Caring for Man’s Best Friend

The benefits of dog ownership are well-known.  “Owning a dog can lift your mood or help you feel less stressed.”  For veterans and others with disabilities, the benefits of have a dog, specifically service dogs, go beyond this: dogs can serve by helping or even doing certain tasks that the handlers cannot do themselves.

However, what happens when the dog is the one with a brain injury?  Yes, dog’s skulls are harder than humans and surrounded by protective fluid, both of which make brain injuries less common in them.  (This is definitely beneficial for animals that play/fight for fun, may bump into coffee tables as they chase after toys, etc.)  Canines though, can get brain injuries in the same ways that humans can: a car accident, a fall, etc.  The possible symptoms are also similar to those of humans:  bleeding from the nose or ears, coma, confusion, death, disorientation, facial weakness, lethargy, loss of consciousness, paralysis, pupil dilation, seizures, and stumbling.

Once these symptoms begin to occur what do you do?  For these members of the family, seeking medical help should be the next step.  Going to the local veterinarian is definitely the appropriate action, but there are also neuro-veterinarian specialists.  While this is a very limited profession, it’s not impossible to find.  It is fortuitous to an injured canine if their owner lives in Arizona, as they have access to this professional expertise.  (For example, Lucky, a dog found shot in the Arizona desert by border control officers earlier this year, was relatively fortunate that such help was available to him.)

One thing not to do is to abandon the dog.  This is what happened earlier this month to one dog in Sacramento, CA .  A woman, assuredly not the owner, found an injured dog on the streets and brought him to the Sacramento County Bradshaw Animal Shelter.  The dog, now named Thomas, has gone through multiple tests, yet the doctors still do not know what happened to him, just that it resulted in a severe brain injury.  “He is such a fighter… Baby Thomas wants everyone to know he is determined to heal, grow up and live a long, mischievous life!”  This and so many other examples show the need for Sacramento Counties non-profit T.E.A.M. – Teaching Everyone Animals Matter.  (As of March 16, the owner of Thomas has still not been found.  T.E.A.M. is now offering a $1,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest.)

(Most states have laws prohibiting animal cruelty.  For example, 3 weeks ago, a 27-year-old man was sentenced to 12 years in prison for abusing his boxer puppy.  Most of these states also have a law prohibiting animal abandonment.)


2018 Brain Injury Awareness Month

This month, March 2018, Americans recognize Brain Injury Awareness Month.  The theme for this year, through 2020, is Change Your Mind.  The significance of this theme is to show the ongoing public awareness campaign to provide, “a platform for educating the general public about the incidence of brain injury and the needs of people with brain injuries and their families.”  Many posters and webpages note the statistics, commonality and horror of brain injury in the United States.  Yes, as the Brain Injury Association of America notes, “Brain injury changes the way you think, act, move and feel.”  However, in some ways, for the better.  In this sense, part of what the BIAA is seeking to do is de-stigmatization.  (The theme for 2015 to 2017, #NotAlone, is still very apropos.) Search on Twitter or use the hangtags #ChangeYourMind, #BrainInjuryAwarenessMonth or simply #braininjury.

Note: From what I can find, Brain Injury Awareness Month is not a federally designated month.  However, “the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Brain Injury Association of America recognize March as Brain Injury Awareness month to increase awareness of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).”  Additionally, the month has been legally designated by many states.  New Jersey, for example, signed into law Section 36:2-87, to mark March as Brain Injury Awareness Month, in 2013.


What do you do with all the cash you saved on Black Friday and Cyber Monday?  Well, 6 years ago #GivingTuesday was officially introduced.  (The hashtag in the name is a clear indication that the global day of giving was instigated on social media and peoples’ desire to help.)  On the day’s website, one can find most of the charities/non-profits in their area.  Though all the listed charities/non-profits are well-deserving of support, specifically related to brain injury, there are links to the Brain Injury Alliances in various states and other charities, nonprofits and hospitals that help the brain injured.  (One foundation that is not found in the search, but is well-worth donated to, especially for those residing in the North New Jersey area, is the Kessler Foundation.)

“Inclusion Drives Innovation” Throughout America

In addition to the President, “26 governors have joined together to show their support [for employment of disabled workers] through public proclamations, executive orders and press statements.”  Brain injury is a non-partisan issue that affects individuals from all states.  Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R-AR) noted the importance of informing the public of the skills of the disabled population this month because, “people with disabilities offer a wide range of expertise and play an integral role in our efforts to build an inclusive community and strong economy.” (Read to view Arkansas’ NDEAM events.)  Gov. John Bel Edwards (D-LA) released a video to explain to his constituents the importance of the month, saying that, “our businesses and communities can greatly benefit from the integrated, competitive employment of persons with disabilities.”

Even in states that do not officially recognize NDEAM with government-sanctioned events, they still inform their citizens of brain injury and celebrate the contributions of brain injury survivors.  The Kessler Foundation in East Hanover, NJ, for example, awarded a $265,743 Grant to the University of New Hampshire on October 10, 2017, to conduct, “the first national survey to look at the effectiveness of the practices that employers use to recruit, hire, train, and retain people with disabilities in their organizations, from the unique perspective of supervisors of employees with and without disabilities.”  The article 26 Governors Celebrate Employment Opportunities for People with Disabilities, from which the opening quote in this article is taken, may not have it listed as a state that is honoring NDEAM, but the California Department of Rehabilitation had an open house on October 18, 2017 to inform employers on, “the various ways to create a diverse workforce that includes persons with disabilities.”

2017 NDEAM: Inclusion Drives Innovation

This past month has been a time of, “reflecting [on] the important role that different perspectives play in workforce success,” as October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month.  This year, President Trump issued a proclamation to honor NDEAM in which he recognized that, “every American who is willing and able to work should have the opportunity… this includes the 30 million American adults with disabilities.”  Statistically, it is unfortunate to see that NDEAM has not had enough of an effect in its 70+ years of existence.  According the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment rate for disabled Americans has risen, from 18.1 percent in September 2016 to 19.6 percent this September.  However, this is still far below the employment rate for non-disabled Americans, which was 65.5 percent in September 2016 and 66 percent this year.

President Trump referred to the above statistic, when he said that, “more employers should recognize the fresh perspectives and skills these men and women can add to an innovation-focused workforce.”  Reflecting this statement, in 2017, the theme of NDEAM has been “Inclusion Drives Innovation“.

Giffords Shows Support for McCain

Gabby Giffords may be a Democrat, but she also is an Arizonian and brain injury survivor.  Her husband, Mark Kelly, is a former astronaut who presumptively knows many fellow astronauts who have had a brain injury from their travel.  Politically, they differ from Senator McCain.  However, as fellow Arizonians, his friend and his former colleague, she and her husband have expressed their hope for McCain’s recovery.

Kelly expressed the importance of maintaining a positive outlook, just as McCain did during his 5+ years detained as a prison-of-war during the Vietnam War.  Giffords tweeted, “You’re tough! You can beat this. Fight, fight, fight! I am proud to call you my friend.”

Lincoln: America’s Great Leader & TBI Survivor

February 20 was President’s Day.  Before the end of the month, it is good to honor one of America’s most lauded presidents and brain injury survivor, Abraham Lincoln:

During his younger years, although he had little formal education, Lincoln was an avid reader.  He would have rather spent a day reading a book than outside riding a horse.  Perhaps because of his comparable inexperience with outdoor activities, Lincoln was thrown off a horse as a child.  Though the specifics of this event are murky (some articles/posts claim he was 9-years-old during the incident, some say 10.  Some say he was hurt by a horse, others say a mule), what is clear is that he remained unconscious for at least the rest of the day.

Later in his life, Lincoln had two bouts of malaria, in 1830 and 1835.  When parasite-filled blood cells block blood vessels, malaria can cause brain damage.  Also in 1835, some claim that Lincoln had the sexually transmitted disease syphilis.  Syphilis can cause neurological problems.

While both contracting malaria and syphilis may have heightened the severity of Lincoln’s brain injury, the most severe occurrence to Lincoln’s brain was, most likely, the aforementioned fall off a horse at a young age.  Given this historical information, it is clear the Lincoln had some sort of brain damage.  His recorded behavior further exhibits this.  Specifically, Lincoln is known to have had a prolonged struggle with severe depression.  Depression is, unfortunately, a common side effect of brain injury.

Whether knowing that Lincoln had some sort of neurological problem affects people’s views of him positively, negatively or not at all, is irrelevant.  People simply need to know that the president who brought our country back together had a brain injury.  Knowing this, the public may question and change their underestimation of and negative behavior towards brain injured classmates, neighbors, fellow employees, etc.

Richmond Rally Reacts to Rehabilitation Cuts

February 1 marked the 14th annual Brain Injury Awareness Day in Virginia.  Hosted by neurologist and State Delegate John O’Bannon, this day allows those affected by and/or advocating for brain injury to discuss their concerns and wants with their state legislators.  This year, the discussion specifically focused on the state government’s cuts (but not elimination) of funding for rehabilitation for brain injured individuals.  Because of this concern, “after meeting with legislators, dozens of survivors, advocates and caretakers of people with brain injuries held a rally Wednesday to call for improvements in services for disabled Virginians.”  What the government may not understand though, is that it takes rehabilitation, sometimes lengthy rehabilitation, to regain functionality following a brain injury, meaning that adequate state funding is necessary.  Increased functionality means increased employment, increased tax collections and less reliance on government-funded support and services.

Personal note:

In the article, Anne McDonnell, executive director of the Brain Injury Association of Virginia, is quoted as saying, “It is a rare privilege to watch a brain come back online.”  This statement implies that brain injury survivors are primarily non-functioning individuals.  This is highly offensive and simply not true.

Additionally, the article quotes a survivor who is involved with the Association, as saying, “Forty-two … I think I’m 42.”  By choosing to publish this quote, the author of this article is making light of a symptom of this survivor’s disability.  Additionally, I believe that this person, as with many brain injury survivors, has a general disbelief of his memory because he had so many memory problems immediately following his injury.  No one remembers everything.

John Glenn: Astronaut, Politician and TBI Survivor

This past Saturday, December 17, was the memorial service for aviator, engineer, astronaut, and United States Senator from Ohio, John Glenn.  The first man to orbit the Earth, metaphorically left the world on December 8, 2016.  What many are not aware of, though, is that beyond his time in space, Glenn’s success in the U.S. Senate occurred after he had suffered a traumatic brain injury.

In the past, I have written about the issue of space travel and brain injury.  “On February 20, 1962, [Glenn] flew the Friendship 7 mission and became the first American to orbit the Earth and the fifth person in space.”  However, reports and profiles show that Glenn did not suffer any mental calamities during his time working at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). In 1964, however, Glenn started his political career, announcing his candidacy for Senator in his home state of Ohio.  Soon after, though, he withdrew his candidacy, as he was injured in a bathroom fall in his Ohio home.  Glenn’s hit to his head was not a mere bump because, as a biography on the Ohio State University website says, “The injury left him bedridden with severe vertigo and unable to campaign.”  Presumptively, vertigo was not the only issue the Glenn had after his fall, even ten years later New York Times referred to it as a “serious head injury”.  However, at the time, the media was not as intrusive as it is now, so even celebrities had some degree of privacy.*

Glenn devoted his life to government service.  Before his time at NASA, he served in the Marines in World War II and the Korean War.  After his time in space, and after his recovery from a TBI, he was a Senator for Ohio for 25 years.  As NASA writes in Glenn’s online biography, “John Glenn, became a national hero and a symbol of American ambition,” after he became the third American in space and the first to orbit the Earth.  The fact that he embarked on a successful political career following a traumatic brain injury makes Glenn an inspiration to the disabled population, too.

*For example, “in 1970, Glenn ran a campaign that relied on his celebrity and patriotic image to draw crowds to his stump speeches. He lost…”  As a personal note that you may disagree with, I ask:  Using celebrity, instead of substance, as the cornerstone of a campaign – who does that remind you of?  (In his later, successful campaigns, Glenn campaigned with celebrity AND substance.)

Republicans Do Care: Sarah Palin

Sarah Palin, the former governor of Alaska and 2008 Republican vice-presidential nominee, often addressed and championed special needs children during her presidential campaign, as she has personal experience with it.  Her son, Trig, was born with the neurological disorder, Down syndrome.  Through parenting and advocacy she says, “what’s been confirmed in me is every [person] has something to contribute to the world, if we give them that chance.”  As Governor of Alaska, “[she] succeeded in securing additional funding and assistance for students with special needs.”

In 2010, she publicly chastised Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane for an episode in which, “Chris Griffin, the show’s awkward teenager, goes on a date with Ellen, a girl with Down syndrome… [whose] mom is the former governor of Alaska.”  (A scene that features Stewie singing a song about “Down Syndrome girl,” as he continually calls her, is particularly offensive.)  Obviously, and by MacFarlane’s own admission, the governor Ellen is referring to is Palin.  The actress who provided the voiceover, who has Down Syndrome herself, said Palin should have a sense of humor.  In response, Palin said “The world is full of cruel, cold-hearted people who would do such a thing.”  (My view is that someone with a neurological disorder can make fun of themselves, but if someone else makes fun of that person, it’s a completely different story.)