He's a member, too | JOHN PIROLA

A member since 2013, John Pirola joined Mensa in an act of rehabilitation after traumatic brain injury had zapped his health and confidence. Finding resilience in his family's support, John now looks to help others seeking the same.

Interviewed in April 2014


The injury: While undergoing micro-vascular decompression surgery for a condition called trigeminal neuralgia, the pons portion of my brain was damaged. Based on my MRIs, it appears this damage occurred as the result of a stroke suffered during that decompression surgery. However, my neurologist (a stroke expert) believes a portion of healthy pons tissue was inadvertently removed.

Finding Mensa: While in high school, I knew a college student who was a Mensa member. I didn’t know much about the organization back then, except for the fact that only the extremely intelligent stood a chance of passing the test. I was a reasonably bright kid but never considered myself smart enough to become a Mensan. I really never thought much about the organization for decades afterward until shortly after my brain injury, when I stumbled across the Mensa app while trying to find challenging puzzles and games on my iPhone.

A family bond: My wife and I are blessed with four healthy children. My oldest was born in 1999, around the same time my neurological problems first surfaced. At the time of my injury, my children witnessed their dad in a rather horrific physical state, and I couldn’t help but notice the deep concern that was constantly present in their eyes…. Once my extremities had physically improved, I felt my brain needed pushing as well. The Mensa app helped me to do just that until I had answered all its questions and found the need to acquire additional Mensa materials. My children seemed to really enjoy some of the basic Mensa puzzles, and they became an integral part of my test preparation process. During this time, I believe they learned perseverance. However, more importantly, my children understand how important it is to focus on what a person can do, instead of what he cannot.

Taking the test: Though the Mensa test was extremely challenging, I found the multiple choice portion much less difficult than the other. As a result, I left the exam center feeling there was a glimmer of hope I might actually pass. My children were overjoyed when I received word I had actually passed, so much so that my youngest, who was 8 years old at the time, actually squealed with delight. I was very pleased as well, particularly to learn that though robbed of various physical capacities, my traumatic brain injury had somehow left my intellect intact.

Marching on: I firmly believe that pushing myself to prepare (and sit) for the test went a long way toward giving me additional determination and mental strength to continue writing. I’m almost finished with my book, which chronicles the various challenges of my medical crusade, in an effort to empower others who may be faced with similar circumstances. I’m confident that I will complete my book very soon.

Be a fighter: Never give up. Never succumb to unfortunate circumstances, no matter how overwhelming they may appear. I’m constantly reminded of how amazingly resilient the human body and spirit truly are. And, most importantly, despite how such circumstances may lead to your physical and/or mental limitations, remember not to dwell on what you can no longer do. Instead, always focus on what you are still able to accomplish.