Rebuilding lives


It was a simple slip and fall. Or so it seemed. Laura* had just parked her vehicle in the parking garage at work and was heading to a meeting when her feet went out from under her on black ice. Her head hit the ground with such force she was stunned. But picking herself up, she carried on.

It wasn’t until later that day that Laura knew something was very wrong. Four years later, Laura still feels the impact of that fall, which left her with a mild traumatic brain injury and a life different than before.

Speech impairment, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, sleep disturbances, blurred vision, hearing loss, unsteady gate, memory issues and weakness are some of the challenges Laura struggled with after the fall. Some problems still linger but she credits a compassionate team of rehabilitation specialists at St. Joseph’s Health Care, London for the gains she has made, and the inner strength she has found to reclaim her life.

NeuroTrauma Rehab is a program typically accessed by individuals with third-party insurance. It maximizes recovery from serious injuries and is the only program of its kind in Southwestern Ontario based at a comprehensive rehabilitation facility. Located at St. Joseph’s Parkwood Hospital, the program has access to extensive facilities, resources and level of expertise not available elsewhere in the region. Since 2002, Parkwood has been the hub of all adult inpatient rehab services in London, Ontario.

“When people experience serious injuries to their nervous systems, they need special assessments, treatments and strategies to help them return to meaningful lives,” says coordinator Maureen Hilditch.

NeuroTrauma works with people who have spinal cord, acquired brain and orthopedic injuries, often from car or workplace accidents. Auto insurance companies, lawyers and adjustors from WSIB refer their clients. Additional areas of expertise are stroke, multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy.

NeuroTrauma’s inter-disciplinary team – As a fee-for-service program, the inter-disciplinarysocial worker, physiotherapist, occupational therapist, therapeutic recreation specialist, speech language pathologist and psychologist – has a unique set of skills, adds Hilditch. “They combine clinical expertise with marketing, report writing and business management skills. We have an extraordinary group of staff with clinical skills and experience helping those with complex conditions. They must also understand what it takes to be a successful fee-for-service program.”

NeuroTrauma Rehab was developed to provide another option for clients who require specialized rehabilitation services and have a third party payer, explains Sharon Jankowski, director of Parkwood’s rehabilitation program. A service directory is available to assist clients in selecting a service provider who they feel can best meet their needs.

“Today, hospitals more than ever need to find ways to generate revenues that are then re-invested into under-funded areas of patient care,” says Jankowski. “NeuroTrauma rehab accomplishes this while building on the core expertise of the rehabilitation program.”

Among the Parkwood services available to the NeuroTrauma team are: neuropsychology testing; neurobehavioural expertise; rehab engineering; assistive technology; therapeutic pool; physiotherapy gym; and driver assessment & rehabilitation.

“I believe we can offer our clients a therapeutic environment that will maximize their recovery,” says physiotherapist Merle Massé. “For example if someone has a fractured leg and a brain injury, they may find a busy physiotherapy clinic too overwhelming. We can provide a quiet setting and pay attention to both their physical and neurological conditions.”

Occupational therapist Kathleen Murphy says helping people adapt physically, emotionally and socially to their new lives is central to what the team does. “We can recommend specialized wheelchairs, computer adaptations and technological devices to help them live at home more comfortably or return to work or school. We can help our clients and their families find community resources such as personal aids, transportation, wheelchair accessible restaurants and recreational activities. Learning what’s available and how to access it is a whole new experience for families.”

Rehabilitation psychologist Dr. Margaret Weiser performs psychological evaluations and clinical consultations. “Our assessments can help identify challenges such as attention difficulties, emotional reactions, and impulsive behaviour. And then we can recommend therapies and strategies for the clinical team to help each client reach their goal.”

Laura is working again and leading a full life. “I received exceptional care,” she says. “It was very much a team approach, which was so important. And they recognized that I was dealing with a major life change. After you’ve had a brain injury, there’s a huge sense of loss. The NeuroTrauma Rehab team helped me find the strength within myself to rebuild my life and appreciate my success.”

*Laura’s name has been changed to protect her privacy.