Johns Creek woman helps those with brain injuries

06-03-2011
By MATTHEW QUINN

Appen Newspapers: North Fulton – May 18, 2011

Johns Creek woman helps those with brain injuries

Wants others to get help she did not

by Matthew Quinn
Editor, Johns Creek Herald

Brain Injury Peer Visitor Association®

From left, car wreck survivor Bryan Durio, drowning survivor Jean LeLoup, car wreck survivor Max Taylor, and car wreck survivor Ann Boriskie are all volunteers for the Brain Injury Peer Visitor Association®. They lend encouragement to those with brain injuries and their families from a perspective of someone who has been there and done that.

May 18, 2011

JOHNS CREEK, Ga. — A Johns Creek woman founded an organization to assist patients with brain injuries after suffering one herself.

"I was in a wreck in 1998, a car wreck," said Ann Boriskie, director of the Brain Injury Peer Visitor Association®.

Back then, doctors and medical staff didn't talk about brain damage, and there were few resources available for patients. They were more concerned about injuries to her neck and back.

"I was told to go home," she said.

She was never told her brain was injured and she would suffer symptoms. She got lost while visiting places she had been hundreds of times and could not dial phone numbers. She lost her ability to write cursive and many math skills as well.

"I really thought I was crazy, because I no longer felt like myself," she said. "I felt like a different person."

The situation grew so bad she considered suicide. It was not until a year after the accident that she was diagnosed with brain damage, and it took several years of working with doctors and therapists to learn how to compensate.

"You just learn to accept things you no longer can do and move forward," she said.

In 2003, five years later, she came up with the idea for a peer-visitor program.

"It's patterned after the stroke program," she said.

The American Stroke Association allowed her to use their materials. She spent the next few years doing research and writing training manuals before beginning a hospital visitation program in 2006. The stroke program only dealt with in-patient rehabilitation — her program deals with every part of the hospital. Volunteers, who train with her first, talk to patients and caregivers, listening to their problems and sharing their own stories. If they talk to a stroke survivor who can no longer use their left hand, they can tell them about a friend in a similar position who had recovered enough left-hand function to live a productive life. Although they cannot make any promises, they can provide hope. Her organization also supplies patients and their family members with information.

"We see all kinds of brain injuries," she said.

Although they do not visit stroke patients in hospitals where there is already a stroke program, program participants have visited those with tumors, second to stroke in terms of causing brain injuries. They also see those with aneurisms and brain damage caused by diseases like encephalitis.

As far as traumatic brain injuries go, motor vehicle accidents are the most common cause, with falls coming after that.

"We are seeing some military," she said.

The group no longer operates at Veterans Administration hospitals, but will visit soldiers if called upon.

Her group receives calls from all over the United States, since the Shepherd Spinal Center and Shepherd Pathways are among the top 10 hospitals in the country for brain and spine injuries.

"They get patients flying in from all over the place," he said.

For her service, Boriskie received the 11 Alive Community Service Award on April 19.

"You have to be nominated by someone in the community," she said. "It's a fairly lengthy application."

She hopes the award will make more people aware of the organization — she cannot help people who do not contact her.

The organization is staffed entirely by volunteers.

"We feel like we were given a second lease on life — we were allowed to live for a reason," she said.

She said if she had someone to talk to who had been through the same experiences, it would have made dealing with her own injuries easier.

"It would have given me a reason to be patient with myself," she said.

She advised those who suspect a brain injury, even after something so minor as a bump on the head, to contact a doctor.

"Be proactive about it and get that loved one help," she said.

If a loved one does suffer a brain injury, people can educate themselves about what this means and how to deal with it. Those with brain injuries should be encouraged to push the envelope, not to the point of frustration but to encourage them to try to get better. She said there were many who told her not to push herself but she had no choice, because she had a husband and children.