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Brain injury center helping people reclaim their independence

PERU Joann OCallaghan wants people to know about the services being offered by the North Country Regional Traumatic Brain Injury Center at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh. I want to reach out to people who might be just starting this journey. I want to give them some hope, exclaimed Joann. The TBI center assists people like Joann who have suffered brain injury as the result of a stroke, motor vehicle accident, sports injury, aneurysm, or other cause. Four years ago, Joann and her husband, Cormac, were looking forward to the January 2004 birth of their first child. They couldnt have possibly foreseen all the events that occurred on a single day. On Nov. 25, 2003, Joann went into premature labor and experienced a rapid rise in blood pressure, a broken blood vessel in her brain and a resultant stroke. Thankfully, little Deirdre OCallaghan was delivered successfully and after six weeks in the Albany Medical Center pre-natal unit she came home to Peru in good health. Joann, however, was just beginning a long series of challenges, including 12 weeks of hospitalization six of which were in intensive care. When she finally returned home, she was faced with several months of physical and occupational therapy and having to rely on support from family and friends. Today, Joann is walking, speaking and enjoying her family. She recently joyfully hosted a party to celebrate her daughters fourth birthday. She does, however, experience pain in her left side and has problems with balance and vision. I wanted to be a mom and run a household, but it turned out to be overwhelming," Joann said, describing her rehabilitation period. "My main challenge was depression. I felt like the world was caving in. Fortunately, Joanns physician, Dr. Lorna Clark Rubin, recommended she contact the TBI center. Ive found a benefit being with people who have similar challenges," Joann said of her experience with the center. "We dont have the same reasons for our TBI, but we share some of the same challenges. I felt cut off for a long time both physically and emotionally. I just didnt want to be around people. Now, I feel more comfortable with people and Im able to talk to people about my situation. Dr. Jeanne Ryan, the TBI centers executive director, said the primary goal of the centers 10 staff members is to help people live independently. Everyone has a service coordinator," she explained. "We try to make sure that people express the goal they want to work for. Along with many individual services, the center holds a monthly support group meeting for its clients. This reporter had the opportunity to interview several clients at the support groups November meeting. Everyone I spoke to lived independently with some support. Several of the clients had been injured in automobile or motorcycle accidents. One man had suffered a stroke, while another man said he drank too heavily when he was younger and had boxed too many rounds, resulting in brain injury. Mike Micanko, 40, said he suffered a stroke in 1994 and one of the resultant problems was losing patience with his children. The TBI center helped me with anger management, patience, depression and even helped me organize my finances, he said. In 2000, Ken VanStokum of Beekmantown suffered brain injuries as the result of a car accident. He explained he was having trouble relating to people. "I was changing the subject of a conversation to whatever I wanted to talk about," he said. "The TBI center has helped me to focus less on me and more on the people around me. The North Country Regional TBI Center is available to assist anyone facing the challenges of brain injury. Anyone interested in more information may call Nancy Fallica, director of programs, at 564-3137 or Dr. Jeanne Ryan at 564-3387.

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