03/25/07 — March is Brain Injury Awareness Month

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March is Brain Injury Awareness Month

By News-Argus Staff
Published in News on March 25, 2007 2:00 AM

The war in Iraq, which has resulted in an inordinate amount of head injuries for U.S. soldiers, has focused attention on traumatic brain damage, and officials at a Goldsboro facility that works exclusively with such patients, want the public to understand more about what they go through in trying to become themselves again.

March is Brain Injury Awareness Month in North Carolina. Medical experts are paying more attention to the problem and look for new ways to treat such injuries.

The recent return of TV newsman Bob Woodruff to the air, after he was the victim of a severe head injury caused by an Iraqi bomb last year, also has focused more light on the subject. Woodruff, who still has some trouble remembering and speaking, was wearing a military helmet at the time of the explosion. The incident points up the irony of the problem -- blasts that once killed people now leaves them with brain damage only because of advances in helmet technology.

Re-Nu Life is devoted to caring for people who have suffered severe brain injuries -- whether from a fall, motor vehicle accident, stroke or other experience or malady. It is unique in that it is one of the few places in the Southeast devoted strictly to brain injuries.

Doug Harrison is director of growth and development at Re-Nu Life. The facility serves about 40 patients, most at the facility, the rest in several group homes in the area. Patients come from all over the state to take advantage of Re-Nu Life's programs.

"A lot of people don't know what we do," Harrison said. "We want to make Goldsboro more aware that traumatic brain injury is something that affects a lot of people."

The biggest challenge for people suffering from such injuries is finding a place that can help them recover, Harrison said. Most facilities that deal with mental or physical problems are not designed to help brain injury patients, he said. Simply placing a brain-injury patients in a place where they might be cared for but spend the day staring at a wall does little to help them recover, he said.

At Re-Nu Life, the staff works diligently to give each patient the individual care he or she needs, Harrison said.

Every brain injury is different, Harrison said. Depending on what part of the brain is damaged, the injury can manifest itself in various ways, he said. For one patient, motor skills might be reduced. For another, speaking might be a problem. A daily routine for the first might involve simple hand-eye-coordination and walking without help. For someone who has trouble remembering details, drills involving short-term memory are part of their recovery program.

"We come up with an individual treatment plan, to overcome whatever barrier they have to living independently. We have to find them a place in the system, based on their needs," Harrison said."

The staff of nearly 80 permits the facility to give patients a lot of one-on-one attention, he said.

"We are re-integrating them to become a member of the community again," he said.

Harrison said he believes the growing interest in brain injuries will result in more resources being made available for treatment. Re-Nu Life held a celebration last week marking the observance of Brain Injury Awareness Month, with local and state officials in attendance.

"I think in the next five years, there may be more focus by the state on traumatic brain injuries," he said. "I feel like the state is doing the best they can, but more money would help."

He noted that people with brain injuries are grouped by the state along with people who are developmentally disabled when the two are fundamentally diffferent. More understanding of brain injuries and how they can best be treated would go a long way toward helping brain injury victims receive the proper help, he said.

Harrison said the road to recovery for most brain injury victims is a long one.

"But when you see them have some semblance of a life, that's what makes it worth it," he said.