November 11, 2006
Going the extra MILES--Brain injury group gives Florence woman chance to help others
By Susan Christensen
Health and Research News Service
JACKSON, Miss.—What is my life going to be like now?
Jan Nash remembers thinking that as she rolled up the newly constructed wheelchair ramp to her Florence home. Her brain had been damaged by both an aneurysm and a stroke, leaving the normally self-reliant Nash feeling helpless and hopeless.
She had trouble talking. Her memory was shot. She couldn’t move her left side. But her stubborn will was still intact. And today it’s powering her commitment to help others. Nash recently returned to Methodist Rehabilitation Center – the Jackson hospital where she underwent therapy and now volunteers – to donate $300 to the center’s brain injury program.
Nash presented the money on behalf of MILES (More Independent Lifestyle Enrichment Services) Corporation, a newly created non-profit group that has named Nash as its executive director. The money was raised at the group’s first walk-a-thon.
Nash said MILES is pushing for the creation of transitional group housing and more support services for people with brain injuries, a mission that has special meaning to her and her husband Richard. They know firsthand the dramatic aftermath of such a debilitating injury.
“I lost my job, the ability to take care of my children – everything I thought was important to me,” Nash said. “It takes a long time to get over something like this,” Richard said. “It’s still hard nine years later,” adds Nash.
Nash’s problems began on June 20, 1997 as she was going about her job as a criminal intelligence analyst for the Mississippi Highway Patrol. While out in a field looking for evidence, Nash was brought to her knees by an overwhelming dizziness.
“I fell out on the ground and I wasn’t breathing,” she said. “I found out later there was a discussion about whether to do CPR. Then they started shaking me and I came to.”
An aneurysm – a weak, bulging spot in an artery – had ruptured and caused bleeding in Nash’s brain. Matters got worse when she also suffered a stroke a few days later.
The double whammy deeply depressed the mother of Brittany, then 12, and Nicholas, 5. She even spent one difficult Mother’s Day contemplating suicide. But the thought of Nicholas finding her body brought her up straight, and she began striving to get better.
To improve her chances of walking again, Nash underwent surgery to reduce the size of her stomach. While her resulting 143-pound weight loss didn’t have the desired effect, Nash is still happy to be healthier. Her increased stamina comes in handy now that she has found her niche as an activist for people with brain injuries. “Now I feel like I’m on a jet plane because I’m going so fast,” she said. “I’m excited about being in something where I can help make a difference in somebody’s life.”
Nash owes her current position at MILES to a chance meeting in a Methodist Rehab waiting room. The group’s founder, Mary Bates, was there with her son Brad Jones, who had suffered a traumatic brain injury in a 2002 car wreck.
Nash, who is a leader for a Brain Injury Association support group, invited Bates and her son to a meeting. And Bates said she could tell from the get-go that Nash was passionate about helping fellow brain injury survivors. “I couldn’t believe the things she had accomplished in her journey coming back from brain injury and stroke,” Bates said. “She keeps on until she gets done what she wants done.”
Bates figured that steadfastness would be an asset to MILES, so she offered Nash a post at the fledgling organization. Ever since, Nash has been going the extra mile for MILES.
And she’s at her best when she’s making connections with people she believes can help Mississippi’s brain-injured population. “Just give her a name and number and she goes at it,” says Richard. “I’m a networking fool,” she confesses.
Nash remains a familiar face at Methodist, as she goes about her volunteer duties. And Janice McGee said her intimate knowledge of the hospital’s programs made the MILES donation that more poignant.
“Of course, it’s always wonderful to get support from the community,” said McGee, vice president and program director at Methodist. “But when it comes from people who’ve been recipients of our care, it’s truly touching. It’s the essence of what we’re all about.”