Brain Injury Association of Massachusetts offers hope, support

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By Bonnie Adams Government Editor
After suffering a traumatic brain injury in a snowboarding accident, Grafton resident Sean Rowell has made almost a full recovery. He is now an honors student at St. John's High School in Shrewsbury and volunteers his time as an ambassador with the Brain Injury Association of Massachusetts and in a program that helps the disabled learn to ski. PHOTOCOURTESYOFTHEROWELLFAMILY

Westborough – When a high profile citizen, such as Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, suffers a brain injury, it becomes front-page news. But each year, 1.4 million other Americans sustain a head injury of some type as well. When this happens, it can leave the patient and their family feeling frightened and alone.

No one knows this more than Westborough resident Arlene Korab, who is the executive director of the Brain Injury Association of Massachusetts (BIA-MA). That's because she has personally lived through every emotion a family goes through when a loved one suffers a traumatic head injury.

In 1980 Korab's son Kevin was a passenger in a car when the driver lost control. Kevin, who was not wearing a seat belt, suffered severe trauma to his brain and was in a coma for six months. He now lives in his own home where he receives round-the-clock care.

During those early days following her son's accident, Arlene bonded with a small group of other families who were going through similar circumstances and like her, were dismayed at the lack of support resources available. They formed an organization, the National Head Injury Foundation, which later evolved into the BI-MIA.

Now in its 30th year, the Westborough-based group is a clearinghouse of sorts for anyone needing assistance, such as veterans who have suffered an injury in Iraq or Afghanistan, athletes who have been diagnosed with a concussion, and those who have a brain injury as a result of an illness.

Each year BIA-MA holds a number of conferences that bring together survivors, their families and professionals for a daylong event featuring a number of seminars. This year's Annual Conference will be held Thursday, March 31, at the Best Western Royal Plaza Hotel in Marlborough. (Check the BIA-MA website (www.biama.org) for specific seminar descriptions and fees.)

“In the beginning we only had a handful of people attend – it was more like a support group,” Arlene said. “Since then we'se had many more professionals attend and seminars added.”

As a non-profit organization, BIA-MA receives funding primarily through conference fees, she said.

“But our services are free – anyone can call us and we will help you with information and referrals,” she added.

Grafton resident Kellie Rowell did just that when her son Sean suffered a severe head injury in a snowboarding accident at Loon Mountain in New Hampshire last year. Sean was airlifted to the Darmouth- Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, NH, before being moved to the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston. Fortunately he has made a nearly 100 percent recovery and in fact, is now an honors student at St. John's High School in Shrewsbury.

“BIA-MA is a great resource for families,” Rowell said. “A brain injury is a life-changing event. This group lets you know that you are not alone. It helps foster networking and friendships with people in the same situation that you are in.”

Now that he is better, “Sean really feels the most important thing he can do is give back,” she added.

As such, both he and his mother will be speaking to local groups as ambassadors for BIA-MA. And Sean has gone back to New Hampshire, where he volunteers with a group at Loon Mountain that helps the disabled learn to ski.

For more information about BIA- MA, visit the website www.biama.org or call 800- 242-0030.