Group supports those with brain injuriesArea News
-- At first glance, the founding members of the St. Croix County Traumatic Brain Injury support group don’t appear to have many troubles.
By: Jeff Holmquist , Pierce County Herald
NEW RICHMOND--At first glance, the founding members of the St. Croix County Traumatic Brain Injury support group don’t appear to have many troubles.
A short conversation about the impact of such injuries on the three individuals quickly puts that initial impression to rest.
When Marty Kolstad suffered a mild stroke in 2008, his whole world was turned upside down.
He had to give up his job with Lockheed Martin. He has since struggled through a variety of challenges, including memory problems and trouble with dropping things.
“It’s kind of been an uphill battle ever since,” he said. “You have to do a lot of coping and compensating to get around the problems.”
Maggie Bower developed Grave’s Disease and thyroid issues over time, after suffering head injuries from a car accident and previous sport participation. She’s also mother to two children with brain injuries (a 20-year-old who was injured while diving and a five-year-old who was struck by a hit-and-run vehicle.)
“I have short-term memory loss issues and coping issues,” Bower said. “I’m able to work, which I appreciate. But I have organizational issues so I have to walk around with a notebook a lot, which really helps.”
“I should have bought stock in Post-It notes,” Kolstad said, explaining how he’s able to better deal with memory issues resulting from his stroke.
Mary Frasier was in a car accident in 2005 and injured herself in a fall after that. Since those incidents, she’s had to deal with debilitating headaches, memory issues and organizational problems.
“I get scattered,” she said. “And I have balance problems and sensory overload problems. Walking in a mall can be too much for me, with all the lights and noise.”
Frasier eventually lost her job and she, like the others, spends a lot of time trying to get appropriate medical treatment for the symptoms she deals with on a daily basis.
“Some days, I wish I could wake up and be out of the fog,” she explained.
“I just can’t focus any more. There’s a lack of clarity all the time.”
As people with traumatic brain injuries (TBI), the local support group members are among thousands of Wisconsin residents who deal with the after-effects of such injuries.
According to the Brain Injury Association of Wisconsin, 15 people a day suffer a brain injury across the state. Even with so many people struggling with the impact of brain injuries, limited information, medical expertise and support is available for sufferers, the group members claim.
The closest support group met in the Twin Cities, and none of the local residents enjoyed driving there for meetings.
That’s why Kolstad, Bower and Frasier decided to form a local support group, which is open to anyone in the Western Wisconsin region. Their first meeting was in December.
People with brain injuries tend to become isolated, lonely and depressed as they tackle their individual challenges, Frasier said.
“That’s why the support group is so important,” she said. “We can talk freely in the group without being judged, so we don’t feel isolated. We have a sense of belonging and we share a common bond. Plus we share a great sense of humor when we meet.”
Others without brain injuries may not be so understanding, Frasier said.
“They tell you that you look OK and you sound OK,” she said. “But we’re not OK.”
The goal of the support group is to provide educational opportunities, general information about traumatic brain injuries and support to those with such injuries, their families and others in the community.
The St. Croix County Traumatic Brain Injury support group meets at 6 p.m. on the second Thursday of every month. They gather in the New Richmond Civic Center.
Beth Lavelle with Westfields Hospital attends the group sessions and provides the administrative support and organization the members can’t handle themselves.
“It’s awesome to have her helping our group,” Bower said.
March is national Brain Injury Awareness Month. Anyone with a brain injury is invited to try out the support group at their monthly meeting. Family members, health professionals and anyone else is also encouraged to attend.
The special speaker for the March meeting is Dr. Tom Tatlock, who sustained a brain injury in 1999. He fell from a ladder and hit his head on a concrete sidewalk.
Even though he was a physician himself, Tatlock claims it was next to impossible to find the health care he needed.
Since his injury, Tatlock has become a frequent presenter on the topic of brain injuries and an advocate for greater awareness of traumatic brain injuries.
For more information on the support group or the upcoming meeting, contact Frasier at 651-442-3960.
Jeff Holmquist is managing editor for the New Richmond News.