Naples Brain Injury Peer Visitor Program

Peer group for brain injury victims getting set up
through NCH Healthcare

Naples Daily News
Posted September 2, 2013 at 7:27am

NAPLES — Collier County patients who have suffered brain injuries will have someone to share some of their darkest fears with and gain reassurance of hope.

The NCH Healthcare System has developed a relationship with the Brain Injury Peer Visitor Association, based in Alpharetta, Ga., to train a handful of local brain injury survivors to be peers to patients during their recovery.

The local program initially will be based at the Brookdale Center for Healthy Aging & Rehabilitation, but it is expected to branch out to the acute care setting in hospitals and to outpatient settings, said Heather Baker, administrative director of Brookdale.

The 54-bed rehabilitation center is on the campus of NCH North Naples Hospital, where stroke and brain injury patients, often from car accidents, undergo rehabilitation services.

The NCH North Naples Hospital Auxiliary provided a $1,000 grant so Brookdale could bring the association's founder, Ann Boriskie, a brain injury survivor, to Naples this week to help launch the local peer group.

The mission is to provide hope and support, along with resources, for brain injury survivors so they understand that they can get better and regain functional abilities, Boriskie said.

The peer visitor is there to listen and share his or her own experience as someone who suffered a brain injury, she said.

About 85 percent of her 125 peer visitors who volunteer at 30 hospitals and rehabilitation centers, mostly in Georgia, are brain injury survivors. The rest are caregivers. Collectively, they provided 4,300 visits last year to brain injury patients.

The association also has been recognized by the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation.

"We are real people," Boriskie said. "We have been there. We made it through and you can, too. We are giving them our own personal telephone numbers and tell them when you get home and have a question, you can call me. We do email peer visitations. We will talk to them over the phone. We do Facebook. We text people."

About 1.7 million traumatic brain injuries occur each year in the United States, which could be isolated injuries or coupled with other physical injuries, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The leading causes are falls, car accidents or assaults.

For family members, the peer visitor association provides a package of information filled with resources, which families have told her saved them countless hours on the Internet or on the telephone seeking help. Some families aren't experienced with Internet research, she added.

An initial visit with a patient may last 15 to 30 minutes and there generally is a second visit while the patient is still in a rehabilitation center.

Founder suffered a brain injury

Boriskie launched the nonprofit, volunteer-based association five years after she suffered brain injuries when she was in a car accident.

The crash occurred in 1998 near Atlanta. Now 63, at the time she was 48, married and raising three children.

She was pulled out of her wrecked car by firefighters, but realized within days she had suffered physical injuries to her left side, neck and back.

Injuries to her brain were undetected for a year until a neuropsychologist diagnosed it, based on symptoms that can include anxiety, depression, anger and extreme fatigue.

"I still have deficits but you wouldn't know it (to look at me)," she said.

For instance, she has impairments and numbness to the left side of her body and will misjudge a doorway and clip a wall with her shoulder because her sense of perception isn't what it was before the accident.

"We try to get from (the patients): What is bothering you the most?" she said. "We try to get them to share and ask questions."

Patients often inquire if they will be able to drive again and if they will have a relationship with their spouse again, she said.

"Our answer is, unfortunately, that every brain injury is different," she said.

Heather Baker, administrative director of Brookdale, said she and Amanda Smith, the director of volunteers at NCH North Naples, began talking a year ago about having a program that brings the social function of recovery into the loop of medical and functional recovery.

"It is designed to be part of the physical and medical management," she said.

Often after the patient has moved from the acute care setting into rehabilitation, different facets of injuries to the brain start to gain prominence because up to that time, the focus has been on the physical injuries, Baker said.

To find local volunteers to become peer visitors, Baker and her staff considered former patients who potentially would be interested.

Boriskie interviewed candidates and narrowed it to five people, who will undergo two days of training and become volunteers at the hospital with a special peer visitor identification.

"You've got to have someone positive," she said.

Read more: (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention information site)