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Traumatic brain injury support
Lloyd Huff reaches for a cup of coffee while Steve Stratton enjoys a laugh. The two are part of a peninsula support group for those suffering from traumatic brain injuries. Sequim Gazette photo by Mark Couhig
The second Tuesday of every month you'll find four to six people quietly enjoying snacks, coffee and pleasant chatter in the dining room of VFW Hall 4760 in Sequim. The get-together provides a welcome respite from lives made difficult by traumatic brain injury.
The peninsula support group has been meeting for "about four years," says Steve Stratton, who heads up the local crew and is active with similar organizations across the state.
The local gathering is part of an expanding web of support groups that are popping up across the nation and across the world. They serve those who have experienced an injury but they also lend a hand to their families, to caregivers and to the communities in which they operate.
In 1968, Stratton was hurt in a serious auto accident. "On Dec. 24 they did the surgery and on Christmas Day I woke up. Before the accident I was a very good mechanical and electronics engineer, raising a family. When I woke up I had about a four-word vocabulary," he said. He's made great strides toward recovery, but "it's still in process," he said. "It's not like a broken bone."
Stratton said after his injury he discovered there was no one to go to for help or for support. At the time the issue was discussed only by doctors and their patients. "There was a need for an organization to provide information to families and everyone else," Stratton said. "That's how I got involved."
Stratton notes that traumatic brain injury can happen to anyone, young or old, and the resulting disability can be "mild, moderate or total."
Stratton said one of the primary goals of the group is to promote safety. "It's important to prevent this from happening. It takes so long to get them back ... if you get them back."
'... my friends'
Lloyd Huff was driving along U.S. Highway 101 past Lake Crescent "in the middle of the night" when a tree fell, crushing his truck and injuring Huff. As Huff, who says he is the comic of the group, notes, "If God wanted my attention, he could have just used a 2 by 4."
His sense of humor helps, but Huff also welcomes the opportunity to meet with others who understand the difficulties he endures. "I come for the support and these people have become my friends. On a good day, it's just a social visit. On a bad day it's a good place to let it all out."
"It's good to know there are people who can relate and who care," Stratton said.
Azella, another member of the group, said, "What's wonderful is many times with head injuries there are problems with memory. It's good to be with people who understand."
There are six members who regularly attend. "That's probably not enough," Stratton said. "Especially with the war and all the sports events."
All of the members agreed the number of brain injuries is regularly under-reported. "A lot of this is cumulative," Stratton said. And many boys involved in sports just won't report their injuries, he said.
"How many people here on the peninsula have had strokes?" asked Azella, "I'm sure there are 30 to 50 people here who could benefit."
Azella notes that brain trauma is more than just head injuries. "I've had a stroke," she said. "Another person in the group had an aneurysm."
One member of the group, who asked not to be identified, noted the prevalence of brain injuries in modern warfare but said he was hopeful today's soldiers are receiving better care for these types of injuries. "The military is taking better care of its own," he said.
"One of the hopes is that the military will end up improving care for all victims of head injuries," Azella said.
The Sequim group is the only traumatic brain injury support group on the peninsula. Stratton said membership in the organization is open to everyone with a traumatic brain injury or a similar issue.
Huff is more broad-minded: "If they bring food and coffee, they're all welcome."
To learn more about traumatic brain injury:
• Washington Brain Injury Hotline: 877-824-1766
• Peninsula Traumatic Brain Injury Support Group
Meets from 3-4:30 p.m. the second Tuesday of each month at the VFW hall at 169 E. Washington St. For more information on the local chapter, call Stratton at 582-9502 or send an e-mail to day firstname.lastname@example.org.
• The Washington Traumatic Brain Injury Strategic Partnership Advisory Council
The council was created by the Washington Legislature to provide resources, funding and coordination of brain injury activities in the state. Visit www.tbiwashington.org.
• Brain Injury Association of Washington
The association works, through education, assistance and advocacy, to increase public awareness, support and hope for those affected by brain injury. Its website has additional resources, visit www.braininjurywa.org.
Reach Mark Couhig at email@example.com.