Tag Archives: brain injury

Mommy of a Miracle – Faith

kristine & isabellaIn order to survive this journey through brain injury I think you need to have some sort of faith.  Faith is a very personal thing and yet when brain injury occurs it is often questioned more than ever.  Most people question their faith after a brain injury, but for me, it was quite the opposite.  You see before my daughter, Isabella, got sick with sudden acute encephalitis, I already had doubts about my faith.

The two years prior to Isabella’s Acquired Brain Injury (ABI), I had helped care for my Nana who was dying from ALS.  I watched the woman that I called my Nana, who was more like a mother and best friend to me, suffer for about two years.  It was heartbreaking and it made me question my faith.   My Nana was one who always had a strong faith yet she was suffering.  At the same time that my Nana was dying, one of my best friends, Jillana, was losing her battle to an inoperable brain tumor.  Once again my faith was being questioned.  Jillana was a young athletic amazing person and yet she was suffering from this horrible brain tumor.  My Nana died Sept 2009 and Jillana died March 2010.  Within 6 months I had suffered two substantial losses.  I was angry and upset that two great people suffered and died.  I was questioning my faith; I was questioning everything that I had ever believed in.   I found myself searching for a reason to have faith because I no longer believed.  I didn’t believe in prayer because I prayed so much for them both.  I did not believe in people that claimed to have experienced miracles.  In my mind, people that claimed to have miracles were not telling the whole story and clearly something else played a hand in that “miracle”.

When Isabella got sick everything changed.  I found myself in the PICU watching my child dying before my eyes.  I was praying to anyone that was listening to please save my baby.  In that room I didn’t know what else to do so I prayed.  There was family, friends, acquaintances and strangers from all around the country praying for Isabella.  Then in the words of her doctors, a miracle happened.  Prayers were answered.  Not only did Isabella survive but she defied the odds.  Hearing doctors say that there is no medical explanation for her survival and that it is a miracle she is here, well, that gave me something to think about.  I had watched a miracle with my own eyes and there wasn’t more to the story as I had often suspected with others who claimed miracles.

As the hours turned to days then months and eventually years I could feel that my faith was returning.  I had faith to understand that the power of prayer really does work and miracles really do happen.  Not all prayers are answered how I want them to be but I now have faith that somehow some way things will work out.    Ironically that was something that my Nana had told me my whole life that I didn’t understand until Isabella got sick.

On this journey my faith has been tested over and over.  What I have found is that faith comes in all kinds of packages.  There is faith in the power of prayer, and faith in miracles.   I have faith that Nana and Jillana are our guardian angels, both never far from us.  Faith can also be found in doctors, therapists, friends, family, strangers and support groups.  Faith isn’t always this thing that is right in front of you; sometimes you have to really look for it.  Most importantly I have faith in Isabella and myself.  I know that together we can conquer any battle big or small.  After all faith helped us survive the unimaginable.

Guest Blogger, Kristin Olliney, is the mother of 8-year-old Isabella, who suffered sudden acute encephalitis when she was just 4. Kristin’s bi-monthly blog, Mommy of a Miracle, talks about the trials and joys of raising a brain injury survivor.

Legal Statement: The information contained in this blog does not reflect the specific views of BIA-MA. This blog is published for informational purposes only. BIA-MA is not providing medical, legal or other professional advice with its publication.

Announcement of “Chicken Soup for the Soul Recovering from Traumatic Brain Injuries” written by Sandra Madden.

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BIA-MA Staff & CSS Authors (Left to Right) Barbara Webster, Helen Stewart, Kelly Buttiglieri, Sandra Madden, and Suzanne D.K. Doswell

 

 

The Brain Injury Association of Massachusetts (BIA-MA) is proud to announce that stories written by five of our staff members, as well as several Massachusetts residents affected by traumatic brain injury (TBI), were selected for inclusion in the new Chicken Soup for the Soul (CSS) book slated to hit bookstores nationwide on June 24th.  This new book is entitled Recovering from Traumatic Brain Injuries: 101 Stories of Hope, Healing and Hard Work.

Our Executive Director Nicole Godaire beamed with pride when presented with this new book.  “I am proud of my staff, having the courage to tell their stories to the world. I believe this book will become a valuable resource for families dealing with recovery from traumatic brain injury.”

The following are excerpts from our CSS Authors:

“This book is the quintessential book for those who want to step into the world of brain injury and is now a primary resource in the BIA-MA Western Regional office library.  It is easy to read, full of dynamic personal stories and exactly what we have needed as we attempt to explain brain injury to the medical world and general public.  Some readers will shed a few tears as they realize the life altering significance of TBI and others may finally be able to address their patient and client needs with a clearer sense of this silent epidemic from the voices of those who know.” ~ Suzanne Doswell, Western Regional Manager

“I am so very grateful to be a part of this book.  After reading most of the stories, I truly believe that this is the most powerful textbook about Brain Injury ever written.  It has so many different voices in chorus.  The harmony blends survivors, family members, caregivers and professionals into one song.   It is not merely academic jargon, but relates the experience and impact of brain injury through the heart.  It bridges the gap between words and experience.  I do not believe that one can read these stories and not gain a deeper understanding of Traumatic Brain Injury and have more compassion toward the people who live with it, in any capacity, on a daily basis.” ~ Helen Stewart, Western Region Information & Resources Outreach Coordinator

“It takes a long time to heal and rehabilitate from a brain injury, typically continuing long after your insurance coverage has ended.  It is the hardest work I have ever done but it led me to the most fulfilling work I have ever done, working with other survivors.  My mission is to let other survivors know they are not alone in their struggles and to encourage them to think about “How” they can do something instead of “I can’t”.   It is a journey, not a destination.  Never give up hope.” ~ Barbara Webster, Support Group Leader Liaison

“A few years after my accident, I ran into my neurologist on a plane, we were both going to St. Lucia for a vacation. I felt such pride and satisfaction in telling her I had graduated law school and was practicing law. I wanted her to know she should encourage patients to take small steps to accomplish their former, pre-TBI goals. She initially discouraged me from pursuing mine.” ~ Kelly Buttiglieri, Ambassador Program Coordinator

“Keeping a positive outlook has been key (for me) to not succumbing to the frustrating and painful consequences of TBI. Many amazing and inspirational people have come into my life since my accidents and I keep focus on this, the comfort and joy of these relationships.” ~ Sandra Madden, Administrative Assistant

Chicken Soup for the Soul was named by USA Today in 2007 as “one of the five most memorable books in the last quarter-century” and after 21 years of publishing, have sold over 100 million books in the United States and Canada alone. You now have the opportunity to bump that number past 100 million books by purchasing your copy of Recovering from Traumatic Brain Injuries: 101 Stories of Hope, Healing and Hard Work directly from the Brain Injury Association of Massachusetts. We are selling the book for $12.50 (this is lower than the retail price and includes the cost of shipping and handling) and proceeds from the sale of each book will help support our mission: to create a better future for brain injury survivors and their families through brain injury prevention, education, advocacy and support.

To order online, visit www.biama.org. If you are unable to order online, please contact our offices and speak to Sandra Madden, she can be reached at (508) 475-0032 or toll-free (in state) at (800) 242-0030.

When you receive your book, look for BIA-MA colleagues’ stories on pages 64, 86, 177, 310, and 361.  Stories written by other Massachusetts residents affected by TBI appear on pages 15, 80, 128, 195, 212 and 307.

Legal Statement: The information contained in this blog does not reflect the specific views of BIA-MA. This blog is published for informational purposes only. BIA-MA is not providing medical, legal or other professional advice with its publication.

The Best “Job” In The World

Joan helped plan and execute a volunteer-run yard sale in 2011.

Joan helped plan and execute a volunteer-run yard sale in 2011.

Today’s blog is written by Joan Rauch, a BIA-MA volunteer who has been giving her time and talents for the past four years.

All through our lives we volunteer. Early on, we are often “volunteered” by our parents and become “committed volunteers” when our kids play sports or are involved in other activities such as scouting, music or the arts. At work and church, we are often “recruited to volunteer” for all kinds of worthy causes. To “volunteer” becomes ingrained in our daily lives, so much so, that we just accept that it is a job that must be done.

Then one day the thought of retirement brings the realization that we are now free to do whatever we want; to get involved in the things we have been waiting a life time to do. Some of us, like me, have been fortunate enough to be involved part time in the daily lives of our grandchildren. And many of us begin to look at the world in a different way; we look back and appreciate how fortunate we have been. Now that we have the luxury of time, we realize, that giving back, “volunteering” for the right cause, is indeed important to us. The ‘spirit of volunteerism’ becomes a part of us, centered in our thankful heart.

My own, ‘yes, I will’ moment came while reading the weekly insert in the Worcester Telegram. Volunteer opportunities filled several pages, but the one that caught my eye, was the one about the Brain Injury Association of MA. It was even located in my home town!

The article spoke about the chance to learn, to help and become a part of a vibrant and continually growing organization, one dedicated to people with brain injuries, their families and their care givers.

It has been almost four years since that article appeared and I know I made the right choice. I got to be a part of a welcoming environment, one that appreciates everything we volunteers do, no matter how big or small the job. As a volunteer, we are provided with on-going instructions for any task we undertake and we are permitted to attend appropriate client-focused education programs held by the BIA. We are accepted as part of the BIA team. We get to participate in activities involving brain injured adults and to experience, first hand, their  efforts to expand their capabilities and to witness their joy when they succeed.

As a volunteer, I get to work with other like minded people, ones who help add to my own sense of well-being and accomplishment. In a world full of possibilities, ”volunteering” at the BIA of MA, truly can be, one of the best jobs in the world.

Mommy of a Miracle: “You are not Alone”

Kristin Olliney

Kristin Olliney

Guest Blogger, Kristin Olliney, is the mother of 7-year-old Isabella, who suffered sudden acute encephalitis when she was just 4. Kristin’s bi-monthly blog, Mommy of a Miracle, talks about the trials and joys of raising a brain injury survivor. 

“To the memory of Giovanni (Gio) Cipriano”

When Isabella survived her Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) I desperately sought out other parents of children with brain injuries.  Statistically speaking I knew I wasn’t alone and yet I couldn’t find any other parents.  I knew there were others, after all, every 40 seconds another American youth enters an emergency department with a brain injury.  I needed that connection with other parents who could relate to having a child with a brain injury.  Only another parent on this journey could fully understand the emotions that you go through when you have a neurologically typical child one moment and then a child with a brain injury the next.  At one point we all had a neurologically typical child, some of us longer than others.

I wanted to find an online support group.  I needed the option to “talk” whenever I wanted to, on my own terms from the comfort of my own home.  In-person support groups were not going to fit it into an already jam-packed schedule. Plus, I needed more than a once-a-month meeting.  I wanted a safe, non-judgmental place to go to at any given moment.  Most of the online brain injury support groups I found were a mix of survivors, spouses, significant others, friends, family etc.  While these groups have helped me understand so much about brain injury and in particular, survivors, I needed more.

When I didn’t find an online support group specifically for parents, I started my own on Facebook called, “Parents of Children with Brain Injuries.”   I had hoped to have at least a few parents join.  One-by-one as parents joined, I realized that I was no longer alone and neither were they.  We found comfort in knowing that while our paths may be different, the journey is the same because we all have that common bond of brain injury.  We all belong to that “club” that we never asked for or imagined we would belong to.  That feeling of being isolated from the rest of the world had ended because we finally had each other and we are surrounded by parents who “get it.”  Our child survivors range from babies to adult children and our stories vary by how the brain injury occurred.  We are all at different places on this journey.  Some of us are brand new to life with a child who has a brain injury and others have been doing this for quite some time.  “Parents of Children with Brain Injuries” has become our safe non-judgmental place to vent our frustrations, cry over the heartache of what has happened to our children, and cheer each other on while sharing the victories that others couldn’t possibly understand.

Having a child with a brain injury has changed us all.  Our children are now faced with a very different life as are we.  Some of our survivors are being bullied because of those differences.  We struggle with helping the rest of the world understand that while some of our children look exactly the same, they are now completely different on the inside.  We all go through the process of grieving the child we had pre-brain injury and accepting the child we now have post brain injury.  We support each other in that moment of weakness when you don’t possibly think you can make it another day. We get angry when another survivor is treated unjustly by the school, the rest of the world or by family and friends.  We share possible treatment options, how to raise awareness, discuss medical procedures, medication experiences and how to fight insurance companies.  We celebrate the successes of hearing a nonverbal survivor make a sound, watching survivors figure out how to throw a ball or walk.

Two weeks ago, we had our first loss.  A new member joined and she had a child struggling to survive a brain injury.  Unfortunately that child did not make it.  Words cannot express the sadness that was felt.  I have never met this mother nor her child, and yet my heart ached just the same.  After all, at one point most of us were in that same position (watching our child die), praying our child would make it through the night and defy all possible odds to survive.  The reality is that every five minutes someone dies from a brain injury.  That someone has a parent somewhere.

What started out as my need to connect with other parents of children with brain injuries has forever changed who I am as a person, a mother and a caregiver.  I may never meet these amazing parents but I can’t imagine my life without them.  This group and our members have had such a profound impact on me.  I can’t express how much these parents have changed my life.  If you haven’t found a brain injury support group, I highly recommend it.  When you find the right one, you might wonder how you ever survived without them.

To locate a support group in Massachusetts, visit http://www.biama.org/groups.html and click on BIA-MA Support Group Listing. Or, click here.

Don’t Wait, a guest post by Catz LeBlanc

Catz LeBlanc goaltending for her handball team.

Catz LeBlanc goal tending for her handball team.

Today’s blog is written by Catz LeBlanc, a member of the ‘Amazing’ Brain Injury Support Group in Framingham, Mass. Originally from Madison, WI, a former Physician’s Assistant, collegiate soccer goalkeeper, ice hockey player, team handball goalie and mother of an “amazing son,” she suffered a sports concussion as a team handball goalie. Two months later, she suffered a more severe concussion when her Volkswagen Beetle convertible was rear-ended by a truck and totaled. Searching for a book to provide some comfort, guidance, understanding for her challenges with the fallout of a traumatic brain injury, she found none. So, she wrote one. She continues her rehabilitation four years since the injuries.

Don’t Wait

Everyone is so busy.  No one has enough time, no one has enough money.  Someday, someday, they will do what their heart and soul desire, in the meantime, so much needs to just get done.

Last week a woman said she thinks she has maybe five to seven decent years of cognitive function before she may succumb to her older siblings’ demise.  There was urgency in her voice, tired of helping everyone else, everyone always needing something from her–she just wanted to live her own life–with whatever remaining quality she has.

If I could, I would fill Gillette Stadium to capacity, everyone shouting “Yes, you, do it! We give you permission!” If I could, I would have all the birds in Boston sing outside your bedroom window, “Wake up! Wake up! Today’s the day YOUR life begins!”  If I could, I would have the planes at Logan fly over you, pulling signage, “TODAY! Yes, you, Today- GO FOR IT!”

It would be tricky, but we might be able to have you professionally kidnapped, to somewhere you can finally do what your heart and soul have been whispering.  Trickier still would be to have all the family and people connected to your loathsome to do list- have THEM professionally kidnapped and dropped off with provisions to an island to care for themselves for the next whatever number of years.

Perhaps your next fortune cookie will read, “This is it. Last call-You have 6 months of quality left. Use wisely.”  Would you change your priorities then?  What’s it going to take to have you put you on the top of your list?  Are you waiting for a parade with bells and whistles, a marching band, to let you know, OK-Now! Go ahead, FORWARD march!

Human illusion of time left in our lives, it’s funny how we somehow calculate it, as if a physics equation.  Denial is a powerful thing. Human nature is human nature.  “I’ll just get these two more things done and then I’ll sit down and give myself 30 minutes for me.” And then the door bell or phone rings, postponing again and again. Before we know it, another decade or more has passed.

We are delusional about our lives–Start today, tomorrow noon at the very latest.  I’ve already been to the land of a compromised brain and it is a Godforsaken place.  I’m still stuck there precariously living within my limitations, receiving punishing consequences if I rebel.

Will we be one of the lucky ones who suddenly dies peacefully in their sleep, self-sufficient until their last breath, life list completed in total?  What are the odds of that?

How about listening to that inner voice?  I can hear the resistance rallies revving up, all the reasons why you can’t do what you say you really want to do.  No need to answer me. It’s your life.

P.S. Here’s a sample refrigerator note.

Dear All,

I have come down with a rare form of L.M.N.O.P. and am quarantined for a bit.  Don’t bother to phone or text as my room doesn’t get the tower.  Take excellent care of each other and don’t worry about me.  I will be just fine.

 Love,

Your spouse/Sibling/Parent/Grandparent/Neighbor/Friend/Friend of a Friend…

Catz’s book, Tell Me This: Encouragement and Hope after Brain Injury, a pocket guide for athletes, veterans and civilians, is being published by Lash and Associates and will be released this coming winter.

What Brain Injury Survivors Want You To Know

Today’s blog is compiled by The ‘Amazing’ Brain Injury Survivor Support Group of Framingham, Mass., one of 34 BIA-MA support groups around the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. It was then published in Lost and Found, A Survivor’s Guide for Reconstructing Life after Brain Injury, by Barbara Webster, BIA-MA’s Support Group Leader Liaison. If you want more information about joining a support group, click here. 

What do  brain injury survivors really want you to know?

I need a lot more rest than I used to. I’m not being lazy. I get physical fatigue as well as a “brain fatigue.” It is very difficult and tiring for my brain to think, process and organize. Fatigue makes it even harder to think.

My stamina fluctuates, even though I may look good or “all better” on the outside. Cognition is a fragile function for a brain injury survivor. Some days are better than others. Pushing too hard usually leads to setbacks, sometimes to illness.

Brain injury rehabilitation takes a very long time; it is usually measured in years. It continues long after formal rehabilitation has ended. Please resist expecting me to be who I was, even though I look better.

I am not being difficult if I resist social situations. Crowds, confusion and loud sounds quickly overload my brain, it doesn’t filter sounds as well as it used to. Limiting my exposure is a coping strategy, not a behavioral problem. If there is more than one person talking, I may seem uninterested in the conversation – but that is because I have trouble following all the different “lines” of discussion and it is exhausting to keep trying to piece it all together. I’m not dumb or rude; my brain is getting overloaded!

If we are talking and I tell you that I need to stop, I need to stop NOW! and it is not because I’m avoiding the subject, it’s just that I need time to process our discussion and “take a break” from all the thinking. Later I will be able to rejoin the conversation and really be present for the subject and for you.

Try to notice the circumstances if a behavior problem arises. “Behavior problems” are often an indication of my inability to cope with a specific situation and not a mental health issue. I may be frustrated, in pain, overtired or there may be too much confusion or noise for my brain to filter.

Patience is the best gift you can give me, allowing me to work deliberately and at my own pace, allowing me to rebuild pathways in my brain. Rushing and multi-tasking inhibit cognition.

Please listen to me with patience as well, trying not to interrupt, allowing me to find my words and follow my thoughts. It will help me rebuild my language skills.

Please have patience with my memory and know that not remembering does not mean that I don’t care.

Please don’t be condescending or talk to me like I am a child. I’m not stupid, my brain is injured and it doesn’t work as well as it used to. Try to think of me as if my brain were in a cast.

If I seem “rigid,” needing to do tasks the same way all the time, it is because I am retraining my brain. It’s like learning main roads before you can learn the shortcuts. Repeating tasks in the same sequence is a rehabilitation strategy.

If I seem “stuck,” my brain may be stuck in the processing of information. Coaching me, suggesting other options or asking what you can do to help may help me figure it out. Taking over and doing it for me will not be constructive and it will make me feel inadequate. ( It may also be an indication that I need to take a break.)

You may not be able to help me do something if helping requires me to frequently interrupt what I am doing to give you directives. I work best on my own, one step at a time and at my own pace.

If I repeat actions, like checking to see if the doors are locked or the stove is turned off, it may seem like I have OCD, obsessive-compulsive disorder, but I may not. It may be that I am having trouble registering what I am doing in my brain. Repetitions enhance memory. (It can also be a cue that I need to stop and rest.)

If I seem sensitive, it could be emotional issue as a result of the injury or it may be a reflection of the extraordinary effort it takes to do things now. Tasks that used to feel “automatic” and take minimal effort, now take much longer, require the implementation of numerous strategies and are huge accomplishments for me.

We need cheerleaders now, as we start over, just like children do when they are growing up. Please help me and encourage all efforts. Please don’t be negative or critical. I am doing the best I can.

Don’t confuse Hope for Denial. We are learning more and more about the amazing brain and there are remarkable stories about healing in the news every day. No one can know for certain what our potential is. We need Hope to be able to employ the many, many coping mechanisms, accommodations and strategies needed to navigate our new lives. Every single thing in our lives is extraordinarily difficult for us now. It would be easy to give up without Hope.

Think A-Head Redesigned and Revamped, Coming to a School Near You

bigstock-Group-of-Friends-Being-Videota-31220816 (1)

Students get ready for prom. Do they know the dangers of drinking or drugging and driving?

Did you know that the brain contains 100,000 miles worth of blood vessels–enough to circle the earth four times?  The brain contains 100 billion neurons, which are cells, known as gray matter, that process all of the information in your brain. Each neuron is connected to other neurons by up to 40,000 synapses. This means that the number of connections in the brain outnumbers the number of stars in the universe.

Did you know that the brain is made up of 75% water, and uses 20% of the oxygen in your body at any given time?

What a powerful organ…one worthy of protecting, since it houses so much information and capability.  However, brain injuries are the leading cause of death and disability in young adults and teenagers. The recorded instance of concussion, car crashes and substance use by this group is increasing. So, what can be done to enlighten students and give them knowledge, allowing them to make better choices for their own safety?

The Brain Injury Association of Massachusetts has a solution. Think A-Head is a dynamic, school-based program that has been teaching students to avoid risk-taking behavior and develop healthy living habits for nearly 20 years. This curriculum is tailored to the age of the students and to the specific needs of the school and its community. The program offers a core curriculum with amendable activities based around the following issues:

  • Brain Injury: General knowledge of the brain, brain injury, high-risk groups and behaviors
  • Drugs and alcohol: Breaking down drugs to include depressants, stimulants, inhalants and prescription pills and the affect on the teenage body and brain
  • Impaired driving: How alcohol affects driving, the dangers of impaired driving and the increased risk of sustaining a traumatic brain injury (TBI)
  • Seatbelts: The benefits of using them and the detriments of not using them; statistics on usage and common misconceptions about seatbelts
  • Concussions: Focusing on sports concussions, signs and symptoms, and information on what to do in the case of a suspected concussion; the roles of coaches, student athletes, teachers and school systems in this process

www.bigstockphoto.com

You may have experienced this program in your school before. However, BIA-MA has completely revamped the program to be a more effective educational and preventative tool. Your students will experience new presentations with interactive question-and-answer sessions to make sure they are really consuming the information. In addition, a brain injury survivor speaker will be on hand to discuss their experiences with brain injury and to also pose situational questions to the students. When reality is standing before them, how do they respond?

Thanks to a generous gift from the Sarah W. Rollins Charitable Trust, BIA-MA is able to offer this redesigned Think A-Head program at a discounted fee of $75 for the first program and $25 for each additional program held at your school on the same day. Think A-Head aims to inform and engage students and supply them with applicable knowledge so that they can make more informed choices during a most impressionable time in their lives.

Science has proven that neurons continue to develop throughout an individual’s life, at least in some parts of the brain. In addition, fresh cells are actively involved in the formation of memory. This organ should be protected, as it serves as the “engine room” or “control room” for all of your body’s faculties. An individual’s choices affect the brain on a regular basis.

To bring the Think A-Head program to your school in Massachusetts, visit the webpage today to book a program (or more!) and learn more about how educating students about the risks and impact of brain injury helps them make better choices. To book your program immediately, click here.

Mommy of a Miracle: I learn something new every day

Kristin Olliney

Kristin Olliney

Guest Blogger, Kristin Olliney, is the mother of 7-year-old Isabella, who suffered sudden acute encephalitis when she was just 4. Kristin’s bi-monthly blog, Mommy of a Miracle, talks about the trials and joys of raising a brain injury survivor. 

I have learned a lot in the past month about the public school system.  I learned that the public school system is like a wooden-shape puzzle.  Most pieces fit in the puzzle.  Some pieces require a little more effort to fit in than others.  With every puzzle there is always that one piece that no matter how hard you try to shove it into the mold, it just does not fit.  Isabella is that unique puzzle piece that does not fit.

As I mentioned in my previous blog about Isabella’s first day of school, I moved to our current town specifically for its school system.  It ranked very well on the state report card.  The special education program was known to be fantastic.  I had such high hopes and I honestly never expected it not to work out.  The first week of school was horrible.  Fighting, kicking, screaming, biting, panic attacks etc., just to walk out the door of our home.  Never mind the car ride, the 15 minutes of school and then the aftermath which consumed the rest of the day.  The second week of school is when the stress, anxiety, aggression and panic attacks took on a whole new level.  It was affecting her sleep, therapies, treatments and it became medically necessary for Isabella to have a home-based program.  School is not supposed to be this traumatic.  I quickly realized that just because a school system has a great ranking and a fantastic special needs program, that does not mean that it is the right or appropriate fit for Isabella.

I was left with a few options:

  1. In-home tutoring:  I was hesitant to go this route as we had already done that (with little success) in another town.  Isabella needs more than in-home tutoring can offer.  Also, with in-home tutoring the expectation is that the child will go back into the public school. I already knew that was not working.
  2. In-home tutoring until out of district placement could occur: I started calling and researching a variety of specialized schools.  The problem I ran into is that most programs were for emotional/behavioral conditions or cognitive conditions.  Isabella doesn’t fit into any one category because she has a brain injury.  While she has emotional/behavioral conditions, they are a result of a brain injury so therefore can’t be treated the same.  The few schools that do specialize in brain injury either do not accept Isabella’s age group or they accept her age group but currently do not have any attending.
  3. Home school: Several providers had mentioned home schooling to me.  I knew nothing about it.  I decided to research the laws, potential curricula, talked with other parents who home school and to find out as much as I possibly could.

I spent many stressful days and sleepless nights trying to figure out what to do.  I felt like I was between a rock and a hard place with not many good options.  The more I researched home school, the more I realized this was the best option for Isabella.  The laws, the policies, the application, finding and submitting a curriculum–it all overwhelmed me but I knew that she would thrive in a home school program.  I knew that I could teach Isabella because I would go to the end of the world for her if I had to.  After all, I know her better than anyone.

I started looking into therapeutic playgroups to get Isabella the socialization she needs.  I was referred to a facility that would offer Isabella the one-on-one that she requires.  They will help Isabella cope with her anxiety, teach her social skills and eventually be able to interact with another peer in a very structured environment.

I submitted my home school plan which included an online curriculum coupled with a few other programs to supplement it. Isabella already has existing outpatient therapies, in-home behavioral and soon a therapeutic playgroup.  I received an approval shortly after submitting.

I can honestly say this is the right decision for us.  Isabella loves “school at home.”  That twinkle in her eyes that I haven’t seen in years–that twinkle is there.  The excitement Isabella has every morning when she asks what we are going to learn today–that is how it is suppose to be.  Learning is not supposed to cause panic attacks, regression and aggression.  The public school experience has caused Isabella to regress so much.  It is going to take some time and a lot of work to get Isabella back on track to where she was prior to the start of the public school.  I know together we can get Isabella back to where she was and moving in the right direction.

I am not saying public schools are bad.  I live in a town that has a great public school.  I am saying that not every child fits into that cookie cutter mold.  It wasn’t appropriate for Isabella at this time.  Will I home school forever?  Honestly, I have no idea.  What I do know is that this is the right choice for us right now.  One day at a time.

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I- I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” Robert Frost

Responding to Frontline’s “League of Denial”

American footballRecently, PBS Frontline aired a special, “League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis.” This two-hour special tells the story of “Iron Mike” Webster, former Pittsburgh Steeler, as well as the beginning of the research that shows degenerative brain disease develops following repeated concussive incidences. This documentary interviews many doctors, including BIA-MA Board Member, Dr. Robert Cantu, of Boston University and the Sports Legacy Institute. The evidence of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is “evident” through this documentary. It is very telling regarding the National Football League’s continual denial that multiple concussions cause long term brain damage.

The ironic piece is that many Americans revere pro-athletes that hurl themselves at each other for sport, for a ball, for a win…for a paycheck. Though, we raise up these athletes from as early as park and recreation departments let them –age 9? This repeated concussive behavior doesn’t just appear in football, though football has taken a front seat in the debate. It’s football players who have filed a huge lawsuit against their former employer, the National Football League. Football players are more notably donating their brains to science following their deaths. Junior Seau, former New England Patriot, committed suicide following his troubles that he believed were caused by his repeated concussions.

It’s not just football, though. It is boxing, soccer, basketball, volleyball, baseball, cheerleading, wrestling, and many other activities. It is veterans returning from war, being in blast zones day in and day out. The brain is racked when the head is shaken. It is seen in car accidents, and bike accidents. There are many ways that the human body can experience concussion.

It is apparent in the brain injury community that this is and has been a growing issue. Brain injury will reach epidemic proportions by the year 2020. It far exceeds the incidence of even HIV/AIDS and breast cancer. This is not to lessen those ailments, but to show the growing condition that many individuals face. When journalists make light of issues that we in the brain injury community have known about for a long time, awareness is finally raised about the cause we fight for. It’s only taken so many years…

Whether the NFL agrees that repeated concussions and hits can cause CTE or degenerative brain disease is irrelevant, since continuing research at The Sports Legacy Institute with the brains of many deceased athletes and veterans is yielding this result. The inside of the skull is jagged and sharp. If you bump your arm on something hard and sharp, you bruise. Wouldn’t it stand to reason that if you bump an organ…the brain…on the inside of the skull that it would bruise as well? The fluid surrounding the brain is a cushion, but the principle of inertia is at play. An object at rest stays at rest until acted upon by another object or force. An object in motion will stay in motion until acted upon by another object or force. When the head rams into something, the brain continues moving inside until it is halted by the skull. So many of this experience is taking its toll on professional athletes.

The recorded incidence of concussion is increasing, because student athletes, coaches and parents are getting the idea that this could have severe long term affects. It’s not just about “getting your bell rung” anymore. It’s about the fact that post-concussive syndrome is rough, and after incurring one brain injury, you are more likely to suffer subsequent brain injuries. Higher risk! You are at a higher risk following an initial brain injury. Take care of yourself.

While this American pastime will continue to bring people together and motivate young athletes with role models, let’s hope the “league of denial” becomes a league of acceptance and makes athletes sit out if they experience a concussion, or that the safety equipment continues to evolve in hopes that protection and prevention will be the main goal. We welcome your thoughts on the documentary “League of Denial” and hope that you share them with us here or on facebook or twitter.

Tips to Avoid Over-stimulation

Scott Doane is a TBI survivor and BIA-MA Staff Member

Scott Doane is a TBI survivor and BIA-MA Staff Member

Today’s blog comes from BIA-MA staff member and survivor of traumatic brain injury, Scott Doane. As a survivor, he gives first hand tips on how to take care of yourself and avoid over-stimulation when you go out into the world.

My name is Scott and I sustained my brain injury when I was 7 years old. I am now 53 years old and still face problems that many others with with brain injuries have as well. Not only did I have to deal with my brain injury, I had physical limitations as well. The right side of my body was paralyzed so I walk with a slight limp, depending how tired I am. As I grew up I adjusted to whatever life had in mind for me. I also learned about my mental and physical limitations.

Now that I understand more about brain injury, I have been more aware of what situations to avoid, so I can take care of myself. For instance, when my wife and I go into a restaurant I try to sit with my back along a wall or window. I feel better in a booth instead of sitting at a table in the middle of the room. This helps keep stimulation to a minimum. If I prefer more light I may want to sit where there is more lighting, or less lighting. If I am going shopping at a mall I try to stay focused on what I am getting or where I am going. If I go to a big mall that I am unfamiliar with, it takes time for me to feel comfortable. I will look for the restrooms, exits and look at the basic layout.

When I have gone to company parties that have loud music I hung out in one location or had a conversation with someone. Sometimes I’ve had a difficult time having a conversation due to the noise. When that happens I take myself out of the area, outside or to a quieter section. It’s also a good idea to do a little home work or think ahead before putting yourself in an uncomfortable situation.

By going through it in my mind, I can take control of what I can, and not set myself up. Obviously there are things that will happen that I have no control over and it helps me to remain somewhat flexible. It is important to be aware of how you are feeling, trying to stay in your comfort zone. Look at your surroundings and stay focused. If you have been in an environment that has been overstimulating or if you’re feeling tired, take a break and take yourself out of the environment to recharge.

Steps you can take to avoid or diminish over-stimulation:

  1. Be well rested.
  2. Plan ahead (Phone, wallet, meds, money, ID, transportation, time schedule).
  3. Become familiar with your environment (location of restrooms, exits, floor plan, and location of where you want to go).
  4. Allow yourself to take a break and relax. Have a snack and stay hydrated.
  5. Don’t overdo it. It is not worth running yourself down.
  6. Stay positive and try to remain flexible.
  7. Be safe.