BOSTON (CBS) – For three hours a day, five days a week initially this past summer and fall, I underwent physical, occupational and speech therapy at Community Rehab Care in Medford. I had suffered a traumatic brain injury in a bicycle fall on Nantucket in late July.
The list of my injuries was long. In addition to several broken bones, I had cracked my skull in a few spots. Dr. Jim Holsapple is Chief of Neurosurgery at Boston Medical Center. “Because of this fall, the impact was sufficient that there was some bruising of the brain,” he told me. He also said somewhat dryly, “Oh no, we’ve met,” when I introduced myself at the start of our interview.
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I was in an induced coma at BMC for four days and was released after eight days. While the accident and my hospitalization draw a blank, I do remember my therapy in the weeks that followed.
My case manager at Community Rehab Care, or CRC, was Megan Kent. She initially gave me a battery of performance tests. “All of these tests just kind of break down all different areas of attention, memory, executive skills, planning, organization and from there is where we can come up with certain goals and utilize systems and some strategies to help you,” Kent said. Every thirty days, new goals were formed. Meantime, there were cooking exercises, and shopping expeditions to make sure I could write checks and count change, a proving ground that was necessary, yet quite humbling, too.
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Lauren Burdulis was one of my occupational therapists. “We have a good opportunity to get to know people really well and we challenge people to be at their maximum potential and I think you can push far and get far with a brain injury,” noted Burdulis. She also said she finds her job quite rewarding. “I think everyone’s unique with a brain injury, cause everybody’s brain anatomy is different and their injuries are different, but you’re also the same in that everybody is striving to get back to 100 percent.”
While CRC decided I had progressed sufficiently after 10 weeks of physical therapy to graduate from that program, it would take another eight weeks to end my speech therapy sessions. The physical therapy helped me recover from episodes of dizziness associated with my bicycle fall. Kristina Woo was my physical therapist and said she really likes getting people back to being mobile again. “Your brain communicates with every aspect of your body, from your organs to your peripheral nerves, so when you get a blow to the head like that, its going to affect every aspect, including your vision and your joint receptors,” Woo said.
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Wrapping up speech therapy included a work site visit to WBZ by my case manager. She described the session as hanging back, observing and making recommendations. “I think that one thing that you did, which I would have recommended, is writing things down, which maybe before you didn’t do as much before,” she said. “Being on air, you need to have that attention, you need to be on point.”
While I was anxious to return to work, both my doctors and therapists were telling me to proceed slowly. Arlene Teich, a social worker at CRC, said my impatience wasn’t unusual. “People aren’t always aware of their changed function because your brain is the thing that records all the information about your world, and so if it’s not working just the way it used to, it may be saying everything’s fine when it’s not,” Teich explained.
Ann Gillespie is Chief Operating Officer and has been part owner of CRC for 17 years. She says she has old fashioned values on rehab and how therapy should work. ” We feel still that communication with the client and the family is key, and keeping our staff very well educated, up on the latest that is going on with neuro,” Gillespie explained.
There’s a lot going on in neuro. Dr. Ross Zafonte is Vice President of Medical Affairs for Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital. He is a leading expert on brain injury, an editor of the seminal textbook “Brain Injury Medicine.” He is also my doctor. “What I’m most pleased about is in the last seven or ten years, we may have acquired more knowledge than we had in all the years before that. We’re understanding more about the mechanism of injury, what causes it and its complexity. We’re also beginning to poke into the world of how do we help people recover better,” said Zafonte.
Brain injury patients are reporting progress years after previous thinking would have proclaimed brain recovery over and done. Bob Woodruff is a journalist with ABC News who suffered a severe TBI in January of 2006 in a roadside bombing in Iraq.
He explains the process this way. “Everyday, sometimes there’s moments where I remembered a word that I could not remember at all for the last six months. Suddenly I can come up with the word, and now it’s back.”
More on Bob Woodruff’s incredible TBI recovery story coming up Wednesday.