Beverly Bell was a much different person 15 years ago than she is today. Her motor skills were functioning fine, daily tasks were second nature, and she was capable of accomplishing all of the everyday duties.
All of that changed in a blink of an eye, however, when a harrowing car crash left Bell with a traumatic brain injury (TBI).
With their injuries not always detectible initially, many victims of TBI can go untreated for some time, before their injuries are categorized as mild, moderate or severe.
In Bell’s case, it was weeks after leaving the hospital that she began to notice small changes in her life. Her short-term memory would quickly fade, and she’d lose control of her right hand.
“Things were just not right,” recalled her husband, Ed Bell. “She couldn’t do simple tasks like she once could, without a list.” She cannot answer a series of questions as readily as most people without stalling. From these challenges, often stems frustration and depression.
“A lot of people don’t understand,” said Beverly Bell. “They assume that victims can just ‘get better’ from something like this. They don’t realize that once it’s lost, it’s gone.”
Due to devastating challenges from TBI, many victims turn to support groups.
“States each have their own support groups,” said Ed Bell. “It’s a place to come to to vent and share ideas about therapy and recovery.”
Ed and Beverly Bell started to notice a need for such support in their native city of Bel Air, Md. When they started their own support group, they met victims who had undergone a variety of tragedies: automobile accident and stroke victims, genetically-affected victims, those who acquired a TBI after a fall or assault.
After moving to the Delaware shore years ago, the couple determined that support was essential anywhere they went. So Ed and Beverly Bell now hold a support group twice a month at the Millville Volunteer Fire Hall.
There are 18,000 people who suffer from some sort of brain injury or another in Delaware alone. According to recent data from the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, approximately 1.4 million people sustain a TBI each year in the United States, and of those, 50,000 die, 235,000 are hospitalized and 1.1 million are treated and released from an emergency department. Among children between 0 and 14 years of age, TBI results in roughly 2,685 deaths, 37,000 hospitalizations and 435,000 emergency department visits.
The Brain Injury Association of Delaware (DIAB) and the Brain Injury Association of America (BIAA) have been dedicated to helping victims cope and fight their conditions. With an increasing number of brain injuries being seen among those in military service, in 1992, the BIAA also, in collaboration with the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs, established the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center, dedicated to helping active-duty military and veterans receive adequate treatment and follow-up.
“Brain injuries aren’t defined, like a broken arm,” Ed Bell explained. “There are a number of results that can affect people, and they can come in a number of ways.”
Victims find themselves having trouble with communication skills, perception and judgment, and in some cases having almost no competence at planning or organization. Many times their logical and problem-solving, left-brain thinking is virtually eliminated. Multi-tasking becomes impossible.
“People don’t realize,” said Beverly Bell. “I’m single-minded, not simple-minded. There’s a difference.”
A lack of awareness or misunderstanding of these affects can often lead to a disassociation of those who were once very close to victims of TBI. Estrangement from close friends and family is not uncommon. Spouses, siblings and offspring can drift apart as a result of such confusing and uncomfortable behavior. Divorce is fairly common among couples when one suffers a TBI.
“When someone is thrown into such an injury, they find that it’s a whole new language all in its own,” said Beverly Bell. “They don’t know how to act, and they find that they no longer have control.” Anti-depressant pills are often prescribed to victims to help get them back to a level emotional and physical playing field.
Education of the public seems to be one of the limited defenses against brain injuries.
“TBI circumstances are under-funded and under-studied by the medical community,” said Robin Reifsnyer, a brain injury victim who runs Peach Tree Acres Support Group in Lewes. “A lot of the time, medical professionals just don’t know how to categorize it.”
A victim first-hand, Reifsnyer understands what the attendants at his groups go through.
“A lot of times, you just want to give up,” he said. “You’ve fought the world. These people need this support.”
“Once a TBI victim makes a progression,” said Dr. Peter J. Lamb, a certified prosthetist in Ocean View, “they want to forget what happened. They have a natural desire to get back to the mainstream. It’s a hurdle that they must overcome.”
The local support meetings are not restricted to victims, as they are designed to educate as much as they are to console. As Reifsnyer explained, many victims are also incapable of providing their own transportation. “It’s not an easy lifestyle to live,” he said. “People want to give themselves a second chance. That’s what we try to do.”
The Millville Brain Injury Support Group meets on the first and third Tuesdays of every month from 1 p.m. until 3 p.m. The Sussex County Brain Injury Support Group meets on the fourth Tuesday of each month at 8 p.m. at Peach Tree Acres, located at 26900 Lewes-Georgetown Highway.
For more information about TBI and help for victims, call the BIAD help line at (800)-411-0505 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.