When Catawba College Therapeutic Recreation students met on campus in early February with members from Hinds' Feet Farm (HFF) in Huntersville, they learned about acceptance and how quickly a life can change when a brain injury occurs. The perception of "lucky" is different for each individual.
The session between the Catawba students and members of HFF was an opportunity for the students to practice their assessment skills on real people with brain injuries. For the HFF members, it was a chance to educate others about brain injury and help train new practitioners in working with individuals with disabilities. It was also, according to HFF Day Program Director Alison Spasoff, one of the multiple community integration interventions the HFF members do each month.
The Catawba students are all enrolled in the course Assessment in Therapeutic Recreation taught by Professor Amanda Grieshaber. They were allowed an opportunity to practice facilitating two commonly used assessments (Comprehensive Evaluation in Recreational Therapy-Physical Disabilities and Quality of Life after Brain Injury), as well as a facility specific intake assessment developed by HFF. For her students, Grieshaber shared, "It was a valuable opportunity where they can develop their skills with a client who has a disability instead of practicing the assessments on each other. It also allowed them the opportunity to make mistakes in a safe environment and learn from those mistakes."
Using beach balls with various questions written on them, the HFF members and the Catawba students initially spent time learning about each other. As the beach balls were tossed between two groups seated in a semi-circle, the participants responded to the question that their right thumb landed on when they caught the ball.
The HFF members shared how they received their brain injury before responding to the beach ball questions and in that way the Catawba students learned about the diverse causes of brain injury. There are two types of brain injuries – traumatic brain injury and acquired brain injury, both of which disrupt normal brain functioning. A traumatic brain injury occurs when an external force causes the brain to move inside the skull or damages the skull, most often from a fall or car accident. An acquired brain injury is brain damage that has occurred after birth, such as a tumor, sepsis, or a stroke.
HFF member Destiny, who is around college age, had been injured in a car wreck in 2011. Her beach ball question asked about your favorite movie and she replied that it depended on the time and her mood, but that currently her favorite movie is Lord of the Rings.
Ginny, an older woman, shared that when she was four and a half years old, she fell down a 1 ½ story stairwell and suffered a brain injury. Her question asked what movie star would you like to meet and she replied, "Kevin Costner."
Dan, who was using a wheelchair, had a ready grin and a ready iPad. He had suffered an anoxic brain injury that affected his speech and mobility, but not his sense of humor. He quickly typed witty answers to the questions when the beach ball was tossed his way.
HFF member Kevin, an adult male in his late 30s, shared that he missed his 17th birthday because he was in a coma after a motor vehicle accident that caused his brain injury. He spoke of his sisters and their children and had a bit of trouble remembering the children's names.
Students were introduced to Greg, who said that he fell and "got my injury." When he answered the beach ball question about his favorite food, he had the students laughing with his "All of it" response, adding that he especially likes pizza and hot dogs.
Bonnie received her brain injury in '97, after she was hit by a car while walking down the middle of a street. They heard from Tricia who told that her brain injury occurred at birth when the obstetrician incorrectly used the forceps to deliver her.
Joe said, "I got my brain injury last year when I fell in my bedroom and hit my head. It's been a ride for me, I'll tell you that."
Eric, an adult male, "got my brain injury at age 14 when my dad drove off the road." Eric's question was about your first date to which he replied, "I've never had a first date."
Katie skillfully used a letter board to communicate her answers and comments. She was 22 years old when she was in a car wreck and suffered a coup countercoup injury that left her with difficulty speaking as a result of damage to her diaphragm.
Aaron shared that he received a traumatic brain injury after a 2011 motorcycle accident in Kissimmee, Florida. He said he lost his lower leg and suffered hearing loss because he wasn't wearing a helmet. He described himself as "very lucky to be in the shape I'm in." When he answered his beach ball question about what he liked best about Hinds' Feet Farm, he touted the benefits of being a resident there noting "the freedom you have to come and go from your room and to eat what you want when you want it."
One HFF member, who remains unnamed because his case is still involved in litigation, suffered his brain injury when he was shot in the head during a violent breaking and entering/assault. He is married and the father of several children. His life changed irrevocably. He is quiet, cordial, and seems serious of purpose.
Paul, a Methodist minister for most of his adult life, had a stroke that resulted in right side weakness and aphasia, or the inability to speak. Ms. Spasoff explained that at Hinds' Feet Farm, Paul's wife chooses and shares one of his past sermons for quarterly devotions for participating members. A fellow male member reads Paul's sermon as Paul stands as "his words are read." "It's just a way of giving him his voice back," Ms. Spasoff added.
Phoenix, a HFF member around the same age as the Catawba
students, displayed a ready grin and a quick wit as he interacted. His brain injury was due to a massive stroke he suffered in 2014.
Bryan explained that his brain injury resulted after a really high fever put him into a coma for 17 months.
"It makes you realize how quickly it [a brain injury] can happen," Grieshaber shared. She worked at Hinds' Feet Farm for four years before joining the faculty at Catawba College. "My goal is to create a relationship between Catawba and HFF that is symbiotic, allowing students to practice skills they learn in the classroom and assisting the members of HFF in having a higher quality of life".
Despite the members' disabilities, Ms. Spasoff shared that at HFF "everyone's uniqueness is celebrated". As the Catawba students and the HFF members enjoyed a pizza lunch, the conversation and smiles indicated just that.
Catawba Students Debrief
Several days after their interaction with HFF members, Professor Grieshaber's students shared their thoughts about the experience in class.
Luke Lundy who completed an assessment on Dan who has difficulty speaking, but ready with his iPad, described Dan as having "a real good sense of humor." "Other than the wheelchair and not being able to talk," Luke added, "he was pretty normal."
Hannah Mercer who assessed HFF member Eric described his independence, saying he was "wanting to do one of himself."
Tyler Scott did a CERT physical assessment of HFF member Aaron, who lost his leg and suffered his brain injury in the motorcycle accident. "It was pretty easy with him," Tyler shared, adding "all of the stuff up top seemed fine. He was very independent. He did phenomenally. He went beyond my expectations."
Professor Grieshaber cautioned Tyler to temper his assessment, saying, "They put on their best behavior in interactions like this."
"It really opens your eyes. You've got to think this could happen to anyone," Tyler said. "I thought it was going to be more severe than it was for some of them."
Yelena Zadorozhnyaya worked with HFF member Phoenix whom she described as "a really cool kid." She continued, "Working with him was really easy. He tried to do everything for himself. He said that after his injury, he has never been depressed because that emotion was suppressed."
Liz Webb, who admitted she did not know what to do when a male HFF member poked his pencil into a hole in her jeans, said, "I found I was really bad in awkward situations" to which Professor Grieshaber noted that practice interacting with special needs populations relieves awkwardness.
When the Catawba students were asked about what sort of therapies might help improve the quality of life that the HFF members had, their suggestions were concrete: Paul, who struggled to write, could practice writing more and work on learning more words. Tricia needed to work on finding outlets for her depression, including exercise. Rick could work on balance.
All of Professor Grieshaber's students shared that the visit with HFF members was an eye-opening learning opportunity. Some asked about the next chance for a similar interaction. Another event is planned in April.
Established in 2000, Hinds' Feet Farm, a non-profit organization, is dedicated to serving adults living with brain injury. Its mission is to maximize the potential of our members with integrated, unique and holistic programs; enabling them to pursue meaningful activities while developing a sense of belonging at home and in the surrounding communities. Hinds' Feet Farm's program supports its mission through its "member driven" model, tools of empowerment, holistic approach, person-centered care and community integration. The program is a paradigm shift from the traditional medical model for people living with brain injury, to a model that embraces a holistic health and wellness orientation, empowering members toward occupation and meaning in life post injury. Created by, and for, persons living with brain injury; members actively guide and influence the infrastructure of the program. Members are self-governing through the fluidity of the program by self-designing opportunities to engage in reestablishing and empowering occupation or meaning in their daily activities. Program staff, family, community volunteers and student interns are guides and life coaches for members as they explore opportunities for self-discovery and increased confidence in their new identity and fulfillment in life post-injury.