Bringing Hope to Traumatic Brain Injury Survivors
Later this month The Traumatic Brain Injury Resource Center (TBRIC) in Toledo, is hosting its first Fall Festival to help raise funds to support the launch of its pediatric programming.
Here we talk to Larry Tomczak, Special Care Planner at Skylight’s Toledo office and Board Member of TBRIC, about the work of the Center, his very personal reasons for getting involved and the upcoming fundraiser.
What does the TBIRC do?
Since opening its doors in February 2015, the TBRIC has been doing great work in providing resources, inspiration and hope to survivors of Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBIs). Co-founders, Jackie Moore (a TBI survivor) and her husband Mike, were spurred to establish the TBRIC when they hit a brick wall when looking for resources and support for themselves following Jackie’s injury. They started the Center as a safe place for TBI survivors, their caregivers and families to go and get this much-needed support. A wide range of programs and activities are offered including speech, cognitive and memory groups, occupational therapy, nutrition assistance, crafts and support groups. You can also get help with practical things, like paper work, help in finding a job or with setting up a special needs trusts. Or you can just browse the well-resourced library and join in the social events like Dinner and A Movie or Social Saturdays. The Center also educates healthcare professionals, advocates for the needs for TBI survivors and helps raise awareness. It’s the first center of its kind in Ohio and one of the first in our country.
Why did you get involved?
I got involved through my son Damian who is TBI survivor of 21 years. Damian was in an automobile accident back in 1996, when he was a 23-year old college arts grad student. The accident left him fighting for his life. We went from focusing on him surviving, to him being in coma and then to his rehabilitation. His journey has been full of challenges from seeing him on feeding tubes, to being strapped in a wheelchair, crawling about, to watching him take 10-12 attempts to find his mouth. Then as he progressed, to weaning him off medication in favor of cranial psychotherapy and herbal medication. Over all this time, he has spent months in and out of hospitals in Ohio and Ann Anbor as an in-patient and out-patient and we have never given up looking for resources and ways to improve his recovery. His TBI has totally changed our lives and 21 years later, Damian still faces challenges with his fine motor skills and has speech difficulties. We are thankful that he can now ride a bike, drive a car, cook, can live at home and has a part-time job as a senior janitor – although he plans to move on soon.
Damian initially met Jackie Moore at a TBI support meeting and they hit it off like peanut butter and jelly. They both had been in similar accidents and both were determined to do more to help TBI survivors. I got involved at this point as, like my son, I wanted to give back and help others. We helped get the Center off the ground through fundraising and I have been involved in the board ever since. The Center has applied for 28 grants since its inception and its first grant of $5,000 was awarded by MassMutual as part of its national Community Service Award program and helped fund yoga and meditation programming.
In the early days of my career I had a mentor who always said you need to find something bigger than life. TBI is bigger than life! I didn’t think I would be doing this but I am and it’s been a rewarding experience.
Has Damian benefitted from the Center?
Yes, Damian has shown continuous improvement from many of the programs such as the speech, cognitive and memory sessions have really helped. It’s also great for him socially. He loves to be able to drop in and chat with other like-minded survivors. He meets his friends there and he can chat away! They’re like family to him.
How has the Center developed since opening in April 2015?
So much has happened over the last 2 years! We are constantly adding new programs and this month there’s a kick-off of programming with occupational therapy assistance students from Owens Community College. We have expanded our facilities and have partnered with Mercy Health which is the largest healthcare provider in Ohio. Earlier this year, we welcomed to the Center, Lee Woodruff, best-selling author, speaker and caregiver to her husband, Bob Woodruff, a TBI survivor and ABC TV anchor. We are also planning the launch of our pediatric programming which is an area we haven’t been able to support until now. Basically, we are always looking for ways to grow and help survivors.
Could you tell us a little more about your upcoming Fall Festival?
Yes, this is our First Fall Festival and it’s taking place on Saturday September 30 in Toledo – in the parking lot in front of the Center. It’s going to be a great family-oriented event with children’s games, pumpkin decorating, balloon creations and even the chance to make your own fairy garden. This year’s main event will be the Mega Brain! It’s an inflatable, interactive and educational inflatable brain which explains how the brain works and there will be guides on site to answer any questions. Check out the attached flyer for further details. Admission is free so please come along and support!
Thanks Larry for sharing with us!