The eighth regional CIRCLE of the Brain Injury Association of Colorado is scheduled to open in Durango on Thursday.
The group works to link people who've had traumatic brain injuries with the support they need, CIRCLE network coordinator Annie Alexander said by telephone from Denver.
"They have needs that range from counseling, physical therapy, transportation and housing," she said.
While CIRCLE is for local professionals and advocates, there also are local support groups for those with brain injuries, their families and caregivers. Recent interviews with two Durango residents with brain injuries revealed how delicate their situation is and offered a glimpse into a world of which most people are ignorant or meet with indifference.
The acronym CIRCLE (Colorado information, resource coordination, linkage and education) spells out what statewide groups of local professionals and advocates try to provide for people with brain injuries. CIRCLE members may be psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses, social workers, physical and occupational therapists, employment specialists and members of the clergy.
The network is funded by a grant from the federal Department of Health and Human Services, and each CIRCLE concentrates on the needs of its region, Alexander said. The needs in Southwest Colorado will differ in some respects from metropolitan Denver.
The Brain Injury Association of Colorado, a nonprofit agency based in Denver, was founded under another name in 1980 by families and professionals who were concerned about the lack of help for survivors of brain injuries and their families. The present name dates from 1995. The first CIRCLE support group started in Grand Junction in 2004.
The Brain Injury Association of America defines a traumatic brain injury as a blow to the head or a penetrating head injury that disrupts the functioning of the brain. The severity can range from mild (a brief change in mental status) to severe (extended unconsciousness or amnesia).
Sharon Mehesey, the independent living coordinator at the Southwest Center for Independence in Durango, has a telephone calling list of about 30 for twice-a-month support group meetings for people with traumatic brain injuries. The Southwest Center for Independence serves Archuleta, La Plata, Montezuma, San Juan and Dolores counties. Two people on Mehesey's list spoke with The Durango Herald:
Melodie's good, bad days
A 58-year-old Durango woman, Melodie, who requested her last name not be published, suffered brain injuries in automobile accidents in 1976 and 1996. Melodie would like to see more cognitive therapy available for people like her. As a result of incorrect diagnoses, she's been written off as crazy, once was assigned to a psychiatric ward and once was warehoused in a group home.
Cognitive therapy teaches compensatory strategies to deal with a new reality - how to respond to emotions, change, interpersonal relationships, beliefs and dysfunctional thinking.
"I have good days and I have bad days," Melodie said during an interview recently at the Southwest Center for Independence. "But the happiest day of my life was the diagnosis of a brain injury."
At that point, Melodie was able to find treatments and services commensurate with some of her needs. She now lives in the community.
Fatigue bothers 'Edward'
A 54-year-old Durango man suffered frontal lobe damage in a 1982 vehicle accident. Edward (not his real name) requested his name not be used because of the public position he holds. Edward said during the same interview at the Southwest Center for Independence that he fears losing his job - as he did in another state - if his condition becomes known.
"My short-term and long-term memory is good," said Edward, who earned a college degree after the accident, which left him with major injuries. "My biggest handicap is periodic fatigue - mental and physical. Sometimes I'm gung-ho, sometimes I stay home on R&R (rest and recuperation)."
Edward minimized his physical condition, but he spoke with feeling about the need to educate the public about how people with disabilities are perceived.
A person in a wheelchair or someone who lugs around an oxygen tank are accepted for what they are, Edward said. But a person known to have a brain injury often is ostracized and treated with condescension, he said.
Mehesey, the independent living coordinator at the Southwest Center for Independence, said Edward has a point.
Brain injuries affect people differently, Mehesey said. Athletes, for example, receive a concussion and seem to recover without lasting effects. But there's no way of knowing what long-term effects will be, particularly in the case of repeated head trauma such as what boxers receive.
People who have suffered a traumatic brain injury are prone to physical and mental fatigue, memory problems and depression, Mehesey said. They often erroneously are labeled as lazy, indecisive, indifferent or emotionally unstable.
"A brain injury doesn't make you less of a person," Mehesey said. "The public often doesn't recognize the multitude of wonderful qualities in people with brain injuries."
Unlike Alzheimer's disease, a brain injury isn't degenerative, Mehesey said.
"They may say, 'What (recovery) you get in the first year is all you'll get,' but that's not true," Mehesey said. "Improvement isn't by leaps and bounds. It's incremental."
In effect, after a brain injury, a person is beginning a new life, Mehesey said. She hopes the new CIRCLE can provide them a greater variety of services.