Phoenix program helps people with acquired brain injury

December 19, 1997

by Kevin G. Gilbert / staff photographer

Phoenix program helps people with acquired brain injury


Staff Writer

There were five days remaining in Scott Thrasher's senior year as he drove to school the morning of May 22, 1989.

The 6-foot-2-inch Oakland, Md., resident had celebrated his 18th birthday 11 days earlier.

Thrasher never made it to school that day. His car, which he had owned for less than a month, drifted across the center line and hit a fertilizer truck. He suffered injury to his brain that left him in a coma until the following October. It changed his life forever.


Doctors recommended a nursing home, but Beverly and Robert Thrasher brought their son, Scott, home from a Pittsburgh rehabilitation center the following January. He required 24-hour nursing care.

Scott had to relearn everything - how to eat, how to drink, how to talk.

He and his family also had to learn to accept his limitations.

"The physical needs you can deal with. We didn't have the knowledge or the ability to deal with the emotional needs," Beverly Thrasher says.

Scott Thrasher, now 26, and a resident of a group home in Washington County, is enrolled in Phoenix, a program offered through Washington County Association for Retarded Citizens.

Phoenix focuses on the needs of individuals with neurological impairments resulting from traumatic brain injury, according to program specialist Barb Shevokas.

Persons with epilepsy, quadriplegia, cerebral palsy and stroke also may benefit. The program has been offering vocational services since 1995.

Beginning Jan. 1, 1998, the Phoenix Day Habilitation Program for individuals with acquired brain injury will operate Mondays through Fridays from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Housed in Florida Avenue Medical Day Care Center in Hagerstown, this program is intended for individuals with some medical needs who are not yet ready for vocational training. Transportation is provided for Washington County residents.

The program is designed to help people reach the highest degree of independence possible, according to Shevokas.

Quest for a meaningful life

Despite limitations, people with acquired brain injury can have meaningful lives.

They can have purpose, says Lisa Perez, a nurse who is director of medical day care. She believes the quality of their lives can be improved through the Phoenix program.

Scott Thrasher agrees. His voice is soft. He speaks with care and with effort, but not without humor.

When Perez talked about how she was brought to tears by his wanting to give his bell-ringing paycheck back to the Salvation Army, Scott Thrasher teased her by playing an imaginary violin with his mobile right arm.

He calls Perez and Shevokas "beautiful ladies" and recommends the Phoenix program to anyone who might need it.

So does his mother.

"The things that they are doing with him benefit him so much," says Beverly Thrasher.

An individualized program is designed for each participant.

Nursing oversight and physical and occupational therapy are provided. Intellectual testing is available. The people may be dealing with memory and concentration problems. New ways of coping and getting things done have to be found. Shevokas has been looking for software and adaptations that will enable Scott Thrasher to use a computer.

The services of dietitians and psychologists also are available. Frustration and depression are not uncommon among this population.

Instead of getting upset about a problem, her son needs to work through to the answers, says Beverly Thrasher. She believes that Phoenix can help.

Most activity portions of the program are presented in a group context. Being with peers in a group setting works well in building self-esteem and getting along with others, Shevokas says.

Scott Thrasher is quick to point out that he's not retarded. Although the distinction may sound like an insult to the developmentally disabled, Shevokas confirms that there is a difference. In general, people with developmental disabilities are born with them. Their lives have not suddenly or dramatically changed.

Those with traumatic brain injury had different lives.

"They know what they are missing," Shevokas says.

Scott Thrasher had worked on the construction of three homes and was accepted into the carpenters' union while he was still in high school.

"That was his dream - to build. It still is, but he can't do it," Beverly Thrasher says.

Phoenix is helping him to build - not new houses - but a new life.

The Phoenix, the beautiful, lone bird of Greek mythology, builds a nest every 500 years and sets herself on fire. She rises renewed from the ashes to begin another long life.

The Phoenix, a symbol of immortality, of building a new life from the ashes of a previous one, is the image chosen for the program offered by Washington County Association for Retarded Citizens for individuals with traumatic brain injury.

For information, call 301-739-7519.

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