Doctors diagnose 1.7 million people with traumatic brain injury each year in the U.S.; 33,430 of them are Iowans, and their survival rate is increasing. More than 100,000 Iowans currently live with disabilities related to brain injuries: the man who sits in the pew behind you; the woman who distributes small slips of paper to people that she meets to help them understand her struggle with aphasia. The motorcyclist whose mind works faster than his tongue and who has a goal of leaving his wheel chair to walk with a cane. The high school athlete injured in a game. The veteran injured in a roadside bombing in the Middle East.
They are men, women and children — from infants to senior citizens. Brain injury does not discriminate. What they share in common: a life jarringly impacted by a brain injury due to accident, illness or violence. Because insurance coverage often ends when rehabilitation appears to have plateaued, patients leave the hospital quicker and sicker and return home unprepared for a new normal.
So the responsibility falls on caregivers, family members or others, who must negotiate changes in behavior, emotions or cognitive thinking while striving to help the person with a brain injury rebuild his or her life. Some will be able to return to work or school, with guidance from professionals who understand brain injury.
Enter Empower House, a unique nonprofit clubhouse whose goal is to help adult brain injury survivors reconnect into life, the community and workplace. Empower House, the first brain injury clubhouse in Iowa, opened earlier this year in temporary quarters at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport. You might call it a clubhouse under construction because supporters need to raise funds to purchase, furnish and staff a permanent home for Empower House, to be located along a bus line.
How urgently is Empower House needed? Ask the family of middle-aged Bob Boyd, a member of Our Lady of the River Parish in LeClaire, who survived brain tumors and seizures and lives with dementia. He spends a couple of days a week in a program designed for senior citizens with dementia. His family can’t afford additional days, but can’t risk leaving him home alone all day while his wife, Sheila, works.
Empower House is not a faith-based program, but its founders believe their mission is divinely inspired. God calls all of us to be the hands and feet of Christ in service to others. We can build Empower House into a program that enhances the lives of adults with brain injury and serves as a resource for future brain injury clubhouses throughout Iowa. Here’s a list of some building tools needed:
• Prayer. Missey Heinrichs, one of four founders of Empower House, believes that God’s nudging brought it into existence. Our prayers can build on that foundation.
• Advocacy. Contact our state representatives and senators to support funding for Empower House and future brain injury clubhouses in Iowa.
• Donations. Visit the Empower House website at empowerhouseqca.org.
• Volunteers. Empower House is looking for volunteers to assist in a variety of ways, including on the working group. Anyone with a passion for helping to enhance the lives of individuals with a brain injury is welcome. Board members are also needed, Missey said.
• New members. Empower House welcomes adults with a brain injury to join the clubhouse. Family may accompany the member. Invite someone or attend a clubhouse meeting on Thursdays at Sacred Heart Cathedral from 3:30-5:30 p.m. each week.
• Participation. Attend the first major fundraiser for Empower House: a Barn Dance and Family Fun Night on June 29, from 5-11 p.m. at Blisswood Barn, 24880 145th Ave., Eldridge. Admission is $20 for individuals 13 and older; $10 for children 6-12; and free for children 5 and younger.
• Information Contact empowerhouseqca@ gmail.com or call Missey at (563) 357-0871 for additional information.
Empower House will be “a genuine place to learn and recognize how people recover and live with challenging and chronic conditions,” says Geoffrey Lauer, executive director of Brain Injury Alliance of Iowa. “But for the grace of God we’re all temporarily able-bodied.”
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor