Tower graduate makes a comeback after brain injury

By: Maria Allard | Warren Weekly | Published January 12, 2022

 Roseville resident Kara L. Swanson, who graduated from Tower High School in Warren in 1983, is living with a traumatic brain injury since a devastating car crash in 1996.

Roseville resident Kara L. Swanson, who graduated from Tower High School in Warren in 1983, is living with a traumatic brain injury since a devastating car crash in 1996.

Photo provided by Kara L. Swanson

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WARREN — In the 1990s, Kara L. Swanson was living the life she had worked so hard to achieve. 

The 1983 Tower High School graduate was leading the catering departments at the Atheneum Suite Hotel in Detroit and at the Detroit Institute of Arts. She had attended the University of Michigan, where she worked for the women’s athletic department and women’s basketball team.

She became a first-time homeowner and, in her words, “drove a nice car.” The career woman was making an impact as the Warren Woods Tower High School varsity girls basketball assistant coach, and also coached female athletes in softball and basketball.

In her free time, it was “game on” as the avid athlete participated in Shoot-The-Bull and Gus Macker 3-on-3 basketball tournaments with her circle of friends.

“My career was solid,” Swanson said. “I loved the successful life I had created.”

All was well until the winter of 1996 when Swanson was thrown a curveball as she was involved in a devastating car crash.

“I acquired a traumatic brain injury in January of 1996 when a driver ran two red lights going 55 mph and hit me square on the driver’s side door,” Swanson said. “My seatbelt held me still while my brain crashed into the side of my skull. It was shocking. Devastating. That great life I had created was upturned like a snow globe.” 

The Roseville resident suffered a traumatic brain injury, or TBI, and the injuries sidelined her. The star athlete suffered mild, moderate and severe levels of damage to her balance, gait, speech, memory, and to 13 areas of higher learning/cognitive function. She could no longer drive and according to her, “My career was done.” 

Over the next year, Swanson completed comprehensive retraining in speech, occupational, physical, specialized balance, alternative vocational and emotional/acceptance therapies. The skilled athlete also had to relearn how to drive using left-foot accelerator equipment. 

“It was determined that I was legally, permanently disabled. I had been so proud of my independence and success. I was 31 and on top of the world when, suddenly, my family and friends had to take care of me,” Swanson said. “They drove me. They paid my bills. They bought me groceries and helped to care for my two dogs and cat. They helped me to move closer to my parents, into a smaller home that I might manage on new disability benefits. They were Godsends.”

Despite the circumstances, Swanson developed a positive attitude and eventually got back in the game. 

“I feared that my brain injury had ended the best my life would ever be,” Swanson said. “Instead, I was about to learn how much good could come from the worst thing that had ever happened to me.” 

 

‘She has inspired so many’

While her life had changed dramatically, a new chapter emerged when Swanson went from caterer to author. While at a local bookstore one day, she could not find any books on TBIs. So she wrote one of her own titled “I’ll Carry the Fork! Recovering a Life After Brain Injury,” which was released more than 20 years ago.

That led to offers to be the keynote speaker for the TBI community at events in dozens of states and Canada. In 2007, Swanson began jotting down her experience with “Kara Swanson’s Brain Injury Blog,” which draws in readers from more than 130 countries and has received multiple awards.

“I always hope my story will help people. We’re not the same but we can still do what we dream. This second life has been about welcoming a new normal and believing that I can find ways to make it extraordinary,” Swanson said. “I’ve learned humility and gratitude when so many beautiful people have given to me. I’ve learned to laugh at myself. I’ve learned that difference doesn’t have to be worse and that I can step over my challenges on the way to being a good partner, daughter, sister, friend, or employee.”

She continued writing. Swanson co-authored two books with Linda Lucido: “Every Star You Can See Is A Star You Can Be!” and the activity book “Mitten State, All In Michigan!” During the COVID-19 pandemic, the writer penned her first full-length novel, “The Lupines Are Marching,” available on amazon.com. She joked that it only took her 17 years to complete it, yet the experience was “rewarding.” 

“The Lupines Are Marching” follows a woman, originally from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula who now lives in Ann Arbor, on a journey back home to settle a dark past and secret with her ailing father. According to Swanson, “There is funny in it, some romance, a light mystery, Michigan history, and lots of lies and family drama.”

Swanson also stays close to her Tower roots. Each fall, she makes phone calls for the Career Technical Education Career Department in Warren Woods Public Schools, in which she contacts graduates to see what they have been up to since high school. Since 2008, Swanson has been the sports announcer at WWTHS games. Retired Athletic Director Jan Sander hired her to broadcast boys and girls soccer, boys and girls basketball, football and competitive cheerleading.

“She said, ‘I need you to be an announcer,’” Swanson said. “‘Show up tomorrow.’ I love it. It keeps me connected to the school. I just love the school. I’m just doing my little part.”

It’s a job she takes to heart.

“Kara does research and is prepared before she announces,” Sander said. “She always makes sure the (athlete’s) names are pronounced correctly.”

Sander first met Swanson when she was a 14-year-old freshman playing basketball and volleyball. Swanson also played softball under different coaches. While under Sander’s direction, something other than her athletic abilities stood out.

“She was always very talented in writing,” Sander remembered. “As a coach, I ask my team to write down their goals before each game. Kara is an outstanding, eloquent writer. She played guitar and wrote songs and played for the team.”

Sander and Swanson always stayed in touch over the years. Sander has read all of her former student-athlete’s books.

“I think she has such an appreciation for life, not only animals but people. There’s a calmness about her,” Sander said. “She’s so thoughtful and kind. She’s a caring human being. She has inspired so many.”

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