BOONE—March is National Brain Injury Awareness Month and a time when many at Appalachian State University have a renewed focus on serving students, faculty or staff who may have incurred a brain injury from a fall, motor vehicle accident, sports or other causes.
The theme for the month is “Not Alone,” according to the Brain Injury Association of America’s annual awareness campaign that provides a platform for educating the general public about the incidence of brain injury and the needs of people with brain injuries and their families. The campaign also provides outreach within the brain injury community to de-stigmatize the injury, empower those who have survived and promote the many types of support that are available.
Mary S. Shook Student Health Service on campus reported that in 2015 they treated 182 students with concussions. The primary factors contributing to the incidents were participation in winter sports such as snowboarding, skiing and sledding, intramural sports and motor vehicle accidents.
The effects of a brain injury can be short term or long term, affecting a student’s ability to complete coursework or an employee’s ability to engage in work-related activities.
Brain injury from a student’s perspective
Students with a brain injury receive support from the university’s Office of Disability Services.
That’s the office Victoria Coggins turned to after incurring a concussion her junior year when her head hit the door frame of the car she was driving when it was hit by someone driving while impaired. The accident occurred just two days before she was to return to school in January 2014 after the holiday break.
The accident, which happened in mere seconds, forced Coggins to withdraw from school for a semester. She is still being seen by a neurologist because of the effects of the concussion, which include a reduced attention span and being easily distracted. But in spite of that, Coggins continues to thrive at Appalachian. “ODS told me they had dealt with similar injuries before and had programs in place to help me resume my classes,” Coggins said.
Coggins, like other students with brain injuries, is allowed extended time to take tests and in a setting that reduces distractions. She also has a reduced course load, taking only 12-hours a semester.
“School is very different for me now,” Coggins said. “I can’t sit through my hour and 45-minute long classes without taking a break because I ended up with ADD-like (attention deficit disorder) tendencies as a result of the concussion.” Writing also has been a problem because as Coggins said, “I can’t write well anymore; the letters don’t work, but I can type on the computer.” ODS worked with Coggins’ professors to allow her to use a computer to complete tests. Her computer also has voice-recording software that she can use to capture class lectures and discussions.
Coggins sees improvement in her condition from her first days back following the 2014 accident. Her professors do as well. “It’s been nice to hear from my professors who knew who I was before the accident who have seen improvement,” she said.
Coggins hopes to teach kindergarten after she graduates from Appalachian. While many people find constant classroom noise a distraction, for Coggins the children’s activity acts almost like white noise since it’s pretty much constant.
In the community, MindMatters, a therapy group for individuals with acquired brain injury (ABI), meets each Tuesday at University Hall off Blowing Rock Road. Participants share information about living with brain injuries, develop strategies to aid cognitive and linguistic difficulties and provide educate and support to the group, led by Louise Keegan, an assistant professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders.
The group has several activities planned in March to raise awareness about acquired and traumatic brain injuries. They include information sessions March 1 from 10 a.m. to noon at High Country Lanes, March 15 in Plemmons Student Union and March 22 at Chick-Fil-A. An a cappella fundraising concert is being planned for later in the month in the student union.
For more information about MindMatters, visit http://mindmattersboone.wordpress.com.
For more information about brain injuries, visit http://www.biausa.org.
The Brain Injury Association of North Carolina operates centers across the state. To learn more, visit http://www.bianc.net.
About Appalachian State University
Appalachian State University, in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The transformational Appalachian experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and embrace diversity and difference. As one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina system, Appalachian enrolls about 19,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.