Stories

Mother of three continues living life to the fullest three decades after diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis

Linda

Linda has never been one to sit still. A mother of three, she continues living life to the fullest three decades after receiving the news that she had Multiple Sclerosis.

At first, Linda did not want to accept that her physical and cognitive abilities were changing and that her approach to daily life might need to be altered. Increasingly, she felt embarrassed at work when she forgot a word or lost her train of thought in a meeting. Many of her coworkers, if they knew about her diagnosis, had no idea that MS also impacts cognition or thinking. Following a fall that broke her wrist, Linda decided that ignoring her problems was not the path to maintaining health and happiness; she would have to get creative. Linda began thinking about how to outsmart her challenges through planning and persistence.

Until recently, Linda has dealt with these challenges with only the support of her loving and supportive family. She recognized that she needed more help. When she found out that Main Line Rehabilitation was awarded a grant through the National MS Society to provide Cognitive Rehabilitation Therapy (CRT) to individuals with MS, she knew this was an opportunity to face the cognitive changes she was experiencing head on. After being approved for the grant, Linda began Cognitive Rehabilitation Therapy two times each week in the beginning of 2016. In sessions, Linda expanded her understanding of how MS was specifically affecting her. She developed the ability to independently break problems down into manageable parts, identify barriers, and utilize strategies to manage them. Describing her experience with Cognitive Rehabilitation Therapy as “invigorating”, Linda took on a series of new obstacles to prove she did not need to limit herself, including cooking again while overcoming memory issues and safety concerns. Linda worked relentlessly with her Cognitive Rehabilitation Therapist to find the solutions that worked best and stated that the services “helped her figure out new ways to get to the answer she was looking for”.

The integrated model of CRT that Linda adopted helped her to develop and use strategies to compensate for the difficulties she was having. Though the symptoms of MS may go into remission, CRT focused on long-term compensatory approaches to help her in everyday life. Services centered on preserving the skills that will support Linda in maintaining her independence in her own home and community. She also utilized these strategies to address ongoing physical issues as well. Linda had been experiencing balance problems and had fallen on several occasions, causing her to cease completing outside chores, eliminating many indoor tasks, and only being able to complete certain daily living skills when her husband was home with her. CRT services gave Linda the necessary skills to determine when completing a task was a safety risk and when she would need to ask for help.

Corporate Executive turned successful artist after a traumatic brain injury

Sal

Several years ago, Sal and his wife had their lives changed forever. The day before Thanksgiving, Sal, then the  senior vice president and design director of a large advertising agency in Center City, was involved in an accident after he hailed a cab. As Sal was reviewing some notes in the backseat, the cab suddenly lurched forward, sending Sal through the sheet of Plexiglas that divides passengers from the driver. It was here that his journey through the world of brain injury began.

After a series of tests, Sal was diagnosed with Mild Traumatic Brain Injury, although he states that “people think of mild as being something not serious….it’s really not mild.” Sal spent 16 months as an outpatient at a local rehab hospital when he was then referred to Main Line Rehabilitation Associates for home and community based rehab.

Since that time, Sal has made quite a reputation for himself in both the rehab and painting worlds, and the story behind his disability and art is certainly inspiring. Sal receives weekly NeuroCognitive Rehabilitation services which help him with executive functions, such as planning appointments around every day duties, organizing his day, prioritizing his work, thinking flexibly about scheduling, and problem-solving through every day issues. NeuroCognitive Rehabilitation has helped Sal to become more independent through the use of various compensatory strategies that Sal has adopted into his daily lifestyle. Sal also receives psychology services to help with strategy development and his overall adjustment to residual deficits that still challenge him today. Sal is now able to operate with a level of independence that he once thought he would never reach. Sal continues to show progress with his recovery. He feels his progress is a direct result of his perseverance working with Main Line Rehab’s team of therapists. He states, “Main Line has a unique way of making my needs a priority. Everything I do is related somehow to my injury and when it comes to brain injury Main Line really knows their stuff…”

Not only has Sal experienced success with his rehabilitation, he is now a very well-known artist who is featured in various art shows several times a year. He took the advice of his therapists and began painting as a form of personal therapy and he has been painting ever since. Of Sal’s success with painting, he says, “ My injury resulted in a whole new awakening. My wife and I look at it as the bright side of brain injury and treasure what we’ve gained, ignoring the losses.”

Empowered self-advocate with an entrepreneurial spirit, living with cerebral palsy

Linda

If you were to speak with Linda, you would quickly learn about her philosophy on life. She would say that when an individual is faced with adversity in their life, there are two paths that they can choose.  One path is the path of a victim, questioning if or how you can live a productive and happy life. The other is the path Linda chose.  That path is one of resilience, empowerment, and a belief in her own abilities to overcome even the toughest challenges.

Linda is a 50 year old woman who was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy (CP) when she was two.  Linda has never viewed herself as a victim or “handicapped.”  She lives with the attitude that she is not only going to make a productive life for herself, but she is also going to help others reach their goals as well. First, she received her B.A. in Special Education from West Chester University. Her goal was to work with individuals with disabilities and she did just that for a number of years.  She later began working as a volunteer and advocate for abused women, providing counseling on how to develop strength and refusing to be a victim.  After attending several classes and developing motivational speaking skills, she intends to travel throughout the state to speak to individuals facing challenges.

Linda began working with Main Line Rehabilitation Associates in late 2009 and progressed even further on her goals. With the help of her Cognitive Rehabilitation Therapist, she developed a plan to work with a local farmer’s market to raise money for individuals with disabilities to purchase assistive devices and other services.  At the time, Linda was exploring the benefits of having a service dog. She was accepted into a program and spent over a year getting to know the right dog and raising money to pay for the dog. Her Cognitive Rehabilitation Therapist, along with a very supportive team including her Service Coordinator from Chester County Cerebral Palsy Association, helped Linda to develop strategies for memory, planning, and communication to help organize her efforts to get her dog.

First, she created special dog treats that she sold at the farmers market.  With the money raised, she was able to pay for her service dog and all of his training. But she did not stop there! She continued to sell her dog treats at the farmers market and raised more money for a fund that would help others obtain service dogs. 

Linda does not let her disability slow her down. She continues to make progress and is fully committed to advocating for all individuals with disabilities. Linda is truly an inspiration to individuals from all walks of life. She not only advocates and motivates individuals with disabilities but also teaches a lesson of compassion, resilience, and persistence to those abled bodied individuals that she touches.

Free spirited senior living life on his terms after a brain injury

Gene

Gene is a gearhead.  His words, not ours. He loves to tinker, to build things, to fix things.  He revels in slowly taking his little house, his “project”, and transforming it into a home, a place of his own. This house gave him purpose, when it seemed like all the purpose had drifted away over the years. Gene pours his heart and soul into his home, his town. He is laying down roots, for real this time.

He loves his hometown.  Everyone knows each other and helps each other out.  They all get by, as a community. He lives in an old town that rose up around the mills and coal mines outside of Pittsburgh. It has a post office, and a little store.

But today he is happy, truly happy. Despite the accident and his long road to this place of his own…

When Gene started services with Main Line Rehabilitation Associates, he was in the process of transitioning into a new home to start his “new life” after a traumatic brain injury. His injury occurred when he drove his motorcycle into a couch that someone left in the middle of the road as a prank. Before beginning services with Main Line, Eugene completed 7 months of rehabilitation at a residential treatment facility where he began to re-learn many skills.

Early on he was frustrated with his rehabilitation process and was not the ideal patient.  He was determined to leave and return to his old life. His brain injury forced him to accept the new Gene and take a look at what’s really important, while being true to his “gearhead” philosophy. 

He built a solid understanding of his brain injury and began setting goals for his future. Once he began receiving Cognitive Rehabilitation Therapy in his home environment, he began using own tools and resources to rebuild his life in a way that was unique to him.

After his injury, Eugene needed to relearn basic thinking and communication skills along with coping with minimal use of his left arm. The skills needed to plan and follow through with extensive projects were hampered due to his injuries. Although he recognized that some of his abilities had changed, he never lost his drive and perseverance to use what he knows to overcome obstacles that he now faced.

In working closely with his CRT on skills such as independent problem solving, Eugene was empowered to progress with his therapy goals. He began using his computer as his main “tool kit” to keep a memory journal, to complete independent research on his recovery and medical needs, and to begin planning short and long term goals. His therapist used the Cognitive Rehabilitation process to identify specific areas to improve through education, skills training, and strategy development. Through repeated practice, Eugene has relearned to use his tools to achieve his goals. He is now able to make repairs to his home, has a supportive social network, and participates in hobbies that make him feel like the “gearhead” that he always was.

Gene refers to himself as retired now.  He wakes when he pleases, eats three square meals a day and spends his days engaged in the activities he loves.  He continues to craft the life he desires, doing the things he wants to do, feeling like a valued member of his community, and having fun! He’s happy to wake up every morning and definitely doesn’t sweat the small stuff. He’s always looking for solutions, and a better way to do something.  He comes up with his own strategies to make his life better, to cope better with the effects of the brain injury and it’s all on his own terms. While some people might be devastated by a traumatic brain injury, Gene engineered himself into learning lessons that sometimes take a lifetime to master.

President’s Volunteer Service Award recipient, not defined by Autism

Michael

Michael is a highly intelligent individual who has a true passion for knowledge. His interests include science, dinosaurs, history and space. Michael’s Asperger’s does not hold him back from exploring his interests and trying new things.

Michael began receiving services through Main Line while he was in his senior year of high school. He attended school during the mornings and then the STEPS group program in the afternoons in order to work on improving his social and independent living skills. At STEPS, Michael gets the chance to try new activities and tasks, and socialize with others. Through STEPS Michael gets the chance to volunteer once a month at a local farm, caring for the barn animals. In the past Michael was not one for getting his hands dirty but one day he decided to try the activities and found out it was something he truly enjoyed doing. Not only does Michael get to improve on his work readiness skills at STEPS but he has also developed meaningful relationships with his peers who also attend the program. True friendships have blossomed at the STEPS program. Michael has all of his peer’s phone numbers and is able to contact them even outside of sessions. One of Michael’s favorite things to participate in at STEPS is music therapy. Michael stated that music therapy helps him to get his frustrations out through playing instruments. Through music therapy, Michael works on sustaining and dividing his attention, developing his leadership skills and using music as a way of coping with emotions.

Outside of STEPS Michael also receives one on one therapy through Main Line. He currently volunteers at his local library and has been recognized by the President of the United States for his dedication and hard work. Not only does Michael’s volunteer position provide him with the opportunity to search through books, expanding on his knowledge, but it also provides him the chance to build other skills such as initiation, vocational, socialization, communication, time management and follow through. At first Michael attended his volunteer position once a week with support from his Cognitive Rehabilitation Therapist. Today Michael volunteers three times a week, once independently. Through traveling and fulfilling his volunteer shift independently, Michael has really increased his self-confidence and independent living skills. This has also helped him to become more familiar with his local community and to develop strong natural supports. Michael has become quite the chef over the past few months! Michael stated that “Updating and keeping a planner has helped me to keep an organized schedule.”

Michael feels that Main Line helps him to “understand how other people are…” Michael has become more aware of his abilities through educational discussions with staff which have helped to improve his ability to understand how other people may act or think. He understands that it is OK for others to think differently or have different opinions. The discussions help Michael to become more patient, accepting and flexible towards others.

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