Monday, February 21, 2011

With our help, the brain-injured can thrive - by Judge Jim Gray

One of the true embarrassments of our times is that there is no facility in the western United States where brain-injured adults can live, receive appropriate medical care, engage in meaningful employment, and thrive up to the limits of their abilities. There are some facilities for mentally disabled people, but their needs are almost always quite different than the brain-injured. This situation is not known by many of us, but it is drastically known by people who have brain-injured family members and friends.

A local nonprofit called Brain Rehabilitation And Injury Network (B.R.A.I.N.) is working to create a campus like this for brain-injured adults. To be successful, it will need to range from five to 10 acres in size, have both male and female sleeping quarters, and facilities for food service, recreation, medical services and relaxation. It will also need to have places where these wonderful but often fragile people can engage in productive employment.

B.R.A.I.N. was founded by Sue and Jerry Rueb and their daughter Jana. The Ruebs have a daughter/sister who sustained a brain injury during a forceps birth delivery more than 30 years ago. So over the years they have tried to find a caring facility that would meet the medical needs of their loved one, and simply concluded with much pain that there were none available.

But creating such a facility is a daunting task. So the Ruebs have organized what they call "Think Tank 2011," which will be a symposium to provide awareness and information to families and caregivers of brain-injured adults, as well as to the community at large.

The symposium will be held from 12:30 to 5:30 p.m. March 27 at The Grand in Long Beach.

There will be presentations by Dr. Todd Clements, a psychiatrist and medical director of the Clements Clinic in Plano, Texas, on identifying and treating brain injuries; Dr. Bennet Omalu, a forensic pathologist from UC Davis, on the long-term effects of repeated impacts to the head in American athletics; Debbie Edwards, an experienced family caregiver, on practical care for the brain-injured at home; Dr. Earl Henslin, a psychologist, on brain injuries and relationship health; and Angela Mandas, a speech pathologist, on how computers can help to train our brains at home.

If you would like to attend, please contact B.R.A.I.N. at (714) 625-7225, or visit its website at This will be a truly worthwhile learning experience.

Every 21 seconds, someone in the United States sustains a brain injury. Of the 1.5 million people affected yearly, 50,000 die, but more than a million are treated and released from a hospital. Back in society, they often appear normal on the outside, but on the inside they are living with a whole host of devastating issues. Why? Because when your brain isn't working right, things mostly do not turn out favorably.

So generally how do brain-injured adults live? Not very well. In fact, many of them are living in places where you would not even want to house your pet. Furthermore, lots of these people are merely existing because there is no purposeful work available within their individual competency level.

And, as I have seen throughout my years on the bench, many brain-injured adults also end up in the criminal justice system, either by "losing it" and acting out due to the frustrations of the moment, or by "self-medicating" with illicit drugs. Either way, and as I hope you know, both the Los Angeles and Orange County Jails have become some of the largest "mental health" facilities in the nation. And, unfortunately, in addition to being the most expensive option for the taxpayers to address these situations, being in jail often inflicts untold damage upon these mentally and physically fragile people.

A brain injury can happen to any of us. Recent examples that have received lots of public attention are Bob Woodruff of ABC News, who sustained a brain injury from a bomb explosion while on assignment in Iraq, and Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Tucson, Ariz., who was shot in the head at a political gathering. Fortunately, these wonderful people are blessed in having sufficient resources to take care of themselves. But most people are not so blessed, and they need our help.

If you have a family member or friend with a brain injury, please treat the good folks at B.R.A.I.N. as a partner and a resource. And if you are one of those motivated individuals who want to help others who are simply not able to help themselves, please be a resource for B.R.A.I.N.

Our society needs a place where brain-injured adults can be secure and can thrive. There are many people among us who have been brain-injured in their daily lives, and also many of our military veterans who are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with brain injuries sustained during their tours of combat. So in addition to affected families, we are also approaching institutions that understand the realities of brain injuries, such as the National Football League, the National Hockey League, college athletics organizations, and medical care facilities to partner with us in this huge project. If you know or have influence with these or any similar organizations, please let us know.

Brain-injured adults will be able to thrive within their limitations if we can provide a facility that will address their needs. And they should have one — not because we have to, but because we want to. So please come help us, and be a part of something truly challenging, gratifying and wonderful!

JAMES P. GRAY is a retired judge of the Orange County Superior Court who is affiliated with B.R.A.I.N., the author of "Wearing the Robe: the Art and Responsibility of Judging in Today's Courts" (Square One Publishers, 2010), Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed and What We Can Do About It, A Voter's Handbook, Effective Solutions To America's Problems and can be reached at or Judge Jim Gray is also currently offering his 25 years of experience on the bench to ADR Services in Orange County for Arbitration and Mediation services.

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