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Finding her way back to the trauma ward

April 02, 2006

Woman plans to use her recovery from accident to help others

By KRISTIN WILSON

kristinw@herald-mail.com

Linda Fasulo is baffled when she hears people say, 'I can't.'

The expression of defeat is something she never allowed herself to say as she recovered from a serious automobile accident and traumatic brain injury.

That was 11 years ago. Since then, Fasulo, 26, of Rohrersville, has graduated from high school and is preparing to graduate from Shepherd University. Her journey - from a coma to a career in social work - has been anything but easy, she says. Still, she is determined to use her life experiences and the obstacles she's overcome to help others heal.

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Fasulo is wrapping up a two-semester internship at Washington County Hospital, where's she's learned what it takes to be a medical social worker. She's learned how to interview patients to identify their needs for recovery from an illness or injury. She educates patients about getting connected with medical and financial assistance programs, outpatient rehabilitation and home health resources. She also provides emotional support and encouragement to patients and their families, explains Fasulo's supervisor, Fred Hirsch, a licensed certified clinical social worker.

"I love social work," Fasulo says. "It fits with everything that I believe."

After Fasulo graduates later this spring, she will start looking for a job in her field. Her long-term goal is to go on for her master's degree and work as a medical social worker specializing in traumatic brain injury. In the meantime, she's looking at hospitals, nursing homes and prisons to gain more social work experience.

She's also looking forward to another milestone this spring. On June 24, Fasulo is getting married to her long-time boyfriend, Josh Whitmore. Fasulo's accident has been central to the couple's relationship. Whitmore was driving Fasulo when the accident occurred. The couple got engaged while Fasulo was recovering from her injuries.

Working at Washington County Hospital has brought Fasulo's recovery full circle, since she was initially treated for her life-threatening injuries at the hospital. She credits the work of multiple trauma social workers for helping her and her family get through the first few months after the accident.

Fasulo is also proud to help co-facilitate Headway, a support group for traumatic brain injury survivors - a group she joined during her recovery.

"I want to give back," Fasulo says of becoming a social worker. "I want to tell people that it's OK to feel however they're feeling."

Fasulo knows, perhaps better than anyone, what it feels like to suffer from a major, traumatic injury.

As a result of her automobile accident in May 1995, Fasulo suffered a broken collar bone, lacerated spleen, fractured pelvis, punctured lung and a traumatic brain injury. Her broken bones and internal injuries healed with time, but her brain injury continues to present problems.

"Things are 100 times harder for me than normal people," Fasulo says. "My mind can only handle so much."

Fasulo says it's hard to describe, but it takes her longer to commit facts and concepts to memory. She has to go over and over her notes before she feels comfortable taking a test. She also has trouble remembering day-to-day tasks.

But that doesn't mean Fasulo has taken it easy. Instead, she's worked to develop a system that works for her. "If you look at my desk or you look in my home, you'll see Post-it notes everywhere reminding me to do things," she says with a laugh.

Fasulo has been going to college full-time, but is only able to take a part-time load of classes. That means that her graduation from Shepherd University in May represents eight years of focusing on a goal and overcoming obstacles, she explains.

"I have wanted to give up so many times," Fasulo says. "I could just give up and let someone else take care of me for the rest of my life. But I don't want to do that. I've had many obstacles pop up in front of me but I just pushed them all aside."

It's a message she hopes to repeat in her career as a social worker when she talks to people dealing with the effects of a serious illness or injury.

"I have come so far and I would like to provide the guidance and motivation that it doesn't end here," she says. "I want to show people that they can keep pressing. Each day is a new beginning."

By Richard T. Meagher/Staff Photographer

A journey of recovery for Linda Fasulo began when she was in a serious automobile accident 11 years ago. The Rohrersville woman has decided to use what she's learned to become a social worker.

Fred Hirsch, a licensed certified clinical social worker, reviews paperwork with intern Linda Fasulo.

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