post-injury care for women and girls affected by traumatic brain injury.

“We know long term more women end up in this kind of area where they are not recovering at the same rate,” she said. “Those women may take six to eight months to recover and if they’re told that then they won’t feel like they are crazy, malingering, or literally out of their mind.”

(Photo courtesy of Amanda Burrill)

Burrill still encounters people who discredit the symptoms that haven’t prevented her from moving forward, but she still considers herself an athlete, just like when she was in the Navy. Whether it’s running marathons, completing Iron Mans, or summiting the world’s tallest peaks, she continues to encourage other women to be persistent with their own health.

Related: Meet the first all-female veteran team to climb Denali without a guide

“I’ve been doing the best I can with what comes up -- sports on the horizon and being a writer, they’re not bad gigs,” said Burrill. “But, don’t let other people dictate the extent you're willing to go to help both yourself and other people.”

Burrill is currently a voice for A Head for the Future, a Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center (DVBIC) initiative that provides resources to help the military community prevent, recognize, and recover from traumatic brain injury.

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