It is a battle to live with an acquired brain injury, but a group of determined adults at Coastline Community College are not letting their handicaps get in the way of living life to its fullest.
Coastline’s Acquired Brain Injury Program has brought together students from around the country to California as they train with their designated succinct teams in hopes of restoring and minimizing any difficulties they have been experiencing since their injuries, said ABI Program coordinator Celeste Ryan.
Rigoberto Saenz clearly remembered what a good student he used to be before serving in Iraq with the U.S. Army. But after surviving several improvised explosive devices in 2006, Saenz became a different person.
“At first, I didn’t really notice anything change, but my wife started to notice that I was forgetting a lot” he said. “I was getting bad headaches and because I couldn’t remember things, I started to get angry.”
The program takes on a strong focus on emotional adjustment to brain injury, Ryan said. The limitations brain injured individuals recognize often lead them to frustration and depression and further pulls them into a life of alienation from friends and family, she added.
The ABI Program helps maximize each student’s abilities to regain their independence, but also helps guide them towards a better future in their professional and personal life.
Not only has the program helped Saenz regain his old habits of extensive note taking as an outstanding student, life at home has also improved now that he has learned to better communicate his emotions and share about his injury with his family.
While roadside bombs are a less likely cause for brain injury for the average American, other ABI students, such as Natalie Griffith, experienced an accident that many drivers could easily have been a victim of.
A mother of four, Griffith survived a car accident on Christmas Day 2009 on a freeway near the city of Fullerton. She celebrates life by embracing her time at school with her class mates, being the “best mom” she could be to her daughters and is working on becoming a nurse one day.
“Having a brain injury is not thing I would have asked for, but you just have to adapt and get used to it,” Griffith said. “I love being at this school and knowing that I’m not the only one who is like this.”
ABI program instructor and retired psychologist Dr. James Pasino commends his students' success and accomplishments. “Each one of them is heroic in their effort in recovery,” he said. “This is all voluntarily. Nobody needs to be here but they just won’t say ‘no’.”
During Pasino’s class time, he holds informal discussions with his students about current events and everyday activities, allowing his students to engage with one another as he guides the conversation along. As casual as his class may seem, Pasino does incorporate the standard curriculum into the conversations.
To nationalize ABI, Pasino and his class discussed Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her medical condition after January’s Arizona shooting. A day later, Pasino asked his class to recall the conversation, beginning with the congresswoman’s name.
“I know it," Griffith said hestitantly. " But I don’t know it.”
Other students all felt the same way.
“And what is that called, when you know something, but can’t say it?” asked Pasino.
It's called aphasia, and all of Pasino’s students had it, where the words can be visualized in their heads, but they are unable to verbalize their thoughts.
However, through cues, such as descriptions, phonemic hints or even note taking, students were finally able to recall Gifford’s name and identify some of her injuries with their own.
In that discussion, not only did students learn a national story, they also practiced recalling a conversation, learned a vocabulary describing a type of memory loss, and acquired ways on how to help recall memory through cues.
“I know we have all benefited from this class,” said stroke survivor Lee Livingston. “A lot of times, you don’t really realize what is wrong. But then you think back three, six months and realize how much you have really learned and improved.”
The ABI Program has been serving the community since 1978. To qualify for the program, individuals must be 18 years and older and have had suffered a brain injury at or after the age of 13. Prospective students must possess sufficient self-help skills and must be medically stable. They must also have sufficient receptive and expressive communication skills to benefit the program and must be able to fully participate in the full-time two-year program.
The closed-knit ABI community consists of 65 students and seven instructors. And in efforts to promote ABI awareness, the program will be holding its fifth annual “Walk for Brain Injury Awareness” this Saturday at Huntington Central Park.
Funds raised will go directly back to the program’s foundation to help support ABI Program, as well as help struggling students financially with tuition, transportation costs, child care and any unexpected car repairs. This year's goal is $30,000, said event organizer Lisa Winger.
“Having the extra money in our foundation will most certainly help us anything happens,” she said. “Our program is under the ‘Special Programs and Services’ and when there are state budget cuts, we are the first to go.”
When: Saturday, March 26, 2011
Where: Huntington Central Park – 6699 Central Park Drive, Huntington Beach, CA 92648
Registration & Breakfast: 8 a.m. or register here
Walk: 9 a.m.
Raffle & Prizes: 10:30 a.m.