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Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Giving Up is Not an Option: Raising Awareness About Brain Injury

William was a typical 16-year-old. He was fun and energetic and loved playing baseball and video games and spending time with his friends. One hot summer afternoon, he and his buddies rode their four-wheelers on a trail in the woods behind his house. William comes up to a sharp turn in the trail. He has taken the turn faster than he should have hundreds of times, and it’s always a thrill. William takes the turn again with his friends cheering him on from behind, but this time, it is just too fast. The last thing he remembers is the feeling of the wheels on the right side of his four-wheeler coming off the ground as the ATV began to flip. His next memory isn’t until two months later when he wakes up from a medically induced coma. He cannot open his eyes, but he can hear people talking in his hospital room. “The injury to your son’s brain is severe,” he hears. Then he hears the voice of his mom saying through stifled cries, “Will I ever get my son back?”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that around 1.5 million Americans survive a traumatic brain injury each year, including approximately 230,000 hospitalizations. More staggering is the fact that approximately 50,000 Americans die each year due to traumatic brain injury, making it the leading cause of death among children and young adults in the U.S. These statistics do not even include non-traumatic brain injuries which are caused by other medical conditions, such as brain tumors or lack of oxygen. With the high incidence of these types of injuries, it is not surprising to learn that they add billions of dollars to the economic burden of the U.S. health care system each year.

Because these injuries are such a significant cause of death and impairment in American citizens each year, the Brain Injury Association of America (BIAA) leads the nation in the observance of Brain Injury Awareness Month every March. It is always an exciting month filled with awareness campaigns, advocacy initiatives, fundraisers, networking events and publications. This year, the BIAA is highlighting a new campaign called “My Brain Injury Journey” to encourage brain injury survivors and their caregivers to share their stories across their social media platforms and elevate community awareness around the experiences of these survivors.

As more brain injury survivors share their stories, members of the community can gain more understanding of these types of injuries. For example, it is important to understand that brain injury survivors are people first, that no two brain injuries are the same and that the effects of brain injuries vary greatly from person to person and depend on location, cause and severity. Because the brain is a complex organ controlling crucial bodily functions, injury to the brain can cause a wide variety of symptoms and impairments, including difficulty with balance, walking, speaking, eating, bowel and bladder function, sensation, strength, memory, cognition and behavior. Additionally, the burden on the caregivers of individuals with brain injury cannot be understated. The results of brain injury can forever change the lives of survivors and their loved ones.

Considering the significant variability of these types of injuries, it is essential that survivors of brain injury receive comprehensive and ongoing medical care. This team of health care professionals can include physicians across multiple subspecialties, nurses, mental health professionals and nutritionists. Additionally, many brain injury survivors require multidisciplinary rehabilitation for recovery of functional mobility and independence with everyday activities. Physical, occupational, speech and respiratory therapists work together to promote healing and recovery to help these individuals achieve a meaningful quality of life. Interventions may include muscle strengthening, fall prevention, balance, speech and cognitive training. These rehabilitation providers work with brain injury survivors to assess their physical and cognitive barriers in daily life and create plans to help overcome these barriers.

One year has passed since William’s traumatic brain injury. After a year of intense medical care and rehabilitation, his mom is dropping him off for his first day back in high school. She is smiling, but she is exhausted. William now needs several learning accommodations due to the cognitive and behavioral challenges associated with the brain injury. Still, he is excited to return and has plans to go to college. His ongoing physical limitations and balance concerns limit him from returning to playing baseball, but he tries to go to as many games as he can to support his teammates. William’s journey has been a long one. He has come so far. His life and the lives of his loved ones will never be the same, but giving up is not an option. He wants to share his story. He wants to share his story for himself, his family and for any other brain injury survivors and their families that may benefit from knowing that they are not alone and that they can keep moving forward.

Matthew Martin, PT, DPT, is a clinical instructor of physical therapy at LSU Health Shreveport School of Allied Health Professions and is a board-certified clinical specialist in neurologic physical therapy.


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