Heads Up Alaska: Community Support
Community support for people with a traumatic brain injury can be life changing
ANCHORAGE - Jeffry Kellerman suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) almost 25 years ago when his car veered off the road and hit a ditch in Butte, Alaska.
“A lot of things were seriously damaged including my head. My face was crushed on the right side. The upper palate cracked all the way around and I had a large enough crack in on my forehead to where they didn't have to remove anything from my skull to release pressure off of my brain. And then at that point it was just getting me to survive everything else in the meantime,” said Kellerman.
He said recovery really didn’t begin until he discovered support groups for people living with traumatic brain injures. “It was just a major relief to be in a group in a room with other people who understood. And words need not be said in that group. Just walking into the room was like I am with familiar people,” he explained.
Jim Beck, Executive Director of Access Alaska, said having a TBI can be isolating. “It can be a really really lonely place to be and that’s one of the things that peer support does. It makes you realize that you aren’t the only person walking along in this journey.”
Kellerman said he instantly felt at ease walking into a group session. “It was almost heavenly. I mean, it's very difficult to explain to someone who has not experienced a brain injury to understand what it's like. Because, I don't even think I can compare it to anything.”
Beck explains, “People with disabilities, especially people with traumatic brain injuries, come to Access Alaska and they are going to meet people who have similar life experiences and that is one of the ways we solve each other’s problems as we kinda walk down the road.”
A walk that shouldn’t be lonely according to Jill Hodges, Executive Director of Alaska Brain Injury Network (ABIN). “One of the things that we find is that people leave the hospital and they aren't referred to resources, rehabilitation and treatment. There are resources here in this state.”
Like Access Alaska, the ABIN is a non-profit working with Alaskans living with TBI’s. Hodges said, “We give options to people. Brain injury is so unique. One person may find occupational therapy or physical therapy is really what they need. Another person may find that it's counseling or acupuncture and so that is the biggest impact we give people.”
Along with giving the TBI community options, organizations like the ABIN and Access Alaska also give the community a voice through advocacy. “Advocacy is what has brought more services to the state. More funding and also laws such as the concussion management. And it really wouldn't be possible if it wasn't for the parents of these kids coming to the legislators. If it wasn't for the mental health counselor speaking out saying, ‘this is what we are seeing and we don't have any services to refer this person to,’” according to Hodges.
One of those legislators was former State House Representative Mike Doogan, who pushed for change. He also is living with a traumatic brain injury.
“What can you do to help people not get into this situation and help them who are? I sort of had this legislation served up to me, so I was able to do something. I had already been trying to get money through the legislature for the same thing before I even knew I was going to be a victim of this,” said Doogan.
And anyone can be a victim, which makes community support that much more crucial.
Beck said, “It only takes a car accident; stray bullet and you are one of us. So we need to keep these systems very strong because it's our goal to have a tax paying productive citizens that are making the most of their lives and being as productive as possible.”