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People with Traumatic Brain Injuries Transition to a Better Life

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In 1995, a two-ton truck traveling 50 miles per hour rear-ended Deborah Schneider’s station wagon. Unknown to her then, she sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI) so severe that it reduced her level of functioning to that of a 5-year-old. A wife and mother of two young children, Ms. Schneider recalls headaches so painful that she could not get out of bed. She suffered from vertigo, memory loss, sensitivity to light, inability to form sentences or recall words and chronic pain that made her life feel burdensome.

A few months later, Ms. Schneider visited a neuropsychologist whose tests were “frustrating” because she was unable to complete them. “I couldn’t understand why he was asking me to do things I couldn’t do,” she said. The neuropsychologist recognized that she needed full-time rehabilitation, so in January 1996, Ms. Schneider began her journey at Transitions® of Long Island, a neurorehabilitation program tailored for the complex needs of people with acquired brain injuries.

Part of North Shore-LIJ Health System, Transitions has provided specialized services since 1988. Its therapies primarily focus on giving clients practical strategies that will provide new, lifelong coping mechanisms, said Jean Elbaum, PhD, director of clinical services. “Learning and using new strategies — which could be as simple as making lists, highlighting written material to help with memory or keeping a journal — are invaluable to our clients, who struggle constantly to reclaim their place at home, at work and in their community.

“Our greatest achievement is to help people reinvent themselves after sustaining life-altering trauma and returning a sense of meaning and purpose to their lives,” added Deborah Benson, PhD, chief of rehabilitation psychology at Transitions.

Beginning the Journey

For her first few months of neurorehabilitation, Ms. Schneider attended the program five days a week, then scaled back to four days. Her neurocognitive team worked with her in such key areas as speech and occupational therapy. “For example,” said Ms. Schneider, “the injury left me unable to concentrate. My therapists helped me learn new strategies for paying attention, such as filtering out unwanted background noise. I also learned new ways to solve problems since so much had to be relearned. And a big focus was on learning to remember things.

“I truly believe that these new strategies are what got me back to real life,” she concluded. “Even years later, what I learned at Transitions continues to help me keep it all together.”

Full Spectrum of Care

Along with physical and occupational therapy, Transitions offers speech/language therapy, neuropsychological evaluations, individual and group counseling, family education and support and prevocational training.

Transitions remains pivotal for clients because treatment continues even after discharge, said Dr. Elbaum. “We welcome our clients to remain connected to us,” she said. Both Dr. Elbaum and Dr. Benson maintain regular contact with Ms. Schneider and many other Transitions alumni. “We encourage our clients to take advantage of our Post-Rehab Extension Program [PREP], which reinforces the skills learned in therapy sessions and provides continued structure and stimulation. Also, we have an active alumni group, where our clients can come back to visit and socialize every month.”

The Next Chapter

When Ms. Schneider began treatment, she had one thought: “I can remember being here almost 15 years ago and vowing that one day I would write a book about all this,” she said. “I decided that I wanted to help people understand TBI’s and how to deal with the reality of their new life. Most of all, I wanted to let people know that there is life after a serious brain injury. My motto is, ‘The sky’s the limit. I did it — it can be done.’”

Today, Ms. Schneider is the coordinator for the Family Advocacy, Counseling, Training and Services Program of the Brain Injury Association of New York State, where she advocates for TBI survivors and their families; she was even the keynote speaker at North Shore University Hospital’s 2010 Brain Injury Symposium. She also published her memoir, Wind Dancing: The Gift of Healing Traumatic Brain Injury. Along with her devout faith and spirituality, Ms. Schneider credits the staff at Transitions for her miraculous recovery. “When I come here, I know I’m not alone. These are people who care,” she said.

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+Along with physical and occupational therapy,Transitions offers speech/language therapy, neuropsychological evaluations, individual and group counseling, family education and support and prevocational training.

To learn more, call (866) 690-2008.

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