Four Staters with brain injuries turn to each other for support

In recognition of Brain Injury Awareness Month, a Joplin wife and mother who suffered permanent brain injury in a car accident hopes her story reminds people that brain injuries do not discriminate, and to be more patient when stuck behind someone with a brain injury in the future.

According to the Brain Injury Association, 1.7 million people sustain traumatic brain injuries in the U.S. each year. The National Brain Injury Association says about 3 million Americans live with lifelong disabilities as a result of brain injuries.

Joplin resident Katie Thuerauf suffered a permanent brain injury in a 2007 car accident. She says it hasn’t been easy keeping her family together since then.

“I feel like there was a person who was in that accident, who that person died, and I’m a different person now, and no matter how hard I try, I can’t get back to being that person,” Katie says.

She says a support group at Joplin’s Independent Living Center once a month has helped her and others like her cope.

“The friendships, and know that I’m not alone, because a lot of times I feel alone,” Katie says.

Justin Messner says Alternative Opportunities in Southwest Missouri helps people like Katie deal with feelings like that. Among other things, they help more than 100 individuals in Southwest Missouri with brain injuries find employment and gives them rides to places like the YMCA or Joplin mall when they need a little social interaction.

“A comfort socially is critical in development and redevelopment, and being successful in life, so feeling as though you’re accepted when you are out in the community, maybe one of the most important aspects of what we do,” says Messner.

Now, Katie wants to take that concept a step further. She wants more options for people like her and is starting a new group of her own to help others with brain injures have more opportunities to interact.

“A social group, just to get together with other people with brain injuries,” says Katie. “Once a week, in a comfortable environment, sit around, and talk and shoot the breeze and play games or whatever.”

Katie says her social group will meet at the downtown YMCA in Joplin on Wednesday’s from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. starting in April.

For more information on brain injuries visit Brain Injury Association of Missouri and Alternative Opportunities Inc.