Sup­port group heals with laugh­ter, friend­ship

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By SARA NEW­MAN snew­man@somd­news.com Twit­ter: @in­dy_­com­mu­nity

A group gath­ers at the Spring Dell Cen­ter in La Plata each month to laugh, share sto­ries and catch up on each other’s lives. This group has been join­ing to­gether for al­most 15 years and mem­bers have their sense of hu­mor in com­mon in ad­di­tion to their his­tory of brain trauma.

The South­ern Mary­land Brain In­jury Sup­port Group has been meet­ing since around 2001. Mem­bers trickle in and out due to health con­cerns or prior com­mit­ments but a solid core has re­mained for much of that time. The group meets the sec­ond Thurs­day of each month and dur­ing May’s meet­ing, about 10 in­di­vid­u­als showed up – a mix of care­givers and sur­vivors — to share their sto­ries and wel­come new­com­ers.

“We try to em­pha­size the sup­port through help­ing each other,” Jerry Cush­man, who suf­fered a life-al­ter­ing in­jury about 15 years ago, said.

With his wife, and care­giver, Sheri, at his side, Cush­man told his story of how his brain in­jury hap­pened. While work­ing at a meat ware­house, an ac­ci­dent led Cush­man to fall 18 feet in the air onto his head. He was air­lifted by a he­li­copter to a hospi­tal and was in a comma for three weeks. Af­ter that, he said, sim­ple things he used to do ev­ery day be­came not so sim­ple any­more. Go­ing back to work drained him of all his en­ergy and he had prob­lems remembering how to do sim­ple tasks. He trav­els to Vir­ginia to see a doc­tor ev­ery Thurs­day who told him not to “get stuck” in his in­jury.

“I let my in­jury hold me back,” Cush­man said to the group as oth­ers nod­ded in af­fir­ma­tion.

“I’ve been here since the be­gin­ning and it makes you feel good to come here,” Andy Van­der­grift, who was in a coma for over a month af­ter be­ing in­volved in a car ac­ci­dent in 1984, said to the group. “I love com­ing here.”

“It helps you to not feel sorry for your­self be­cause you see oth­ers in the same, or worse, con­di­tion that you’re in,” Martha “Marty” Pride said, adding that af­ter her 2008 car ac­ci­dent she learned how to “fake it,” by pre­tend­ing to rec­og­nize peo­ple who knew her so as to not make them feel un­com­fort­able around her.

“My mother asked me how I was do­ing and when I started telling her she thought I was milk­ing it,” Pride said, re­ceiv­ing nods from oth­ers in the room. “I thought, well if you didn’t re­ally want to know, why did you ask?”

Those within the group speak the same lan­guage as far as med­i­cal ter­mi­nol­ogy re­lat­ing to their in­juries, med­i­ca­tions that are of­ten pre­scribed to help, and com­mon­al­i­ties in short term mem­ory and the dif­fi­cul­ties of life af­ter a brain in­jury. The group hosts guest speak­ers on a va­ri­ety of top­ics per­ti­nent to their in­juries and host so­cial events such as pic­nics, par­ties and trips to D.C. to see a Washington Na­tional’s game or a play at The Kennedy Cen­ter.

“A lot of peo­ple don’t un­der­stand what you’re go­ing through or how to deal with you,” said Jerry Roh, a care­giver with his wife Deb­bie for their daugh­ter Traci, who also re­ceived her brain in­jury af­ter a car ac­ci­dent.

In­stead, the group seems to have found so­lace in hu­mor and spend a great deal of the meet­ing laugh­ing about their mem­ory fail­ures and the awk­ward com­ments oth­ers may make to them. Rather than feel­ing un­com­fort­able when they mis­s­peak, or lose their train of thought, a friend is nearby to help out or crack a joke that turns the whole room into an up­roar.

“We’ve be­come friends,” Pride said. “Other friends have fallen by the way­side, but th­ese guys are here and they un­der­stand what’s go­ing on. [Brain in­juries are] very much a hid­den in­jury. [Here] you don’t feel like you have to hide or put on a front.”

“Some­times it’s all you need to talk it out and not keep it bot­tled inside you,” Roh said.

Mike Caden­head had just fin­ished his first se­mes­ter of col­lege at Prince Ge­orge’s Com­mu­nity Col­lege when he was in a car ac­ci­dent in 1983 that left him blind, with a head in­jury and mem­ory prob­lems. He spent two years in the hospi­tal and at­tends the monthly meet­ings with his par­ents, David and Carol.

Ch­eryl Lo­ef­fler was di­ag­nosed with preeclamp­sia nine years ago when she was six months preg­nant with her daugh­ter. She de­liv­ered her daugh­ter at six months and then suf­fered a stroke. Now, she says, even af­ter nine years, she’s learn­ing ev­ery­thing over again.

“What peo­ple don’t un­der­stand is we didn’t choose this to hap­pen to our­selves,” Lo­ef­fler said of pub­lic per­cep­tion. “It hap­pened to us.”

As an en­cour­ag­ing re­minder to him­self and oth­ers, Cush­man read from a note­book where he writes down ideas and thoughts he doesn’t want to forget.

“Get ahold of your­self,” Cush­man read. “And do a lit­tle bit more each day.”

The South­ern Mary­land Brain In­jury Sup­port Group meets at 6 p.m. on the sec­ond Thurs­day of each month at the Spring Dell Cen­ter, Inc., 6040 Ra­dio Sta­tion Road in La Plata. For more in­for­ma­tion, con­tact Lo­ef­fler at cjer­sey1104@com­cast.net.

STAFF PHO­TOS BY SARA NEW­MAN

Martha “Marty” Pride, left front, Traci Roh, Deb­bie Roh, Sheri Cush­man, Jerry Cush­man, back right, Mike Caden­head, Carol Caden­head and Jerry Roh, are some of the care­givers and sur­vivors who make up the South­ern Mary­land Brain In­jury Sup­port Group. The group meets on the sec­ond Thurs­day of each month at the Spring Dell Cen­ter in La Plata.

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