Thinking positive, taking back control

For years, an undiagnosed brain injury disrupted her family life and her military career. By connecting with veterans organizations and thinking positive, Shanda Taylor Boyd, '94, took back control of her life.

A car accident in May 2004 transformed Shanda Taylor Boyd’s life from one she described as “picture perfect” to tragic in a span of a few short minutes. A U.S. Army nurse with a 23-year military career, Taylor Boyd, ’94, had just finished her shift at Madigan Army Hospital at Joint Base Lewis-McChord and was driving home when a car blindsided her Volvo, leaving her unconscious and headed to the emergency room.

That night, Taylor Boyd, a high-energy dynamo and mother of three, insisted on leaving the hospital so she could rent a car and go to work the next day. She worked the next day and the day after that. You couldn’t tell from looking her that, in fact, she was suffering from a traumatic brain injury.

“I looked fine and no one knew what my elementary- and middle-school-aged daughters were dealing with at home,” she recalls. “I had trouble processing information when people talked to me. My vocabulary was affected. I had trouble speaking and couldn’t concentrate. I couldn’t work, grocery-shop or cook.” Her 18-year marriage came to an end, and a medical discharge ended her Army career.

But in 2008, things began to change. That’s when she was finally diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury, and that led to her participation in a Veterans Administration program called Taking Charge. “I learned how powerful it is to think positive thoughts,” she says. She started Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and joined the VA’s Traumatic Brain Injury group. She also attended the National Veterans Sports Clinic, and that was a game-changer for her. “How could I make excuses for not doing more when there were blind skiers wearing flaming orange vests bombing down the slopes?” she says.

Since then, Taylor Boyd has been busier than ever. She serves as a national spokeswoman for groups advocating for veterans, and she appeared in the Disabled American Veterans Community of Heroes advertising campaign with actor Gary Sinese (who played a double-amputee Vietnam veteran in the movie “Forrest Gump”). She is also an ambassador for Camp4Heroes and Villagers for Veterans. She and her service dog, Timber, are featured in the new book, “Vets and Pets: Wounded Warriors and the Animals that Help Them Heal.”

Taylor Boyd has deep connections to the UW. She’s a longtime friend of the School of Nursing, UW Alumni Association and Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity. Her daughter, Taylor, ’16, now a medical student at Harvard University, worked as a student ambassador for OMA&D’s Multicultural Outreach and Recruitment team. The spirit of gratitude and willingness to help others is pure Shanda. She’s just like a U.S. Army motto: Army Strong.