Giving Adults With Brain Injury A Chance At Independent Living

Posted: June 26, 1994

HARRISON TOWNSHIP — From the outside, it looks like any other suburban home.

A white minivan is parked in the driveway of the spacious four-bedroom rancher in the Richwood section of town, and the house is surrounded by peach orchards, a covered patio and an above-ground pool - and sometimes by the footprints left in the grass by resident Joyce Toy as she paces outside, chatting to family members on a cordless phone.

Inside, Toy bustles by the list of chores taped to the kitchen wall, bantering with her three housemates as they eat breakfast and crowd the kitchen counter to make their lunches before heading off to vocational training for the day.

It is not the home's appearance but Toy and her housemates who make the house unique. All of them have suffered brain injuries, and each is striving to live independently again.

Toy, 26, and her housemates moved in six weeks ago, when Bancroft Inc. opened the group home as part of an intensive rehabilitation program for people with brain injuries. Bancroft, a nonprofit corporation based in Haddonfield, also serves people with developmental disabilities.

Started 3 1/2 years ago, the brain trauma rehabilitation program gives people with brain injuries the chance to live and work in a community surrounding. It was started largely in response to the growing field of brain injury rehabilitation, said Terry Page, chief of behavioral services for Bancroft.

More people are surviving traumatic accidents than ever before because safety measures, such as wearing seat belts and using airbags in cars, have improved. In addition, emergency services and medical techniques, such as using helicopters to transport accident victims to hospitals, have increased the chances of survival in life-threatening situations.

"The bottom line is, more people are surviving traumatic brain injury in the form of automobile accidents," said Page, who estimates that 80 percent of the 25 or so people enrolled in the program were involved in car accidents.

Other problems that can cause brain injury include those that cut off oxygen to the brain, such as strokes, aneurysms, and near electrocutions or drownings, he said.

At its four housing locations, which include apartments in Mullica Hill and Marlton and group homes in Richwood and Cherry Hill, there are varying degrees of support and supervision from staff, depending on the residents' needs, Page said.

The residents of the Marlton apartments are most able to function autonomously and hold down jobs in the community, Page said, while those at the Mullica Hill complex require more supervision and help. The Cherry Hill home and the new site in Richwood have intermediate degrees of supervision.

Some parents of the Richwood residents said the comfortable, supportive environment of the home there was helping their adult children improve faster than they did in other rehabilitation programs.

"Other programs aren't really for young people, they were more institutionalized," said Marge Ollis of Collingswood, whose son, Rich, was shot in the head two years ago. He now lives in the Richwood home.

"It gives a person who has a head injury their life back so they feel like they're a person again. The roommates really help one another," said Ollis, who visits and calls her son often.

Jill Kaiser agreed. Her 18-year-old stepdaughter, Elizabeth, moved into Richwood almost a year after she had a seizure caused by a blood vessel in her brain exploding during her college orientation at Fairleigh-Dickinson University.

"They keep her so busy, it's great," Kaiser said. "The second day she was there, she was already working in the nursery in Mullica Hill."

The residents, who range in age from 18 to 26, said the group home was an improvement over other rehabilitation programs they had attended. Everybody has chores, such as taking out the trash and cleaning, and each resident is involved in meal preparations and shopping.

In addition to vocational training and chores, they work on goal plans and plan group activities and trips on weekends.

"Everybody here is easy to get along with, and if you need help, it's there," said Elizabeth Kaiser. Her goal is to walk again and go back to

college at Fairleigh-Dickinson, where officials have promised to hold her full scholarship for her.

Toy, who lived at the Mullica Hill apartments previously, said she enjoyed having her own room and a spacious, mostly quiet house.

"There's more one-on-one here," said Toy, a cheerful woman who collapsed in a bar five years ago after she had a heart attack.

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