By Daniel J. Vance


Roughly 1.5 million Americans this year will experience a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), which is a brain injury caused by externally inflicted trauma. Automobile- and bicycle-related accidents cause about half these injuries, and falls, violence and sports, the rest. TBI is the leading cause of long-term disability in children and young adults.

Of these 1.5 million, about 50,000 will die and another 80,000 will acquire substantial, long-term functioning losses. The highest occurrence of TBI is among men (twice as many), and persons 15-24 and over 75.

Ray Tenney of Akron, Ohio, was introduced to TBI on the afternoon of October 21, 1988, when the car he was driving home from work spun out of control on "black ice" and broadsided a utility pole. He was 20, and remained in a coma for a month.

"It took me six years before I could walk again," he said to me after a Joni and Friends retreat we both attended for families affected by disabilities. "I don't remember too much [about the accident] because of brain damage."

Tenney, now 35, says his short-term memory loss adversely affects him; he has an especially tough time remembering to take his seizure medication. For therapy he walks three times weekly in a Cuyahoga Falls pool. "It has really helped," he said. "I was able to walk in water before I could walk on land."

His mother, Dawna, said that besides water therapy, "[Ray] had horse therapy, which helped his balance," and music therapy consisting of singing and playing keyboard. For months after the accident, her son also wasn't able to eat or talk.

While his church did support him, many of Ray's other friends abandoned him. This is common among TBI survivors. "Isolation is a big part of overcoming head injuries," said Dawna of the social adjustment. "A head-injured person is never the same again. It's a different life."

The Tenneys have been active in two head injury support groups. One group raises money to help those who can't afford group activities such as museum visits, train rides, boat trips, picnics, and attending an annual Head Injury Conference.

A great information source on Traumatic Brain Injury one used in part for this column is a National Institute of Health Consensus Statement called "Rehabilitation of Persons with Traumatic Brain Injury," which can be accessed through the Brain Injury Resource Center at www.headinjury.com.

Contact Mr. Vance through www.danieljvance.com.