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Coping with brain injury

Independent living still possible after a life-altering change

Independent living still possible after a life-altering change

February 24, 2003|by KATE COLEMAN

katec@herald-mail.com

At different times, in different circumstances and with different effects, Scott Thrasher, Rick Seeley and Kevin Boyer experienced traumatic brain injuries.

But all their lives changed in an instant.

Thrasher, 31, had just celebrated his 18th birthday and was five days from finishing high school when the car he was driving crossed the center line and hit a truck.

Seeley, now 44, was riding his motorcycle to work in November 1975 when his motorcycle crashed.

Boyer, 25, was born with spina bifida, a spinal cord defect. Because of the resulting hydrocephalus, an abnormal increase in the amount of fluid in his skull, Boyer had surgeries to install a shunt, a tube to carry the fluid from his head to his stomach.

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When he was 10 years old, the shunt exploded. After a frantic ride to Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore, Boyer underwent 17 hours of surgery. He spent six months in the hospital - three and a half months of them in a coma.

Boyer drives his own car, lives in his own apartment and works part time at the busy reception desk at ARC of Washington County.

On Wednesday, he will travel to Annapolis to testify in favor of Senate Bill 181, "the brain bill," he calls it.

The proposed legislation will create a fund - from a $4 surcharge on automobile moving violations - to support rehabilitation for individuals in Maryland who suffer a traumatic brain injury when they are older than 21. It is estimated that the trust fund would generate $2 million to $4 million per year for rehabilitation services, says Diane Triplett, executive director of the Brain Injury Association of Maryland.

Thrasher, Seeley and Boyer all were injured before they turned 21 so they qualify for assistance under the state's Developmental Disabilities Administration.

Those injured at age 22 or older are without these resources, Boyer says, and he is part of the effort to get help for others with traumatic brain injury.

"In Maryland, there is no single point of entry" for obtaining services and funding for people older than 21 with traumatic brain injury, Triplett says.

She presents a typical scenario: A person sustains a traumatic brain injury and is treated at a trauma center. His life is saved. "Great," she says. But now he faces a new world of challenges.

Insurance will cover critical hospital care, as well as some additional hospitalization. When the person is out of danger of dying, he faces a barrage of obstacles. He may have to learn to walk, to talk, to chew, she says.

Rehabilitation is needed, Triplett says, but in 80 percent of cases, insurance doesn't pay for it.

Some medical assistance is available in the home, but often families can't provide care; often a nursing home is the only option.

Is living independently better?

Traumatic brain injury totally changed the lives of Thrasher and Seeley, but with help, they cope.

Since November, they've lived in a house in the North End of Hagerstown, a house they share with a man who is developmentally disabled. The house is staffed 24 hours a day. Kim Lee is support group leader, and Nancy Guessford is the staff's therapeutic outreach specialist.

There's another resident, Lucky, Seeley's dog who leaps to his lap at the slightest invitation. "He's lucky to be living here with me," Seeley says with a grin.

Thrasher and Seeley rent the house; they pay their own bills, says Cheryl Snyder, director of Community Supported Living Arrangements for ARC of Washington County.

Seeley has an adapted lawn mower, and Snyder figures he'll be cutting his grass this summer. Five days a week he goes to ARC of Washington County's Phoenix Program, a day program that provides supported vocational training.

Thrasher is at Phoenix three days and spends two other weekdays in the ARC's medical day program.

Both are happy in their living arrangement. They go to the movies and the mall - even sledding at Hagerstown City Park during last week's snow, Lee says.

"I work for Rick Seeley," says Kim Doyle, service coordinator with ARC of Frederick County, Maryland. He leads annual meetings of Seeley's support team, coordinating residential services and the supported employment of Seeley's day program.

"I listen to his hopes and dreams," Doyle says. "We're nothing without our hopes and dreams."

Thrasher, Seeley and Boyer are among more than 5 million Americans living with disabilities resulting from traumatic brain injury, according to the Brain Injury Association of Maryland Inc.

The range of disabilities is wide, depending on the severity and location of the injury and the age and general health of the patient, according to National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Cognitive consequences can include short- and long-term memory loss, slowed ability to process information, trouble concentrating, trouble with communication, spatial disorientation, organizational problems, impaired judgment, inability to do more than one thing at a time and difficulty in initiating activities and completing tasks.

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