This year, as in several years past, Cigna is the sponsor for the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend. I had the pleasure of being invited to the blogger meetup event taking place this weekend. Prior to the races this year, I want to share some inspirational stories with you to give you some encouragement if this is your first race, or maybe your 50th race. Nicole is part of Team Achilles, which I also volunteer for. I hope to meet Nicole in person this weekend.
The first story I will share with you this week is of Nicole Gaines. Nicole is a Cigna customer and Achilles athlete participating in the Walt Disney® World Marathon 5K. Nicole Gaines, 33 years old from Troutdale, Oregon, is an active mother, wife, and registered nurse whose passion is caring for infant patients in the NICU and family birth centers patients. When she isn’t caring for patients or spending time with her family, you’ll find Nicole on the mountain slopes volunteering on ski patrol or teaching wilderness medicine to mountaineers and skiers.
But, on January 8, 2016 her active lifestyle came to a halt when she suffered a traumatic brain injury during a skiing accident. Nicole was also left with sustained injuries to her (left/right) shoulder and bicep tendon. In the days following, she went to an Urgent Care center and started physical therapy, but six weeks later when her symptoms of not being able to keep her balance, stay focused or have a coherent conversation persisted, she saw a concussion specialist who did an MRI and diagnosed her with post-concussion syndrome.
At work, Nicole’s injuries limited her ability to perform regular duties. Her main barriers to returning to work were vision challenges, memory issues, and fatigue as a result of her head injury. She took time off work to recover. Nicole continued with physical, occupational and speech therapy for eight months. During recovery, her husband and daughter were a huge support—driving her to and from her appointments and helping her with simple tasks at home such as cooking and cleaning.
By April, Nicole felt ready to return to work part-time doing back-office tasks and following up with patients over the phone. But, she was still unable to meet the cognitive demands of the shift, so Nicole was asked to take more time off work. That’s when in mid-June Nicole met Cigna vocational coach, Robin Randol, and the two teamed up to help Nicole reach her health and return to work goals.
Robin provided Nicole with screen magnifiers and screen readers to assist with vision issues, coached Nicole with nutritional and sleep hygiene best practices as well as computer use best practices to alleviate concussion syndrome triggers and fatigue, and provided cognitive strengthening strategies. “Robin has a deep background in working with people who have had brain injury,” said Nicole. “Robin’s expertise and the resources she’s provided helped normalize my struggle so I can worry less and stay focused on getting healthier and stronger.”
Robin also provided job placement and resume assistance to help Nicole connect with other RN opportunities, not 12-hour shifts, to help with her recovery. This September Nicole started a new RN position in employee health at a local hospital where she’s much happier working with patients again, has better hours and a better commute which support her while her brain continues to heal. To help Nicole strengthen her physical and cognitive stamina, Robin introduced Nicole to Achilles International, a non-profit organization Cigna partners with to help people with disabilities achieve their goals. Nicole worked with an Achilles personal trainer who provided a customized exercise program to help her increase physical activity gradually.
“Increasing physical stamina has made a big difference in my cognitive stamina,” Nicole said. “By doing my Achilles walk/run exercise program, I have more energy throughout the day which helps my cognitive stamina as well. I wasn’t a runner before my accident, but I love running and am making long-term health improvements.
”In recognition of Nicole’s desire and dedication to regain her health, Robin invited Nicole to participate as a sponsored Achilles athlete in the Walt Disney World® Marathon Weekend 5K in Orlando this January.“When Robin invited me to participate in the Walt Disney World 5K, I was excited to join Team Cigna with other Achilles athletes whose stories have motivated me along my health journey. I hope my story can motivate others too.”
Nicole and daughter Kaytlin will participate in the 5K together. After completing her 5K, Nicole looks forward to her next goals: returning to work without restrictions, volunteering and being back on the mountain slopes. “My dream is to be fit and recovered enough to climb Mt. Rainier next year. Doing this 5K is a great start in making that a reality.”