Betty Bacalu has been a trailblazer. She is the director of Community Clubhouse for Brain Injury, of Akron, Ohio, one of only 15 “clubhouses” in the nation for people with traumatic brain injury (TBI).
Her connection with TBI began in May 1997. “My son fell out the back of a moving pickup truck and his head bounced off the pavement,” said Bacalu in a telephone interview. “He was doing what they call ‘wind surfing.’ It’s when someone stands in a pickup truck while the driver swerves back and forth. They were just fooling around.”
In 2008, about 1.5 million Americans experienced a traumatic brain injury (TBI), most often from an automobile or bicycle accident, fall, contact sports or violence. About 80,000 of the most seriously injured will have substantial, long-term functioning losses. It’s the leading cause of long-term disability in children and young adults.
Among other challenges, Bacalu’s son Lloyd, age 34, has right-side body weakness along with aphasia, a decreased ability to comprehend and speak language. “The first 18 months after the injury he had five operations, and after waking up from the fifth he was only able to speak one or two words instead of a full sentence,” she said.
After a period of personally questioning God, Bacalu finally came to a point of acceptance. She decided to make the best of a difficult situation.
At first, she became involved in a support group. Then in 2003, she founded Akron’s first TBI clubhouse. It’s open four days a week, and gives 20 people with TBI a safe place to regain some work and social skills. “After coming home from the hospital (following a TBI), often you lose your job, driving skills, and your friends,” she said. “That’s what happened to my son, and I saw that repeated in other people with brain injuries.”
The clubhouse fills a need. It receives funding from foundations and private donors, and labor and financial assistance from a community health center.
As for further helping Lloyd: “I also pick up my son three days a week to help with shopping, office visits and bill paying, ” she said. “He also has a home health aide coming in four days a week to help with cleaning and cooking.”
The U.S. needs more TBI clubhouses. All starting one takes is a person with a heart for people with traumatic brain injury, she said.