Bringing out the best

May 02, 2005|by JULIE E. GREENE

At first glance, Charles Butts Jr. looks like any guy.

He's a working father with a muscular build.

The effects of the severe brain stem injury from a car accident 13 years ago are noticeable when he talks and walks - he limps.

"Some people are really sweet to me. Some people are really arrogant," said Butts, a salesman at Circuit City at the Centre at Hagers-town.

Beyond learning how to walk and talk again, Butts has had to learn how to cope with the cruelty he occasionally encounters from people who get a "look in their eyes" when talking with him or think he's retarded or drunk because his speech is muffled.


That's where Headway helps.

Headway is a brain-injury support group sponsored by Washington County Hospital for people living with a brain injury and their family.

The group meets at 7 p.m. on the first Tuesday of the month in the Community Room at Robinwood Medical Center. There is usually a guest speaker, said Matt Lilly, clinical coordinator for Maryland NeuroRehab Foundation. Lilly and occupational therapist Tim Burkhart are co-facilitators for Headway.

Headway was started in March 1985 by Kelsey Wilkes and Lorna Christian, who both worked with the hospital's trauma patients at the time, Wilkes said.

The group began with two members and a focus on family members of head trauma patients, Wilkes said.

"There are people in that Headway group that I had as patients in 1986," Wilkes said.

Headway has helped Butts, 32, of Hagerstown, by giving him an outlet, in addition to weightlifting, to share his frustrations with how he is treated and learn how to "handle the world," he said.

One of the people he talks to is Wayne Albert.

Albert said he and Butts exchange insights about how to let people know they are still intelligent people and what to do when someone is bothering him. Albert suggested Butts take a break and cool down, but Butts said that can be difficult to do when on the job helping a customer.

"(We) might be disabled, but not unable," said Albert, 59, of Hagerstown.

Albert said he received a brain injury after he was assaulted in a military jail in 1972.

The effects include short-term memory loss, hearing loss and anger management issues leading him to occasionally chew out someone for no reason, Albert said. Sometimes that person is his wife, Ellen.

Ellen Albert also belongs to Headway.

"Brain injury is like Charles Dickens, the best of times and the worst," said Ellen Albert, 56.

She said it helps to be able to talk to fellow Headway member Donna Stone, whose son Matthew, 27, has a brain injury from a car accident in 1996.

Sometimes the Alberts arrange a meeting with a third party such as Lilly to get an objective opinion concerning a disagreement. It gives the brain-injured person another perspective, she said.

"A disagreement between us becomes not just Ellen versus Wayne," she said.

For Stone, the group has provided emotional support and shared knowledge of the experiences they have all gone through and dealt with, the Hagerstown resident said.

Tony Dattilio, who joined the group 12 years ago after his brain was injured in an industrial accident, said he considers the group a second family.

"We sit here and we relate, tell each other things that happened," said Dattilio, 71, of Hagerstown.

Brain injury in Maryland

In 2000 in Maryland, 5,229 traumatic brain injuries occurred.

That year, 11 percent of all injuries to children 14 years and younger were related to traumatic brain injury.

Twenty-five percent of injury fatalities among 15- to 24- year-olds in Maryland that year were related to traumatic brain injuries.

- Source: Maryland Department of Health & Mental Hygiene

If you go ...

WHAT: Headway, brain injury support group sponsored by Washington County Hospital.

WHEN: 7 p.m., the first Tuesday of each month. The guest speaker for Tuesday, May 3, is Greg Ayotte with Humanim, a facility in Columbia, Md., that provides neuro-rehabilitation services.

WHERE: Community Room, Room 102, Robinwood Medical Center, 11110 Medical Campus Road

For more information, call 301-714-4028.

In the know about brain injuries

The following facts about traumatic brain injury are from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Web site at

· The leading causes of traumatic brain injury are falls, motor-vehicle accidents and assaults.

· Males are about twice as likely to sustain a traumatic brain injury as women.

· The two age groups at highest risk of traumatic brain injury are ages 15 to 24, and people older than 75.

· Of the estimated 1.4 million people a year in the United States who sustain a traumatic brain injury, 235,000 are hospitalized and survive. Annually, 50,000 people die from a traumatic brain injury.

· Eighty thousand to 90,000 people experience the onset of long-term or lifelong disability related to traumatic brain injury.

· Traumatic brain injury might cause problems with:

· Cognition - concentration, memory, judgment and mood.

· Movement abilities - strength, coordination and balance.

· Sensation - tactile sensation and special senses such as vision.

· Emotion - instability and impulsivity.

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