TAMC to host new support group for people with acquired brain injuries

Release Date: 03/16/2018

Aroostook County  -  The Aroostook Medical Center in Presque Isle will host a new support group for individuals in the community who have suffered from a brain injury.  The group will meet twice a month on Thursday mornings.  The kick off meeting for the group takes place on March 22 at 9:00 a.m.

Leading the effort to get this group started in central Aroostook is Suzanne Morneault and her daughter, Mindy.  Mindy suffered a traumatic brain injury when she was a senior in college, injured during a soccer game.  After her injury she began suffering pseudoseizures which have drastically changed her life.  It was this personal experience that prompted her mother to start a support group for caregivers in Fort Kent.  Her efforts with this support group, which began in January, led to interest in starting something in central Aroostook.

“People with brain injuries from the Presque Isle area began reaching out to me, asking if I could help them,” Morneault explained.  “Presque Isle is also a center for a lot of areas medically, so it seemed like a good place to start a support group.”

With March being Brain Injury Awareness Month, it also seemed like an apt time to get the support group started.  While the Valley support group is geared toward caregivers, the new support group in Presque Isle will be focused on the individuals themselves who are suffering from a brain injury. 

“This seems to be where the most interest is from the requests I have received,” said Morneault.  “We are certainly inviting caregivers to attend if they like, and I think they will find it valuable as they network with other caregivers and support each other.” 

When Morneault approached rehabilitation staff at TAMC to find out if there was an interest in partnering in this effort, the group was quick to get onboard.

“For years we have identified this as a need for our community.  With our work on the inpatient acute rehab unit and the outpatient therapies arena, we knew these patients and caregivers were out there,” said Heather Caron, manager of rehabilitation services.  “We have so many success stories and inspirational patients, and it is important to share their stories with others that may be earlier on in their recovery to give them hope and support.” 

The support group is intended for those with an Acquired Brain Injury (ABI), which includes traumatic brain injuries, strokes, brain illness or any kind of brain injury acquired after birth.  It does not include degenerative brain conditions such as Alzheimer’s Disease or Parkinson’s Disease. 

“Those who experience a brain injury may experience a wide array of symptoms that can be very challenging for the survivor and their caregivers.  Depending on the part of the brain affected and the severity of the injury, the result on any one individual can vary greatly.   It is a difficult path to navigate and having a trusted support team of professionals, caregivers and others who have the unique experience can hopefully ease the path,” said Renee Guerrette, TAMC outpatient rehab care coordinator. Guerrette is one of the therapists who is actively involved in this new support group.

The group will meet on the first and third Thursday of each month at 9:00 a.m. in the TAMC conference center.  One meeting each month will be topical or educational in nature, and it may feature guest speakers such as physical, occupational or speech therapists from TAMC.  The second meeting of the month will be project-based and offer the chance for participants to experiment in the arts.

“The intent of the support group is not to focus on the accident or health condition that caused their injury, but rather where they go from here.  How can they challenge themselves? It looks different for everyone, but it takes a conscious effort,” said Morneault.

The kick off meeting of the support group on March 22 will be focused on the topic Embracing the Hardship. “I want them to know that they still have a lot to offer and to help them see their self-worth,” said Morneault.  “I see with my daughter the emotional difficulty of coping with this kind of injury.  Instead of dwelling on the challenges they are facing, I want them to see what they are still able to do.  Albert Einstein said ‘Once we accept our limits, we go beyond them.’ I really think that is true.  I stand in awe of what people can do, but it’s accepting their limits.”

That belief is one of the reasons that one meeting a month will be devoted to hands-on projects.  “I have seen some amazing talents from people with brain injuries. Finding a new outlet can give them hope and boost their self-worth,” explained Morneault.

Morneault and her daughter Mindy will co-lead the meetings initially, but the plan is to transition over time to them being led directly by Mindy and Loretta Schmitz-Coty, an artist from Presque Isle who is on the road to recovery from a brain injury. 
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