OCH Therapists reach out to brain injury patients and their families

By: Mary Kathryn Kight

Chris McHann has no recollection of the day his four-wheeler flipped, but his mother remembers it like it was yesterday. “It was May 1, 2010 at noon, and Chris was on his way to go fishing with a friend when his four-wheeler flipped and landed on top of him,” said Chris’ mother Tonya McHann. Chris escaped with no broken bones, but suffered six skull fractures and bleeding on his brain. “We spent 33 days in the neuro ICU at UMC in Jackson. He stayed in a coma, and I was afraid he would never walk or talk to us again,” she said.

After his lengthy hospitalization and spending a couple of weeks in an inpatient rehabilitation clinic, Chris came home in June and began physical, occupational and speech therapy at OCH Regional Medical Center’s Outpatient Rehabilitation Clinic, where he relearned how to do day-to-day tasks. “I didn’t want to go, but it wasn’t about wanting to go. I needed to go,” recalled Chris. “All of the therapists were really helpful and good to me. They got me back to where I needed to be.”

OCH Regional Medical Center Speech-Language Pathologist Laurel Jones, MS, CCC-SLP, worked one-on-one with Chris, focusing on memory training, study skills and social appropriateness. “When patients come to OCH after a brain injury, the first step is to perform a full assessment of cognitive, language and social skills. Once we identify their problem areas, we’re able to formulate a plan to fit their needs,” said Jones. According to Jones, the effects of brain trauma are different depending on where the damage occurs. For instance, an injury on the right side of the brain causes people to have visual neglect where they don’t recognize the left side of the face, while patients with trauma to the frontal lobe struggle with remembering.

“By the time Chris came to see me, he was able to talk well, but there were several social rules that people learn naturally that he had to relearn such as problem-solving and knowing what is and what is not appriopriate to say,” said Jones. “Everyday tasks that we take for granted such as getting ready in the morning or planning our day are very difficult for traumatic brain injury patients.” Although Chris doesn’t remember much about his treatments, he laughed and distinctly recalled Jones assigning him homework during the summer. “It’s so important for a traumatic brain injury patient to have the support of family and friends because they’re learning skills that they must practice all day, everyday such as communicating in real life situations and facing the demands of typical home, work and school environments. Their training doesn’t end when they leave the clinic.”

The Center for Disease Control refers to traumatic brain injuries or TBIs as a serious health problem in the United States, affecting an estimated one and a half-million Americans each year. TBI can cause a wide range of functional short or long-term changes affecting thinking, sensation, language or emotions. The severity of a TBI may range from mild, that causes a brief change in mental status or consciousness, to severe, which includes an extended period of unconsciousness or amnesia after the injury. While some brain injury patients may try to “tough it out,” Jones said that can be the worst thing to do. “Brain injuries don’t necessarily result in long-term disability or impairment, but the correct diagnosis and treatment is needed to contain or minimize the damage,” said Jones.

In order to educate the public about the seriousness of brain injuries, Jones has spearheaded a seminar on the types and causes of brain injuries, as well as prevention, identification and treatment of them. Owner of Boardtown Bikes and former TBI patient Jan Morgan will serve as a guest speaker. “Patients, as well as their family members, need to be aware that there is help available, and understand it’s about taking baby steps,” said Morgan. “The TBI patient may not be in a position to know he or she needs help, but it’s the loved one’s responsibility to step up and get that person the necessary therapy.”

This coming May Chris will graduate from Winston Academy and plans to study forestry in college. Even as a teenager, he admits he wouldn’t be where he is today without both his mom’s and dad’s determination to see him get better. “They were there with me all the way. They never left my side,” he said.

“The therapists were so good with Chris and really helped him,” said Tonya. “I’m just thankful Laurel is reaching out to TBI patients and their families because there can never be enough information out there. To support your child, family member or friend with a brain injury, you have to first understand what they’re going through, and this class is a good first step.”