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Blog: Survivor Stories

What a Brain Injury Can Never Take Away

Tim O'Dell and his family at the 2023 Blazing Trails for Brain Injury fundraising event.

When my dad was 61, his life was dramatically altered.

On September 24, 2016, Tim O’Dell was violently assaulted while at a friend’s wedding.  The resulting head injury left him with major headaches, which he experienced for over a month.  His vision went from nearsightedness to farsightedness for four months.  He also later discovered that he had lost his sense of taste and smell. This last realization was the most painful. An avid traveler and food aficionado, my dad loved to cook flavorful foods, and to enjoy the world’s cuisine. In an instant, this was gone.

Determined to recover his taste and smell, my dad has sought out various types of treatment for his brain injury.  He tried countless medications, vitamins, neurofeedback, and other targeted taste and smell recovery treatment options.  He has sought out care from leading physicians throughout the country and even explored alternative treatments.  While some treatments initially provided minimal progress, his sense of taste and smell has never been recovered.  We still have hope that one day, adequate research and science will help him and others like him regain their senses and experience full and complete healing.  But that is not his reality today.

This is a part of my dad’s story, but it is not the whole story.  It’s not even the most significant part of his story. The concussion happened to him, but it does not define him.  

His life changed in undeniable ways, but some things did not change. 

The TBI did not take away his resilient spirit.  His character is still marked by strength. Raised in poverty, he joined the US Navy shortly after high school. His goal was twofold:  to serve his country and to create a better future, both for himself and – someday – for his family. After his service, he continued building the life he imagined, marrying my mother, starting a family, and building a successful technology company from the ground up.

The TBI did not take away his passion. Decades later, at a time when most men are thinking about retirement and slowing down, my dad was still dreaming of new ventures, and making those dreams a reality. His lifelong love for spicy foods, combined with his entrepreneurial mindset led him to launch his own food company, Chili Dawgs Foods of Fire.  This business was the culmination of a long-held dream to bring a variety of spicy foods and seasonings to market. The business has grown; he has one location in Blair and is opening a second in Gretna, NE.  It’s worth noting that this growth has continued – and perhaps even accelerated – after his injury. He has not let his limitations stop him. Instead, he has partnered with others who share the same passion for fiery foods. I imagine that most individuals who lost their taste and smell wouldn’t dream of taking on the challenge of running a food business. My dad didn’t flinch. More importantly, my dad didn’t quit.

The TBI did not take away his love for family. My dad remains devoted to his large family, including his 12 grandchildren. He seeks out time with us, he takes the kids fishing, he plays chess with his grandson, he’s the first one to join a family football game but he’s also a willing tea party participant with his granddaughter. But beyond the fun and games, he models what it means to live life with gratitude for each day.  One of his favorite sayings is, “Well, I woke up this morning, so I know it’s going to be a great day.”

The TBI did not take away his friendships. He continues to cultivate his many relationships, traveling with his wife and friends, playing cards until the early morning hours, and seeking to live every day to the fullest. It’s true that he might not be able to smell the roses, but he never misses a chance to marvel at their beauty.

Most significantly, the TBI did not diminish our love for him. My dad’s sensory system may no longer operate at full capacity, but his heart is bigger and better than ever. He’s a caring, generous, and honorable man, who consistently looks out for friends, family, and even strangers (though he would tell you he’s never met one). His sense of humor is second to none and life is always a little better when you’re around him.

You see, even though my dad experienced a TBI, it cannot and will not define him.  It can never take away those things that are most important. His spirit. His passion. Our love.

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