by Kara Hansen
PAOLA — It’s bad enough to have a traumatic brain injury, but it’s even worse to face it without help.
That was the case for Roxanne Bollin, who was diagnosed with TBI in 2005. When she went looking for local resources in Miami County, she couldn’t find any.
Bollin was disabled at age 50 and she struggled with many of the symptoms accompanying TBI — memory loss, loss of gross and fine motor skills, speech impediments, and a loss of vocabulary, math skills, and comprehension.
Bollin’s previous education and successful professional career no longer meant much. She could not even drive a car anymore — a true hardship in a rural area.
Although she sought further medical and rehabilitative help, each medical professional required a large pre-payment that Bollin could not afford. Even the state of Kansas’ SRS program required a large packet of paperwork — confusing and difficult for her to comprehend — to be completed before she could be considered eligible for assistance.
“With no help or support, feeling degraded and stripped of all dignity, I became very angry,” said Bollin, a parishioner of Holy Trinity Church in Paola. “Those first two years were a nightmare.”
But a small act of kindness began to turn things around for Bollin.
“I began to see that other survivors of TBI were experiencing the same struggles as I,” said Bollin. “A fellow parish member, Jeanne Woolsey, came up to me and asked me about my TBI and how I was handling the daily changes and challenges. We met, and the rest is history.”
Both women knew of the struggles involved with TBI — for survivors and for their families and caregivers. Together the two created a brain injury support group, called Heads Up, in March 2007.
“Our major goal is our mission statement: to provide an informal environment with caring people who truly understand TBI issues and challenges; to share information, provide support and encouragement to those with TBI and their families,” said Bollin.
Support groups are facilitated by a licensed clinical social worker who has an area of expertise in head injuries. The group meets monthly in the basement of Holy Trinity Church from 7- 9 p.m. on the last Thursday of each month.
Although Father Rick Halvorson has only been pastor at Holy Trinity for a few months, he has already seen the tremendous amount of support provided by Heads Up to the community. And he is more than happy the group uses space at Holy Trinity to accomplish its work.
“There seem to be lots of accidents and head injuries in rural areas especially, and survivors and their families have many needs,” said Father Halvorson. “I really see this as a giving back to the community — our tithing, in a sense.”
Though local Catholics have been instrumental in the planning and creation of the group, it is open to anyone whose life is touched by TBI. Those who attend come from Ottawa, Olathe, Gard- ner, LaCygne, Osawatomie, Spring Hill, Louisburg and Paola.
“It’s been a great thing; we’re like family,” said Paul Davis, a Holy Trinity parishioner and Heads Up participant. “It’s a comforting feeling to talk to someone else about how memory loss affects me and to know they understand. It’s an amazing, comforting feeling to know you’re not alone.”
Approximately 50 people currently attend monthly meetings. Davis estimated half of those are TBI survivors and the other half are caregivers to someone with TBI.
Though TBIs are not as commonly discussed in mainstream society, Davis said there are more TBIs treated in the United States each year — 1.4 million — than HIV, cancer, and multiple sclerosis combined.
And the Heads Up members want to help as many of that number as they can.
For the third year in a row, they are hosting a charity event called On Your Mark, a race/walk to benefit TBI survivors.
Named in honor of Mark Orr, one of the group’s TBI survivors, the event features a 5K and a 3K run/walk, a kiddie run, and a senior walk — along with a moonwalk, face painting, silent auction, bake sale, food, and visits from local emergency response teams.
On Your Mark will be held at the Paola High School Track Stadium on Sept. 19 with registration starting at 8 a.m. The cost of $20 per person for adults or $15 for a child includes a T- shirt. Sponsors are also welcome.
Proceeds will go to hospitals, the Mayo Clinic, and in assistance to survivors who need to move into handicapped-accessible housing.
For more information, visit the Heads Up Web site at: www.headsuponline.org.