Slow awakening to scope of brain injuries

The Roanoke Times, March 30, 2007

by Fran Rooker
Rooker, along with her husband, founded Brain Injury Services of SWVA and The Jason Foundation in memory of their son.

ABC newsman Bob Woodruff has been reporting the disheartening news that our soldiers are being sent back to war with undiagnosed and unrehabilitated brain injuries, and they are returning to home communities where either there are no support services or the complex rehabilitation required for brain injury is not fully understood. These heroes deserve better. And their situation is only the tip of the melting iceberg.

Every day, people with undiagnosed or unrehabilitated brain injuries are sent back to work, back to school, back onto the sports field, back to their families, or put into prisons.

More than 5 million people are living with brain injury in the United States. More than 150,000 people are living with brain injury in Virginia.

Brain injury occurs in our country more often than breast cancer, AIDS, spinal cord injury and multiple sclerosis combined. War injury, traffic accidents, sports concussions, falls, stroke, shaken baby syndrome and cardiac arrest are some of the causes.

For decades, millions of people living with this disability have had the doors to appropriate rehabilitation and quality of life closed to them. Thanks to Woodruff, a window of opportunity has been opened to end ignorance surrounding this public health issue. Nothing should keep us from taking action now to build services to address the long-term or lifetime behavioral, emotional, cognitive and physical needs of a disability population long ignored, including the critical need for differing levels of independent living.

The recently announced $450 million for brain injury research is the first significant funding ever allocated by our federal government, and frankly, was long overdue.

As I found through my own family's experience, from tragedy some blessings may come. Virginia is fortunate that in the past two decades, families that have faced the trauma of brain injury have taken it upon themselves to push for the establishment of direct services in their home communities. Because of all of us, specialized case management and other services are available through Brain Injury Services of SWVA centered in Roanoke, Brain Injury Services Inc. centered in Springfield in Northern Virginia, and two newly developing programs, Crossroads to Brain Injury Recovery Inc. in the Shenandoah Valley and the MARC Workshop in Martinsville.

Through our efforts, Virginia legislators have seen it appropriate to fund these programs at a level that allows case management to be provided at no cost to families who, in most cases, find themselves falling into financial hardship. And, while membership is limited, specialized day program services are also available in Charlottesville, Richmond, Tidewater-Hampton Roads, Northern Virginia and a recently opened program in Roanoke.

Our veterans returning home to these areas are also served through these programs, or receive short-term intensive rehabilitation at Lakeview Virginia NeuroCare in Charlottesville -- a program contracted by the Department of Defense to serve soldiers who have suffered brain injury.

Until now, most people in our country have paid little attention to the complex disability of brain injury.

Many are not aware that even mild to moderate brain injury can have long-term consequences for the survivor, and forever affect the lives of family members and friends. Few people know that March is Brain Injury Awareness Month. Because of our soldiers and Bob Woodruff, consider yourself now aware.


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