Fighting for Kathryn: How One Mother’s Actions Made a Difference
Learning that a loved one has a brain injury can be a sobering and frightening realization.
Not only can the road to recovery be long and challenging, but navigating through the complexities of the health care system can be daunting and filled with roadblocks. Many times it is a family member–a husband, a wife, a parent–who steps up to lead the fight for their loved one to have access to the care they need. Joan Gelrud’s daughter Kathryn suffered a brain injury when she fell off of her horse Bella while attempting a jump. Joan became Kathryn’s biggest advocate and with the support and perseverance of her trusted confidant and ally, NeuroRestorative Clinical Evaluator Diane Triplett, Kathryn is finally receiving the right care on her journey to recovery.
Most horseback riders will tell you that the immense bond between a rider and their horse is nearly indescribable. The same can be said about Kathryn Gelrud and her horse Bella. When Kathryn began riding at the age of seven a lifelong love was born. At a young age, Kathryn had been diagnosed with some minor learning disabilities, including attention deficit disorder (ADD), and struggled in school as a result. Riding horses was an area in which Kathryn could excel and build her confidence. Her bedroom was soon filled with blue ribbons.
“Riding always came naturally to Kathryn,” said Joan. “When she rode she was in the zone.”
In January of 2008, 19-year-old Kathryn had just finished the second semester of her freshman year at Greensboro College and was home on break when she entered a local horse jumping competition. Typically a very methodical rider, Kathryn underestimated the last jump of the course and fell off of Bella, hitting her head. She was airlifted to the nearby University of Maryland’s Trauma Shock Hospital, and was diagnosed with a mild concussion and neck injury.
In the months following the accident, Kathryn experienced post-traumatic amnesia and was unable to recall certain events in the hours and days following the injury. In addition, she began to exhibit significant personality and behavioral changes, including poor judgment and impulse control difficulties–raising concerns for her parents about her safety. But it wasn’t until nearly two years later that Kathryn was diagnosed with a TBI.
Overwhelmed, but relieved to discover the true cause to her daughter’s challenges, Joan set out to find Kathryn treatment for her brain injury. She soon learned that a gap existed in the funding mechanism for brain injury resources in the state of Maryland. The waiver that provides funding for brain injury support services for adults requires that an injury occur after the age of 22, while the waiver for children requires the injury to occur under the age of 16. Because Kathryn was 19 at the time of her injury she was ineligible for both waivers.
“We felt helpless,” said Joan. “But when in doubt, keep trying. That became my mantra.”
When Joan met NeuroRestorative Clinical Evaluator Diane Triplett, something just clicked. Feeling an immediate sense of ease and trust, the usually guarded Joan opened up to Diane, pouring her heart out to her about the details of Kathryn’s story and the struggles they were having finding her the right care. Diane, the former Executive Director of the Brain Injury Association of Maryland and longtime brain injury advocate in the Chesapeake state, was well versed in the ins and outs of the state and helped Joan to navigate and understand the brain injury world. Together, the pair embarked on a phone and email campaign, reaching out to anyone and everyone who they thought might be able to help, including members of the Maryland state legislature as well as their Congressional delegation.
As a result of Joan and Diane’s perseverance, the state of Maryland established a TBI Transitional Youth Pilot Program for Kathryn and other individuals like her who did not meet the criteria for the existing waivers. In addition, Maryland’s TBI waiver for adults was amended to age 18.
“It was beyond amazing to hear,” said Joan. “We were at the end of our rope.”
With funding in place, it was finally time to choose a rehabilitation program that could best meet Kathryn’s needs.
“Kathryn needed a neurobehavioral program through which she could receive individualized treatment, including behavior modification and socialization skills,” said Joan.
In April of 2011, Kathryn began her rehabilitation at NeuroRestorative Virginia’s Blacksburg location where she learned practical and effective self-management strategies, allowing her to better manage her behaviors and reaction to everyday situations. She also received an array of other services, including occupational and physical therapy, and psychological services.
“Kathryn is finally getting the support she has needed for so long,” said Joan. “The people at NeuroRestorative really understand her and the challenges that her brain injury has caused. It just feels like home.”
After three months of rehabilitation through the neurobehavioral program in Blacksburg, Kathryn, now 23, made the transition to the supported living program at NeuroRestorative Maryland where she is able to live more independently, with the support of her therapists.
“Kathryn has built a strong foundation of skills that she acquired from her neurobehavioral program,” said Davonda Heyward, Kathryn’s case manager at NeuroRestorative Maryland. “She can now build upon those skills in addition to developing new ones as she progresses through the supported living program.”
NeuroRestorative’s supported living programs are designed to serve individuals, like Kathryn, not only as they move through the different phases of their rehabilitation, but as they move through the different phases of their lives. In addition, participants are encouraged to engage in personal interests and hobbies throughout their rehabilitative process. With support from her therapists at NeuroRestorative Maryland, Kathryn has secured a volunteer job at a local stable, where she is able to help care for the horses several days a week. She looks forward to one day reuniting with her beloved horse Bella.
“It hasn’t been a smooth road, but Kathryn is making progress,” said Joan. “We can now sleep at night knowing that she is safe and in good hands.”
Learn more about NeuroRestorative’s supported living programs across the country.