Woman Takes the Stage After Rehabilitation for a Brain Injury
Sara Beth Gerard-Summers of Jacksonville, Florida, returns to teaching, acting and directing.
School teacher. Theatre actress, singer, director. Wife. Graduate student. Sara Beth Gerard-Summers, 32, might have even more going on now than she did before October 1, 2013 – the day she sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI) in a car crash.
Her long path to recovery began when she was transferred from Shands Jacksonville Medical Center to Shepherd Center’s Brain Injury Rehabilitation Program. Here, staff members tapped into Sara Beth’s love for music as part of her recreational therapy. The strategy helped stimulate her brain. The only difficulty proved to be finding songs that Sara Beth’s brain hadn’t already memorized.
A larger challenge proved to be her recall. As a result of her TBI, Sara Beth lost about five years’ worth of memories leading up to the accident. Among others, that meant she had to meet – for the second time – her husband Aaron. They had married six months before her injury.
“We had to relearn each other completely,” Sara Beth says. “He had to re-introduce himself and date his wife all over again.”
Sara Beth’s earlier memories of Aaron have still not returned, but the love has. This April, the couple will go on a five-year anniversary/honeymoon trip to Italy.
When they return home, Sara Beth will resume working as an English and drama teacher in her hometown high school – a place where her mother taught for 38 years and her father is still the librarian. She’ll continue acting and directing in the Jacksonville theater scene, too. Sara Beth’s recent credits include a star turn in Steel Magnolias and directing High School Musical. She also has her high school students perform regularly for an elementary school.
In her sparse spare time, Sara Beth is also taking online graduate classes with an eye on a potential second career – as a recreational therapist.
“It sounds crazy to say I’m grateful for the accident, but I am,” she says. “It opened my eyes to the kindness around me, and also reminded me to be kind. Life is always going to hand you whatever it wants to hand you, but it’s still up to you if it’s going to be a bad day or a good day.”
Written by Phillip Jordan
Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain, and other neuromuscular conditions. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation. In its more than four decades, Shepherd Center has grown from a six-bed rehabilitation unit to a world-renowned, 152-bed hospital that treats more than 900 inpatients, 575 day program patients and more than 7,100 outpatients each year.