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Finding Joy Despite A TBI: Carol’s Oakwood Story
March 31, 2022

Meet Carol, A TBI Survivor & One of Oakwood’s Leaders!

Carol with George, Oakwood's Therapy Pig

If you’ve been to Oakwood Creative Care, then you might have seen Carol Lawless working her magic! As the Director of Community Engagement and Events, Carol is best known for lighting up any room with her bright and cheerful spirit, but one thing you might not know about Carol is that she’s a traumatic brain injury (TBI) survivor. In honor of Brain Injury Awareness Month, Carol shares how her life after TBI has encouraged her to become one of Oakwood’s dedicated leaders.

When Carol Was First Introduced To Oakwood:

In July of 2019, Carol joined Oakwood Creative Care’s leadership team as the Director of Development after taking a tour of one of the Day Clubs. During this time, Carol recalls immediately feeling drawn toward the creativity and hope radiating from around every corner. One of her favorite memories to look back on during her early days at Oakwood is that of a specific member who was so thrilled by their newfound passion for painting that they couldn’t wait to share it with everyone.

There was a member with early-onset Alzheimer’s who was sitting in a room working on a mosaic painting, and he had to get out of his seat to walk to the teacher and Sherri [Oakwood’s CEO] to say, ‘Who’d of thunk it? I’m an artist!'”

In that moment, and every day since, Carol has found a significant appreciation for Oakwood’s dedication to creating an inclusive, person-centered environment perfect for adults with cognitive and physical challenges — like herself. Since sustaining a TBI in 2015 after a life-changing car accident, Carol has formed a deeper connection with Oakwood’s members and their families, understanding first-hand what it is like to live through specific challenges. 

How Creativity Became Part Of Her Healing Journey:

Carol says she resonates with Oakwood’s mission to spark joy by fostering moments of creativity because of her own personal recovery journey. During the first couple of years following her accident, Carol spent a lot of time feeding the creative center of her brain through quilting.

I liked quilting because it was quiet, had a rhythm, and helped keep the creative neurons firing.

As a self-taught quilter, Carol’s passion for quilting came from her aunt, who was much like a grandmother to her. After her accident, Carol’s interest in quilting grew by leaps and bounds when she needed something to give her respite during her early recovery period. After her father passed away, Carol shared her talent with her mother, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, by inviting her to assist in making quilts out of some of her father’s clothes.

Carol with Dolly Star, the first Therapy Miniature Cow

Carol included her mother in the preparation process by showing her how to take apart her father’s dress shirts by cutting the buttons off and removing the hems. Carol then stitched the articles of clothing back together and made 13 quilts in total, which she gifted to each of the grandchildren in her family. Carol continued quilting articles of clothing together for families in search of a sentimental way to remember their loved ones and has since handcrafted over 200 memory quilts like the one she made in honor of her father.  Now, Carol has brought her passion for quilting to Oakwood and has helped streamline their Sit ‘n Sew events, where she hopes to invite others to experience the joy found at each of Oakwood’s Day Clubs.

Carol’s Advice For Looking To The Road Ahead:

Even though Carol has lived a remarkable life since sustaining a TBI, she admits there are some things she has struggled with having to give up because of the new challenges she now faces. Carol says, “We still all have a purpose here; it just might not look like what it used to. I used to be an overachiever, but doing isn’t everything. More isn’t always better. Man, what a lesson to learn!”

Throughout her journey, Carol has gained an immense amount of respect, appreciation, and understanding for what some of the members and families of Oakwood Creative Care experience on a day-to-day basis. Despite having a TBI, Carol finds hope in each new day and uses her personal experience to share the value of Oakwood’s programs with other loved ones and families who share a story similar to her own. To survivors and families who are newly adapting to a world with TBI, Carol’s first bit of advice would be to celebrate things as they are in the present moment.

Patience is important, and it’s also important to be able to let go of what once was to make room for what is present. Celebrate the past and be comfortable getting to know the person [with TBI] as who they are today. Things are different now, but that’s okay.

Carol Finding Joy after TBI in Mesa Arizona

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We're a nonprofit organization based in Mesa, Arizona with three senior day club locations (and a fourth on the way) which serve older adults with Alzheimer's, dementia, Parkinson's, and various other physical or cognitive challenges. Life does not end with a diagnosis. Our members continue to learn new skills, enjoy new discoveries, make friends, laugh, and live a joy-filled life. Our team of dementia experts lead support groups, events, classes, and private sessions with caregivers and families, guiding them on the best methods to care for their loved ones while also caring for themselves.


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