03/24/11 — Former patient tells crowd how ReNu Life changed hers

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Former patient tells crowd how ReNu Life changed hers

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on March 24, 2011 1:46 PM

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Penelope Taylor, a brain injury survivor, shares her story at ReNu Life, a Goldsboro rehabilitation center for clients with traumatic brain injury, on Wednesday. Clients, staff and local dignitaries were on hand for a luncheon to learn more about the need for funding and services for victims of brain injuries.

Penelope Taylor has spent nearly 18 years proving doctors wrong.

She told her story Wednesday during a meeting designed to increase awareness for the need for funding for brain injury rehabilitation and research.

In 1993, at age 15, Penelope was in a car accident that claimed the life of her friend and should have ended hers as well.

In fact, when she was later treated at Pitt Memorial Hospital in Greenville, that was the prognosis doctors shared with her parents.

"My mom put me on every prayer chain they could get me on," Penelope says now.

After two and one-half months in the hospital, so many blood transfusions they "lost count," she had to learn to walk and talk all over again. Her jaw and pelvis broken, she was only stable enough for one surgery, so opted for the one to repair her jaw.

"I still walk with a limp," she says, adding, "I like overcoming whatever the doctors told me I wouldn't do. I like proving them wrong.

"They told me I wouldn't live, they told me I wouldn't walk, I would never graduate from high school."

She has done all of those things, including obtaining a two-year degree from Wayne Community College.

Life has not been without challenges, however.

She has a traumatic brain injury and initially was embarrassed to even leave her house. Her parents are credited with being a strong support and source of encouragement throughout the ordeal.

On Wednesday, she shared a portion of her story with other brain injury survivors and local dignitaries at ReNu Life, a rehabilitation center.

Her message was about strength and hope. And continuing to defy the odds one is given.

"I was never supposed to have kids -- this is my third child," she said, gesturing to her youngest daughter, sitting nearby, blonde curls bouncing.

Mrs. Taylor said she met her husband through a brain injury survivor support group; his mother had also been a survivor. They married in 1999.

"Just speaking, sharing what God did for me, is why (God) saved me," she told the group. "Anybody can do anything. Don't let any doctor or anybody tell you that you can't.

"People can survive, people can come back, I'm proof of that."

Diane Harrison, director of ReNu Life, said the story is a familiar one among those she serves.

Sure, the situations and details of how clients come to the center may vary -- car accident, falling off a mountain among the cases represented in Wednesday's program to raise awareness about traumatic brain injuries -- but there are also common threads.

Many at the center were also told they would not survive or at the very least would not walk again.

"Even doctors will tell you (that) they do not know what the outcome is going to be, they really don't," she said. "I think that's why they prepare families for the worst."

The quicker a patient gets into a rehabilitation program after medical care is received and the condition stabilized, the better, she said.

"It prevents a lot of problems that many people are having," she said. "They have much more serious problems and to a point that no one is having very much success with them and are in state institutions because of it.

"That's part of the awareness we want to get out there -- we can get better ... and they deserve the right to have their rehab and then as long as they need to be able to recuperate."

Another obstacle comes when the client is ready to graduate from a program such as ReNu Life into an environment that is less restrictive.

"But there's not a step up or a step down from here," Mrs. Harrison said. "This ends up being their home longer than it should be because there's no one there, a supported long-term rehab program. They can get support but they don't need 24-hour supervision.

"This is something we're really trying to work on. This is something that so many of them are ready for and they just don't have."

Despite the lack of funding and facilities, more people sustain a brain injury each year than are diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injuries, HIV/AIDS and breast cancer combined, officials said.

ReNu Life, which has the capacity for 44 clients, is one of the few rehab centers of its kind, so typically serves residents from around the state.

"I hope all of you know how fortunate you are to have this place, the people that are here that love you and want to help you and be a part of your life," Sandi Worthington, outreach coordinator for NC Brain Injury Association, told the gathering. "Probably at least four out of five of the workdays that I work I get a call from a family member or from a professional, 'We have a person here that has a brain injury, they need long-term care, long-term housing, where can I send them?'

"ReNu Life is it in the East. There are not many places at all in North Carolina like this that can even offer the same type of services. There are certainly none of this size."

Ms. Worthington encouraged the clients as well as elected officials and community members to lobby for more services like those offered at ReNu Life.

"We're getting ready to meet with the legislators in our state and do some advocating," she said.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Harrison said, a day program is being added to the offerings at ReNu Life, open to the public, specifically brain injury survivors that would benefit from the service.

"They learn a lot of different things -- everything from social communication, they learn ow to do whatever their particular goals that they need to work on," she said. "We also incorporate our therapies into that, learning computer lab, they have Facebook, they're communicating with their families on levels that others communicate on.

"Some may think they're only playing a game on the computer. They have no idea what they have to conquer."