Group Supports Looking Beyond Traumatic Brain Injuries
Five Cherokee County residents have turned their health challenges into a personal mission to help others dealing with stroke and traumatic brain injuries, the leading cause of severe disability in adults. In fact, approximately 20 percent of strokes occur in adults under age 65, and, in Georgia, an average of 150,000 people have permanent disabilities caused by brain injuries.
These five work to raise awareness, advocate, educate, comfort and guide survivors and their families through the local support group, Unlimited Possibilities, and the statewide Brain Injury Association of Georgia (BIAG).
In 1998, Waring Jackson was sent home from the hospital, appearing normal after an accident. It wasn’t until three devastating years later that he was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury (TBI). He was one of many who became disabled by an “invisible epidemic,” in which the person struggling appears to be OK on the outside.
Unable to work, he devotes his time as a leader, advocate and passionate volunteer. After learning of his TBI, his wife and caregiver, Jane Jackson, became BIAG’s executive director and a certified brain injury specialist, providing consultation services. Jane has helped BIAG become the state’s leading organization in the field and Georgia’s Aging and Disability Resource Connection (ADRC) designated service provider for brain injuries.
On Sept. 24, 2003, Laura Coomes had just arrived at work after dropping her infant son at day care when she suddenly was unable to walk or talk. She remembers wondering who was going to get her son before she passed out. She woke up five weeks later in the hospital. She had suffered a brain aneurism with multiple hemorrhagic strokes and was in the hospital for three months.
Laura had to learn how to walk and talk again. “Our lives have changed dramatically since that day,” she said, “but I am thankful every morning I wake up!” She joined Unlimited Possibilities shortly after moving to Woodstock and has held a leadership position since 2007.
Denise Bourne had a brain injury more than 30 years ago when a railroad crosstie fell on her head and crushed her skull. Much like Waring, she has an “invisible disability” that causes her to struggle continuously with aphasia (the processing and understanding what is being said). She recently got Scout, a service dog. He helps with balance, memory and medical alert.
“Finding our support group has been wonderful for me,” said Denise, a longtime group member and assistant leader. “I thought I was alone, and all alone, but I found out that I’m not. It makes a big difference.”
It was July 7, 2009, when Kelly Campbell had a stroke caused by an extremely rare genetic birth defect called Eagle’s Syndrome. “I went to bed whole and 10 minutes later found myself with half my body no longer working and, yes, it was that sudden,” Kelly said. “Although still paralyzed on the left side, I celebrate how my life has changed for the better.”
Kelly has been the Unlimited Possibilities support group leader since 2013 and was named to the BIAG board of directors in 2017.
Unlimited Possibilities meets the first Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. at the Outpatient Rehab Center at Kennestone Hospital. For more information, call 678-677-2589 or visit them on Facebook.