A new hope for traumatic brain injury survivors
Gallery: Harness system [3 Images] Click any image to expand.
It may be a high-tech world, but researchers in Newark, Del., are monitoring the effectiveness of a decidedly low-tech harness system that could offer new hope for survivors of traumatic brain injuries.
At the Go Baby Go Café on the University of Delaware's STAR Campus, traumatic brain injury survivors such as Corey Beattie can stand tall and work in a café, serving bagels, coffee, or ice cream to customers while simultaneously incorporating several types of therapy into their activities.
According to Devina Kumar, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Physical Therapy at the University of Delaware, the Go Baby Go Café is producing good results for traumatic brain injury survivors who suffer from poor balance and low mobility.
“This harness allows a person to walk in different directions while preventing falls,” Kumar said.
The café evolved out of University of Delaware professor Cole Galloway's Go Baby Go project, which has been focusing on helping children with walking or crawling issues. Galloway and his team collaborated with Enliten, LLC, a Newark, Del., company that developed the concept, designed and manufactured the harness system.
Kumar is leading two research projects under the Go Baby Go banner― the café and the harness house, both of which utilize the innovative harness system.
“It's easy to set up and it's inexpensive,” Kumar explained. “This low-tech device is perfect for people with traumatic brain injuries to set up in their home in order to give them some functional mobility and the chance to move around again. It gives them the chance to cook, clean, do the dishes and everything they probably miss doing since their injury.”
Corey, 23, started working in the Go Baby Go Café last fall, which was about five years after her traumatic brain injury. She was seriously injured in a car accident on Oct. 2, 2010, a few weeks before her 18th birthday. Corey was a passenger in a car that was attempting to make a turn onto Route 896 when it was struck by a truck heading north, about a mile from her home in New London Township. Emergency responders worked for two hours to free her from the wreckage before she was airlifted to the Christiana Hospital. She suffered multiple injuries, including a broken neck, a fractured clavicle, multiple pelvic fractures, and a fracture of the right femur, but it was the global brain trauma that would alter the course of her life. In the days immediately following the accident, Corey couldn't squeeze her mother's hand or tell her if she was scared.
Corey spent three weeks in the intensive care unit, hooked up to machines to keep her alive. It was during this time that Corey's mother, Marie Beattie, started to learn about the true impact that traumatic brain injuries can have.
“We had no idea what a traumatic brain injury was,” Marie explained. “In Hollywood, on TV, when a person comes out of a coma, they wake up, stand up, and remember almost everything.”
Real life is not like Hollywood. At the time of her accident, Corey was looking forward to studying culinary arts at Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island after her graduation. But those plans had to be put on hold.
Corey underwent rigorous therapy, but progress was slow and, five years after the accident, she still did not enjoy a lot of independence. One of the challenges for doctors and researchers working to help traumatic brain injury survivors as they rehabilitate is the fact that no two injuries are exactly alike, thus what works for one person might not work for another.
Marie said that she saw her daughter make tremendous progress during her time there.
“I have often said that watching Corey as her brain heals is like watching an old wooden footbridge being built,” she explained. “Each new connection is a plank. Unfortunately, not all the planks line up or are easily strung together. After all this time, there are still some planks that are missing. The café has helped her find her missing pieces.
“When Corey works in the café, her movements in the kiosk, coupled with the interaction with customers and her co-workers, ties each connection. The café has tied years of separate physical, occupational, speech, cognitive, emotional and behavioral therapies, immersing her in a real-world workplace. The strides that Corey made during the last five years have taken a giant leap forward with her work at the café.”
Kumar agreed that Corey benefited from working at the café – so much so that they installed the harness system in Corey's house so that she can move around her kitchen and bedroom.
“Corey has shown a lot of improvements since she participated in the research study,” Kumar explained. “She always wanted to go to culinary school, and the café gave her the chance to make different things and be around people. Not only that, she also started walking more, using her left hand a lot more, and just feeling a whole lot better – and happier. That’s huge for someone who thought she wouldn’t get to be independent again.”
The research team is very optimistic about the progress that traumatic brain injury survivors like Corey are making as a result of the harness system, and they hope that more people will benefit from it. Kumar explained that the simple act of making a piece of toast might be a struggle for some traumatic brain injury survivors, but the harness system opens up a world of possibilities.
“We hope our research is able to change more lives,” Kumar explained. “The Go Baby Go Café is a great opportunity for someone to explore a new rehabilitation model that we think can bring changes across physical, social and cognitive domains. The harness house can make someone more functionally independent in their own house. Now, with the harness, [traumatic brain injury survivors] have the opportunity to move about the house like they did before the injury.”
Kumar emphasized that this is an active study, and they are looking for other moderate to severe traumatic brain injury subjects who would be willing to participate in the two-month study at the University of Delaware.
“We hope this café can help change as many lives as possible,” Kumar said.
Marie is optimistic that the harness system will help her daughter realize the dream of becoming a chef. Since the harness system was installed in her home in early March, Marie has seen some significant benefits for her daughter.
“The harness system was installed in our kitchen and Corey's bedroom,” Marie explained. “The research study will include both rooms. We will establish physical therapy goals to collect the required data. Corey is setting the activities to achieve that data. First and foremost, she is working on a cookbook and is looking forward to creating culinary dishes in her home 'test' kitchen. To that end, the immediate benefit we see with the kitchen unit is the most critical ingredient―Corey has a newfound sense of independence. She is excited knowing she can get up in the morning and make her own breakfast. With the support of the harness, along with confidence knowing she can't fall, she's not just sitting at the kitchen table. She's no longer a passive observer. She can stand beside me as we create her recipes, and she can move from one side of the kitchen to the other retrieving ingredients for the meal. Corey has renewed hope and motivation that her dream of becoming a chef is now a goal that can be realized.”
Corey still goes to the Go Baby Go Café two days a week to cut up salads, make sandwiches, and run the cash register. At home, she is able to get her own breakfast and stand at the counter while she cuts up a salad. She is also collecting information for a cookbook that she is putting together.
During a recent fundraiser for the harness house at Not Your Average Joe's in Glen Mills, Corey was standing in a professional kitchen.
There were certainly days during the last five years when Corey's dream of becoming a professional chef seemed far away. Marie explained, “The objective with everything that Corey does now is to get her to do it for herself and to get her to be independent. Ultimately, all of this will be to get her back in a kitchen to be a chef.
For more information about the Go Baby Go Cafe or the harness house, contact Devina Kumar at firstname.lastname@example.org.