CADIZ For the past 10 years, a support group for individuals recovering from and living with brain injuries meets the second Wednesday of every month at the Puskarich Public Library.
One member, Ken Kobacs, added that while brain injuries have recently entered the public attention due to reports from participants in sports and members of the military, the Cadiz-based group has offered a support network with the advantage of communication among those who understand the struggles and adjustments they must go through.
"Before I found the group, I felt I would be completely alone. No one understood," said Greg Siegwart. "In the group, everyone opens up."
T-L Photo/ ROBERT A. DEFRANK
A brain injury support group offers help and friendship between individuals surviving brain injuries. From left, are Ken Kobacs, Tish Quattrocchi and Jim?Hanlon.
"We basically help one another," said Kobacs.
"We can come here and bear our souls, and they understand," said Tish Quattrociocchi.
The support group suffered a setback in 2010 when the state funding was cut back, leading to the loss of their coordinator. However, the group persevered and continued their meetings and activities.
"It was asked: 'What are we going to do? Forget about it?' No, we'll take it over," Quattrociocchi said, adding that they are an independent group, not associated with the Brain Injury Association of Ohio, but they can use the organization for references.
Currently the group has close to 10 members from multiple counties. Their members have experienced a wide range of injuries.
"There are many types of brain injury and it happens every day. Survivors will feel alone," she said, adding that too often they face discrimination or mistaken assumptions. "That is why we want to get the word out that there is a brain injury support group out there that understands; who can relate to the effects of a brain injury and the survivor and family."
They stress the message that a disability does not define who someone is, and with commitment and effort they can rebuild a life.
Group members discuss the ways in which a brain injury has affected their lives physically, emotionally and behaviorally.
A common misconception is that a brain injury survivor is of low intelligence when the reality is more complicated and frustrating. Group members speak of the challenges now posed by formerly simple tasks involving coordination, memory and expressing themselves.
"Everyday stuff is complex for us," said Kobacs. "You take it for granted until you can't do it."
"A brain injury is a life-altering experience," Quattrociocchi said. "It totally changes you. You see life in a different way."
Group members noted the need to document their activities and plans, to maintain daily patterns of behavior and keep their surroundings meticulously organized.
"It's hard to plan your days because it can change as soon as you open your eyes," Siegwart said.
Quattrociocchi spoke about process brain injury survivors go through in grieving for the person they were and accepting the new person they have become.
Kobacs added that too often brain injury survivors have been ignored. He said their group aims to end this by raising awareness. They added that they are not looking for pity.
"We're not asking for help from people. We're offering help to people like us," said Siegwart.
In addition, they recognize the caregivers, often friends and family members whose dedication to a loved one has made their ability to recover and function possible.
"This doesn't just happen to the person with the brain injury. This happened to everyone around me," said Siegwart.
One of the current challenges facing the participants is the problem of transportation to group meetings. This is a particular issue in rural areas where distances to a group meetings are prohibitive.
Quattrociocchi added that statistics have shown 5.3 million Americans live with a disability resulting from a brain injury. This includes closed head and open head injuries. A closed head injury can result from a fall or vehicle accident, a stroke, aneurism, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's Disease, or substance abuse. An open head injury involves an incident breaking the skull and perforating the brain.
The Puskarich Library is located at 200 East Market St., Cadiz. For more information, contact Quattrociocchi at (740) 695-5161.
DeFrank can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org