Imagine having your entire life change in an instant. Four years ago (10-2016) Nikki Lawley was an active pediatric nurse who enjoyed outings with her husband and dogs, often to nearby casinos where the 49 year old professional moonlighted as a card dealer in the past. A native of Buffalo, NY, Lawley had it all – until one fateful day when everything came crashing down.
“Life changed in a second, no warning, no preparation, just like that ….. BOOM”
During a routine vaccination, a child, frightened by needles head butted Lawley as she was restraining him from behind while another nurse attempted to vaccinate the 10 year old boy. Nikki was hit frontally and then bounced off a plaster wall and back into the boys head in a significant whiplash motion.
This was Lawley’s 3rd TBI and the one that changed her life forever. The impact was so severe that there was immediate left arm paralysis and weakness along with severe head and neck pain. Confusion, disorientation, and vision issues occurred at the same time.
Lawley was diagnosed with a Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (mTBI) and cervical instability and was subsequently run through the mill of medical specialists, tests, and treatments. That was the last day she was able to work.
The once joyful, energetic nurse was all of a sudden plagued with intense headaches, issues with fine motor skills, sensitivity to light, and cognitive issues that caused her great emotional and physical pain.
When conventional treatments, medications, and tests aggravated her symptoms, and desperate for relief, she eventually turned to medical cannabis out of desperation rather than it being presented as an option for treatment. Traumatic brain injury you only really understand once you or a loved one suffers from it.
Life was very dark for Lawley at this time, the constant frustration of not being who she always was. So many of the side effects from the pharmaceuticals they tried caused Lawley to feel out of control and hopeless. Overwhelmed with the most simple of tasks, unable to do basic math, remember appts, to feed her pets, to feed herself. This once social, fun, and active woman became a shell of who she was. Never wanting to leave the house or do anything at all socially.
Nikki’s husband for Christmas, purchased a gift for her, a trip to Las Vegas which normally would have been amazing. instead, it was dreaded and all she saw was the negative and the fact of the pain of doing anything it would be aggravated while on vacation.
In January of 2017 while being in Vegas, severely depressed, Nikki spotted a mobile billboard advertising medical cannabis cards in Nevada. She mentioned this to her husband and he jumped at the chance for anything that could possibly help her as life seemed impossible for her.
She went to a cannabis clinic in Las Vegas and received her medical cannabis card for California. In Nevada, they offer reciprocity for California patients. She then found her way to a medical dispensary and the budtender recommended products at the time that took Lawley “off the ledge“. She was totally suicidal and she had gone as far as planning her death and writing letters.
Lawley states “cannabis saved my life that day, cannabis gave me hope for the future that day and the following days.”
With her husband Jack by her side, Nikki began researching the potential benefits of medical marijuana. At the time, cannabis was available in NY but only in oil, pill, and vape formulations. When leaving Las Vegas she assumed the same products would be available in her home state. Quickly realizing that this was not the case, Lawley had to find an option of anything. She was forced to medicate out of the country in Canada where she has an address and access to Canadian Medical cannabis.
Unfortunately, she can not bring her medical cannabis home because it being international and a schedule 1 substance. As a result, Lawley spends a lot of time with friends in Ontario so she can have some quality of life back by having access to full plant medicine. Nikki finds the most relief for her symptoms by smoking specific cannabis flower strains which are not available to medical patients in NY state. Lawley was hopeful that the legalization bill would have passed for NY state because that would offer her the products she needs to be able to find relief.
Lawley registered as a New York State medical cannabis patient in May of 2017 hoping that medical dispensaries would provide her with a quality and affordable alternative to at least be in the comparable market of Ontario medical cannabis.
Since then she’s become frustrated by the limited scope, treatment options, and the high price tag on products available through New York’s program. Being on worker’s compensation for her injury initially all treatments for cannabis were denied. However, recently through the appeals process, her insurance company has been mandated to reimburse Lawley for her medical cannabis purchases.
She experimented with countless products, strains, and dosage forms, before arriving at the conclusion that smoked or vaporized cannabis flower, in its most natural form, provides her the most relief.
Nikki says it took her some time to find the correct strain with the specific terpene profile that worked for her. Nikki is a strong believer in the entourage effect, the idea that all of the phytocannabinoids presents in cannabis flower work together to provide synergistic benefit, and the effect produced from these compounds is greater than the effect produced from any isolated compound(s) alone.
Terpenes are chemicals found in plants, including cannabis, responsible for the different aromas such as citrus, berry, spearmint, and evergreen. Terpenes can modulate the effect and uptake of cannabinoids and have therapeutic properties of their own. After seeing the difference that cannabis made in her life and realizing the grief she could save other patients, Nikki has become outspoken on the benefits of cannabis for head injuries.
She’s a member of online support groups for individuals that have suffered head injuries such as Brain Tumors, TBIs, concussions, and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), the controversial neurodegenerative disease that is caused by repeated head injuries that can occur in sports like football, boxing, and other combat and high impact sports. CTE was discovered in 2005 when Pittsburgh researchers examined brain tissue from deceased NFL players.
Nikki is supporting and consulting with organizations conducting studies with cannabinoids for the treatment of symptoms associated with CTE and other head injuries.
A warm soul, Nikki is passionate and infinitely interested in the benefits of cannabis, many of which are still being researched.
She is determined to help patients find access to medical cannabis products that provide them relief, in the hopes that no one has to suffer what she has.
Frequent trips across the border from her residence in Buffalo, NY to her so-called “safe house” in Ontario are uncomfortable and often wear on Lawley. However, she is determined to continue her fight for better access for patients in New York – and beyond.
And while Lawley never thought she would become an outspoken medical cannabis advocate, she knows her journey as a patient is for the greater good and may have a far-reaching impact, even more so than her previous life as a nurse.
At the end of the day, Nikki hopes her story can inspire others to never give up, to live in the moment …” embrace the journey you have been given and let the universe direct your path”. Living in the past creates depression, living in the future creates anxiety, living in the moment creates peace and comfort. Enjoy life to its fullest. Cannabis saved my life and it has given me back a quality of life that I can appreciate so much. Cannabis is my medicine and my hope is that others don’t have to suffer to the point I did … cannabis should be offered as a treatment for TBI / Concussion symptoms.“
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