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Project BRAIN gives hope to children and families facing traumatic brain injury

by | Posted on Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012 — 2:57 PM

When Brendie Keane sent her 14-year-old daughter, Parris, to her first high school homecoming party, she had all the worries of a typical parent. But what happened that night wasn’t one of them.

The deck that Parris was standing on at a private residence collapsed, knocking her unconscious and sending her and nine others to the hospital. A CT scan, however, revealed no injury, and Parris was sent home the same night with instructions to follow up later with the family pediatrician.

(Artwork courtesy of Parris Keane)

(Artwork courtesy of Parris Keane)

Life resumed to normal, until six weeks later, when Parris began exhibiting unusual behavior. The once A- and B-student had trouble concentrating, following directions and keeping up with assignments. She lost her way walking from one class to the next. Teachers said she showed signs of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Meanwhile, Parris experienced confusion and migraines and fell into a deep depression.

Nearly a year after the accident, a pediatric neurologist diagnosed the real problem: Parris had suffered a traumatic brain injury in the fall.

Traumatic brain injury is a disruption of normal brain function caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head. An estimated 1.7 million Americans sustain a TBI each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As with Parris, TBI can happen to anyone at any time. For children and adolescents in the United States, it is the primary cause of disability and death.

Depending on their stage of brain development, children and adolescents may be affected much differently by TBI than adults. Most people recover fully from a mild TBI, but if not addressed, the consequences can be devastating.

Parris was so confused by what she was experiencing, and as a family, we were just treading water trying to figure out how to help her,” Brendie Keane recalls. “There was a host of problems we could have handled differently and addressed much sooner had we known what was going on.”

That’s where Project BRAIN can help. A program formed through a partnership between the Tennessee Disability Coalition and the Tennessee Department of Health’s Traumatic Brain Injury Program, Project BRAIN works to connect students who have been diagnosed with TBI and their families to resources that can help improve their educational outcomes.

Gifts can be made to Project BRAIN and other community agencies through Dec. 31, 2012.

Project BRAIN partners with the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt and other institutions across the state to distribute a “signs and symptoms” flyer to families so they can look for indicators of TBI that may appear days or even weeks after an injury. With the family’s consent, a brain injury transition liaison is assigned to connect a child and his or her family with resources, such as service coordination or rehabilitations services, and can notify the child’s school about the injury and offer education and in-service training about TBI.

“Schools are the largest provider of services for children,” said Paula Denslow, Project BRAIN’s director. “Our program serves those who support students with brain injuries – families, health care providers and educators alike. We help school systems understand the injury and potential impact it may have for the student at school and at home. We also provide tools and resources to help educators meet the needs of students when they come back after an injury.”

Finally receiving a correct diagnosis and beginning treatment was monumental for Parris’ recovery. “Having the information, the education, that Project BRAIN provides at the time of Parris’ accident would have totally changed our path,” Brendie Keane said.

Four years later, Parris continues to heal and is planning for her future. She is giving hope to others by serving as a spokesperson for the Brain Injury Association and mentoring fellow teenagers with TBI. You can be part of building a community with hope by giving to Project BRAIN through Community Shares, one of four federations Vanderbilt partners with in its annual community giving campaign.

“At its core, Community Shares member agencies address the root causes of problems by involving those affected to create a long-lasting foundation for a just and peaceful community,” said Tracey Hawk, Middle Tennessee director of Community Shares. “The common thread is a commitment to personal responsibility and community action.”

How You Can Help

Vanderbilt’s tradition of giving to its neighbors reaches back 90 years. In partnering with four nonprofit federations, hundreds of smaller agencies under their umbrellas receive necessary funding for programs that strengthen communities in Nashville and Middle Tennessee.

These federations are more than just pass-through agencies for employees’ gifts. Instead, they are able to leverage donations with additional grants and partnerships for a greater impact in the community.

Community Shares is dedicated to supporting Tennessee social change organizations to promote a more just and caring community. Member groups address a range of issues, including animal welfare, unemployment, racism, homelessness, access to clean air and water, urban violence, child abuse prevention, the education of children, access to health care and supporting strong communities.

Community giving is tax-deductible and continues through Dec. 31. Payroll deduction makes it easy to spread a gift out over 12 months, and deductions begin in January 2013. Visit the Vanderbilt Gives: Building a Community With Hope website for more information about giving options and to make your gift today.

Kara Furlong, (615) 322-NEWS