Sara Lewis sustained a traumatic brain injury in an automobile accident in 1977. Now 58, she's completing a master's degree in speech language pathology through James Madison University's distance learning program. She is also starting a peer support group for other adults with acquired brain injury. The first meeting is on Thursday at Community Brain Injury Services, The Denbigh House, in Newport News.
"I'm trying to come to terms with it," said Lewis, who was diagnosed with "moderate" brain injury from repeated blows to her head from the windshield. "I'm one of the walking wounded. I have various very subtle physical symptoms. I have spasticity with my muscles and central nervous system pain, which is when your skin tingles and burns all the time. No one can see it." She also struggles with executive function as a result of the frontal lobe injury she sustained. It causes occasional impulsivity and poor judgment and she is easily frustrated.
"It's so difficult and so confusing. You think you're crazy," she said. "Support groups are so needed to help people with awareness of their deficits." They're a way to let people know that it's not them, but their injury and that it's all right to ask for help, she added.
Lewis has been a longtime member of a support group that meets in Gloucester, but has long wanted to start a group in her hometown of Williamsburg. However, in order to reach more people, her group will start by meeting at The Denbigh House in Newport News. "I'm ready, I have so much more knowledge now," she said, referencing her speech pathology studies which were prompted by her father's stroke in 2009. She recognized some of his struggles with certain thinking and word retrieval as similar to her own and turned to college courses to learn more.
Now, as a self-professed "senior" survivor, she aims to share strategies that will help with attention, memory, problem-solving and other cognitive communication tasks.
Alex Watson, program coordinator at The Denbigh House, expects about 20 people at the first meeting. She emphasizes that it's a peer support and networking group. "We want to get as much feedback as possible. It's about what the survivors want," she said. Participants will determine the most convenient time to meet and what topics will be covered.
The nonprofit Community Brain Injury Services also hosts a cognitive communications group facilitated by a Riverside professional in the afternoon of the fourth Wednesday every month. "There may be some overlap," said Watson. "It's also for brain injury survivors but it concentrates on resources and has a different speaker at each meeting." On the third Wednesday of the month, from 6 to 7 p.m., the organization has a family support group for caregivers.
Brain injury support group
What: Williamsburg/Newport News Brain Injury Survivors Support Group
When: First meeting is 5:30 to 7 p.m. Thursday, June 20; subsequently every third Thursday of the month
Where: Community Brain Injury Services, The Denbigh House, 12725 McManus Blvd., Newport News.
Who: Adults with acquired brain injury due to trauma, stroke, etc.; family and friends welcome.
Information: Sara Lewis, group coordinator, 757-784-0344, firstname.lastname@example.org; for information about other programs at Community Brain Injury Services, The Denbigh House, contact Alex Watson, 757-833-7845.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun