Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Surviving and Thriving with Brain Injuries

A beautiful summer day - sunny, much less humid, and gradually working its way towards hot instead of totally broiling here in western Massachusetts. I caught an hour or so with All Out Adventures at our canoeing program in Gill on the Connecticut River and unexpectedly learned some important distinctions about brain injury, which can run the gamut from mild to severe, and effect mental, physical, and neurological functions of the body.

ServiceNet was there with a group of people with brain injuries. Some explored the cove by canoe in search of eagles, beaver, and cool shady edges on the far shore while three others hung out under a canopy playing Uno. As I was labeling equipment for the program, they updated me on causes of brain injury, not all of which are considered "traumatic", meaning caused by mishap such as an auto or motorcycle accident.

Acquired brain injuries can occur through cancer and other diseases, aneurysms, heart attack, lack of oxygen, even being bitten by a mosquito that has previously bitten a horse with Eastern Equine Encephalitis. If that isn't enough to give pause, I met my former plumber as a participant in today's program, who slipped on black ice in his driveway which triggered early onset of Alzheimer's Disease. I was pleased to see he was really enjoying himself socializing, paddling, and even assisting staff with boats.

Whether a brain injury is officially labeled acquired or traumatic, all three card players (each one a brain injury survivor) agreed that the "after effects of brain injury are identical" and pretty much any brain injury qualifies as traumatic. Unfortunately, not all service organizations are able to support people with both categories of brain injury due to limited funding. Thank goodness for Trevor Smith, an employee of ServiceNet, which is based in Northampton and serves 3 counties in the Connecticut River Valley. Trevor is a primary force behind making sure his clients get fresh air and wonderful experiences in the great outdoors, even using his own vehicle to provide rides for those who can no longer drive. He takes full advantage of programs offered by All Out Adventures and DCR's Universal Access Program. Thanks Trevor!

I was struck by the jokes and laughter of the group today, in both those that went out on the water and the one that hung back to play cards. Their attentiveness and compassion for each other was a treat to behold, and they enjoyed educating me freely in between jests and trouncing each other with the latest winning hand. And when the paddlers returned, everyone was smiling. Once again, I was reminded that disability does not trump the soul.

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