Annual SFU symposium on brain injuries held

Shortly after Kim Fisher’s daughter Nicole moved to Philadelphia in 2009 to study journalism or business, she was crossing Columbus Boulevard from an event at Penns Landing, when a vehicle going 65 mph struck her bike.

Nicole survived, and to look at her after 13 surgeries, you wouldn’t know anything so devastating had happened, but the impact damaged the frontal and temporal lobes of her brain. She struggles with decision making, judgment, short-term memory and mood control.

On Saturday, Fisher was at St. Francis University for the biannual Central Pennsylvania Brain Injury Symposium searching for help.

“I got a lot of input and ideas,” she said. “I thought the session was awesome.”

Nicole’s lack of judgment has led to some hair-raising situations, including a brief disappearance with a young man and a liaison with a registered sex offender that led to the birth of a baby last year, according to Fisher, who asked for help at a breakout session.

Nicole, 29, is currently at a neuro-restorative center, but the center has lost its funding.

A potential alternative restoration center in Philadelphia has only male clients, which could be a problem, given her judgment problems, Fisher said.

She could live in a group home or independently, with support, if only her State College family could find the right setting, Fisher said.

The family already knows of one potentially successful setting – a three-person group home with periodic daily supervision in Centre County, she said, but it’s filled to capacity and there are no vacancies expected.

And she’s had trouble getting traction with independent living, as that would require finding a willing landlord and a setup that guarantees Nicole would get her medications and supervision.

Still, Fisher was hopeful Saturday evening, having received contact information for Centre County officials she hadn’t heard about and for families “who are experienced in what I’m going through.”

Not that she was ready to give up before.

“I am a very determined, proactive mother,” Fisher said. “It’s going to work out, regardless [of] whether I went today or not.”

Nicole, likewise, is a fighter, she said.

Denny Minori of Blue Knob, president of the Brain Association of Pennsylvania, whose Brain Injury Symposium Committee put on the event, knows how Fisher feels.

In 2004, his daughter, Denielle, now 26, was driving in the Portage area when she missed a curve and slammed her car sideways into a utility pole.

The impact caused her brain to “stretch,” pulling apart and breaking “axons,” which are neural connectors, Minori said.

Her ability to talk was a casualty of the crash, and she lost her knowledge, oddly, of only the lucky number seven, according to Minori.

She didn’t however, lose one key language ability, a retention they didn’t know until one day her brother grew frustrated with her.

He was pointing at the stove, when he blurted out, “If you can’t say it, write it!”

And she did.

Denielle has since learned to talk, so much so that “we can’t get her to shut up,” Minori said.

She walks with two canes, however.

Their family gets funding through a state Department of Public Welfare “waiver” program called COMMCARE, for people with cognitive deficits living at home or in the community, but the program is “on hold,” which has resulted in a long waiting list for potential new clients, Minori said.

His group is trying to free funding so those waiting-list families can get help.

In Blair County, he’s also working with a group called Creative Living for Life to develop supported semi-independent housing options.

“That’s still in the very early stages,” he said.

The accident was “horrendous,” and his daughter still misses running and skiing, but she’s “happy-go-lucky” and puts a smile on the face of people who meet her, Minori said.

Still, he’s a parent, and there’s the concern he and his wife will be gone and she’ll be left without help, he said.

That adds incentive to find solutions, he said.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.