Chéri’s recovery was full of challenges related to having female-specific symptoms

Chéri Ballinger, former model/actress and now film producer and entrepreneur, suffered a severe Traumatic Brain Injury in 2014 after a fall onto cement in an action scene on the set. Since her TBI on that day, her life has never been the same. Chéri’s four-year recovery was full of challenges related to having female-specific symptoms that threw her doctors off.

An advocate for women's health and brain injuries, Chéri's personal story aligns with one of SameYou’s goals to break the silence and encourage people to speak out about their experiences. By talking about this and initiating conversations, we can help to advance women's healthcare and raise awareness of the need for more sex-specific testing. “It's very important to me to use my second chance at life to help as many people as I possibly can. For me, this is personal, and it's my mission,” said Ballinger.

Chéri is the US Ambassador for the Women’s Brain Project – a Swiss-based international non-profit organisation focused on sex and gender determinants of brain and mental health as a gateway to precision medicine. Men and women are different when it comes to brain and mental disease risks, frequency, severity, symptomatology and even response to treatments.

The Women’s Brain Project’s goal is to clearly identify such differences in diseases, diagnosis, and treatments, as well as novel technologies, and leverage them for better solutions. Sex and gender differences are the first steps towards precision medicine. WBP aims to address these issues through scientific research, education, debate, public engagement and advocacy – and the establishment of an institute for sex and gender precision medicine research.

Here's Chéri’s story…

In February of 2014, I was doing a modeling/acting job for a movie poster where I had to jump on a trampoline and do a running pose in the air.  The last thing I remember is that I moved mid-air, lost my centre, clipped the side of the trampoline and fell full force from a super height onto concrete. My life has never been the same again. I was transported by ambulance to ER.  My memory is spotty from those times, but I do recall kind of stumbling out of there with the help of my brother feeling just very disorientated as they discharged me. 

Within 48 hours of falling, everything went downhill.

I lost my sense of being able to walk. I started slurring my words and started throwing up uncontrollably. Everything about myself just tanked. I couldn’t walk, couldn’t talk – there was something seriously wrong which clearly the ER hadn’t diagnosed. That’s the tragedy of the situation because it makes me think how many other people this happens to.

I saw neurologists and had emergency MRIs, and my whole life completely stopped, and everything changed. My parents took care of me and that was the start of my recovery. It was horrific because I had such debilitating pain and severe migraines. I couldn’t remember how to do anything. I was completely helpless and completely dependent upon my parents and my younger brothers.

It was a very scary situation because it was like what’s happening to me, there’s something wrong, but no one could say what was actually wrong or what to do other than I had a TBI.

The next thing you know, I’m stuck in bed with my mum spoon feeding me, and my brothers carrying me to the restroom. Although I was very blessed that I was not paralysed, I was thinking, am I going to be like this for the rest of my life? I lost my sense of balance, had trouble walking and I couldn’t speak. The first step forward was just looking for answers, but I couldn’t do that, it was my parents. They were talking to doctors, doing research online, trying to figure out what was triggering it and what could we do. It was taking things into their own hands and doing the research.

I started out in physical recovery and then speech therapy for a number of years. Both were very helpful. I had to learn how to try to remember things again, how to retrain my brain, how to get my balance, how to speak again. I set myself little goals like being able to walk down the hallway on my own to walking up the driveway. I had notes all over the house like how to brush my teeth and how to do things that we just take for granted.

I was asked to go into an inpatient programme, but I really liked the people that I dealt with in my physical and speech therapies and with those two therapies and then my home environment, I didn’t want to leave the comfort of that. People need to remember that it’s such a scary situation to be in when you find yourself so helpless and completely vulnerable. It’s not like breaking your leg. I needed that security and comfort. I’m so very very blessed to have had my family taking care of me and I don’t know how people can do it without that patience and love that you need with this level of injury because that’s what helped me the most.

I feel so fortunate to be able to tell my story – a couple of years ago I couldn’t have done this. I wasn’t well enough. My goal is be able to bring awareness as I know there are a lot of people out there who are struggling like I did.

We need to speak about women’s health, and how we can further put brain health on the map for men and women.

It wasn’t until a naturopathic doctor took a precision medicine type of approach to help me, that I really started to get better. I believe that this is the key to advancing how patients are diagnosed and treated. My goal is to be a strong advocate for precision medicine so that no one has to suffer as I did for all those years—it’s completely attainable if we all work together!

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