April 12, 2002
Helping others is part of recovery for those with traumatic brain injuries
By Collin Johnson
Health and Research News Service
JACKSON, Miss.—Sometimes, you have to learn to help others, before you can learn to help yourself. That’s what brain-injured patients in Methodist Rehabilitation Center’s Quest program are learning to do.
Whether it’s mopping the floors at the Ronald McDonald House, passing out food at Community Stewpot or painting the walls at a children’s day care, Quest patients are finding out that community service is an important step on the road to recovery.
“One of the most important things people with brain injuries need to do is get re-adjusted to interacting with others,” said Joyce Leverenz, program coordinator for the Quest program. “We believe the more people are out in the community working with others, the better they’re going to recover and the better they’re going to feel about themselves.”
Groups of patients go out into the community 2-3 times a week, said Quest therapy manager Julie Walker.
James Mock, of Brandon, is in the Quest program recovering from a stroke. Doing community service as a part of his rehabilitation does as much for his self-confidence as anything else, he said. “One of the really nice things about it is that for once, I get to be the helper instead of the one always being helped.”
“It gives you a sense of empowerment,” added Adam Pates of Jackson, who is in Mock’s therapy group.
In the last few months, Mock’s group has worked with several charities. Before Christmas, they helped the Salvation Army sort toys into age-specific containers for presents to needy children. At the American Cancer Association, they helped update a mailing list.
At the Ronald McDonald House, Quest patients have left a good impression not only with the staff, but also with the families staying there, said executive director Ruth Ann Allen.
The house was built in 1989 and is the state’s only Ronald McDonald House. It provides a haven for the families of children undergoing medical treatment.
“We have loved working with Quest,” said Allen. “Not only have their volunteers been helpful doing chores around the house, but they’re also a great help to the families who stay with us.”
Families who have children in rehabilitation, added Allen, get to see some of the things people in rehab do to get better. “We’ve had families ask the Quest therapists questions about therapy and it’s reassuring for them to find out that rehab isn’t as scary as they might have thought.”
The Quest program’s goal is to return those with brain injuries back to their community and workplace. “Physical, occupational and speech therapists work with physicians to help patients improve in a personalized setting,” said Leverenz. “We help our patients set goals for themselves and we work on specific skills they may need to get their lives back.”
That includes group outings where groups of 10-15 patients learn to re-adjust to being in the public and dealing with others. Many times, that process begins with service to others through a charity like the Ronald McDonald House.
“It’s a win-win situation for us,” said Mock. “We get to help and it’s helping us at the same time. It’s not just an expression – this is therapy for us.
“The therapists are dealing with rehabbing every part of you, not just making you better physically,” he added. “They teach you how to get back your whole life.”
Along with his physical, occupational and speech therapy, Alvin Jefferson of Tylertown has been leading an effort to recycle. “We take plastic and aluminum cans to the fire station each week and we keep an eye out for more,” said Jefferson who is recovering from a brain injury he sustained in a car accident.
All of these activities are designed to help sharpen the patients’ skills, said physical therapist Rachel Dear. “Community service has been a part of the Quest program since the beginning,” she said. “When we go on group outings, the patients are learning how to work together as well as how to handle complicating situations.”
A trip to Wal-Mart is sometimes an overwhelming experience for anyone. With a brain-injury, it becomes an enormous challenge and a great opportunity for a group outing.
“We go shopping and we take our recipe list,” said stroke victim Doris Quinn of Jackson. “Most of us, especially the ones who have had a stroke, have special diet needs and we need to get used to going back to a grocery store and getting the items we need to make healthy meals with.”
Most patients say that once they have returned to their communities, they intend to continue the volunteer work they’ve started at Methodist Rehab.
“You really learn how rewarding it is,” said Quinn. “Especially when you’ve been helped so much by everyone, you know how much it means to someone else to get a little help. When we were sorting the toys, we really felt like we were a part of the Salvation Army.
“When we volunteered at Stewpot around Christmas, there was a line out the door and down the street. It was a great feeling to be helping feed all those people,” she added.
“It starts a process inside you that you want to be involved in,” said Mock. “I think probably all of us will keep volunteering in some way.”
Call 601-936-8805 for more information about Quest.
Alvin Jefferson of Tylertown waters flowers at the Ronald McDonald House in Jackson.