BRAIN WAVES

Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona Blog

Dessert Maker Lisa Cowan Doesn’t Sugarcoat Realities of Caregiving

If there’s one thing Lisa Cowan shares with the characters of the hit T.V. show Friends, it’s this: no one told her life was gonna be this way!

Lisa and Greg Cowan

“The irony here is that I never wanted to be what my mom was – a nurse…it’s a whole new ballgame.”

Dessert Maker Lisa Cowan Doesn’t Sugarcoat Realities of Caregiving

If there’s one thing Lisa Cowan shares with the characters of the hit T.V. show Friends, it’s this: no one told her life was gonna be this way!

Lisa and Greg Cowan

“The irony here is that I never wanted to be what my mom was – a nurse…it’s a whole new ballgame.”

She grew up in Galena, Kansas with a father who worked for the city and a mom who was a nurse. Upon high school graduation, she decided she was done with small-town life and headed to Phoenix.

Lisa enrolled at Arizona State University, where she met the love of her life. Greg was an executive chef at a local restaurant and after three months of dating, they decided to leave ASU so they could get married in Jerome, AZ, and start a catering business.

For the next 16 years, they built the enterprise while Greg also played in a band and Lisa made historical Civil War, Elizabethan, and Tudor theatrical costumes for her own company called Queenliroses.

By 2015, their catering venture had run its course and the Cowans decided to close shop. Lisa continued to create costumes while Greg took up artsy welding. Four months later, they loaded up their toy hauler with motorcycles and quads and headed for the dunes.

They had set up camp in the desert but one afternoon, Lisa felt something was wrong. Greg had headed out for one last ride and hadn’t returned by 5:00 p.m. This wasn’t like him, so she rode around to find him before it got dark.

She found him unconscious but breathing, with his bike upended and his head leaning upward against a dune.

He had been injured several times before, but this seemed different. She immediately pulled off his helmet so he could breathe but was unable to move him. Thinking quickly, Lisa sped back to camp and returned on a quad. Fortunately, she met another camp of guys, one of whom was an ER nurse.

A helicopter was summoned but paramedics arrived first to drive him to the nearest ICU… in Palm Springs, over two hours away. Lisa recalls the scene as she watched her husband lifted onto the gurney: “I thought, ‘please take care of him; he’s all I’ve got.’”

As it turned out, Greg had sustained a diffuse axonal brain injury so serious that doctors advised Lisa to tell his mother and friends that how he was then was the best he was ever going to be. Lisa disagreed. “I knew he was going to get better,” she confirms.

While Greg was in a coma, hanging on to life, Lisa was at his bedside every day trying to keep his day-to-day as comfortable as possible for him. “I would sing him, You are my Sunshineto let him know I was there and try to wake him,” she shares. “When he did come out of the coma three weeks later, he blinked but had no recollection of the accident.”

They both stayed in Palm Springs for the next 45 days; then it was time to come home to Phoenix.

The past seven years have not been easy for the Cowans. While Lisa is grateful that he’s here and alive, she is keenly aware that their new life together is very different than the one they shared before the accident.

He now uses a wheelchair and is prone to fits of anger due to frustration. Previously self-reliant, damage to Greg’s frontal lobe has affected his personality and capabilities. Despite the fact he can only use one hand, he can now use the entire right side of his body and is gaining more movement on his left side.

“Although he couldn’t speak, Greg was improving the first two years, then plateaued the next two. Believe me, that was difficult for both of us,” Lisa admits. “I’ve always tried to have structure and that had helped his recovery, but then he seemed to be going backward.

“I would be very vocal about my frustration with him because I felt he could do more if he really wanted to. Plus, I would be remembering things we did in the past but couldn’t do anymore.”

Lisa also acknowledges that the brain is ever-changing and able to rewire itself by staying engaged, so she makes sure Greg has certain tasks to do around the house. “I try to keep him busy, but there’s only so much he can do,” she attests. “He used to try to walk, but has lost the motivation, no matter how much I encourage him. He used to be an adrenaline junky and had many injuries, but nothing prepared either of us for this.”

She also wasn’t prepared to walk a mile or two in her mother’s shoes. “The irony here is that I never wanted to be what my mom was – a nurse,” she states, “but here I am, a full-time nurse to my husband, who was my support system. Now, I don’t have someone to bounce ideas off of or help make decisions. He was my other half and when you lose that support, it’s a whole new ballgame.”

Carrie Collins-Fadell, CEO of the Brain Injury Alliance, admires Lisa’s honesty. “The fact that she doesn’t sugar-coat the situation is to her credit. Everybody’s brain injury is different, as is every couple’s relationship. We often see this shift in responsibilities the moment an injury occurs. Suddenly, a marriage partner is now a caregiver and the dynamic changes.”

While there is no one-size-fits-all solution for these types of situations, Carrie believes knowledge is power. “We encourage everyone to know what’s available – for themselves and their loved one. We’re here to offer that information and support.”

Now married 25 years, Lisa has expanded her entrepreneurial endeavors to include Aesthetic Taste Sweet Treats (complete with incomparable cocoa bombs) and encourages other caregivers to always have hope. “Fortunately, the past three have been somewhat better. I know Greg is trying but we’d both like him to be able to do more.

“Hey, it’s ok to yell and scream and feel so frustrated you just want to throw in the towel. For me, it’s been essential to change my perspective and get rid of the resentment.”

Part of that adaptation for the Cowans has included being open and receptive to the resources and programs available to them through organizations like the Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona. Lisa is looking forward to bringing Greg to an upcoming Art of Healing acrylic pour paint class sponsored by the Alliance to help them express their feelings through art. She feels cautiously optimistic.

“No matter how frustrating it’s been for me with all the ups and downs, I would rather be in my shoes than Greg’s because I know it’s way more frustrating for him,” she says candidly.

“It gets better, but it’s a rollercoaster ride, that’s for sure.”​

ABOUT BRAIN INJURY ALLIANCE OF ARIZONA

The Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona (BIAAZ) is the only statewide nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of adults and children with all types of brain injuries through prevention, advocacy, awareness and education. BIAAZ also houses the Arizona Brain Health Resource Center, a collection of educational information and neuro-specific resources for brain injury survivors, caregivers, family members and professionals.

What began in 1983 as a grassroots effort has grown into a strong statewide presence, providing valuable life-long resources and community support for individuals with all types of brain trauma at no charge.

The Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona:

  • Works with Congressional Brain Injury Task Force
  • Houses Arizona Brain Health Resource Center
  • Hosts Statewide Opioid Use Disorder & Cognitive Impairment Workgroup
  • Has Statewide Opioid Use Disorder & Cognitive Impairment Response team with peer support, training, and family wraparound services
  • Facilitates Brain Health Advisory Council
  • Manages statewide Neuro Info-Line: 888-500-9165

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