JENNERSTOWN, Pa. — Connie Zanoni used to have a great memory.

She worked in an eye doctor’s office and remembered patients’ Social Security numbers. But she lost all that when she injured her brain when she fell backward one day and hit her head on a log splitter. She felt like she lost a bit of herself that day. It made it difficult to be a mother.

“My daughter, who was with me when my accident happened, had a very difficult time handling the loss of me,” Zanoni said. “The things we used to do and share changed and I didn’t have a sensitive comprehension level. Her happy, easygoing mother struggled with anger and depression and this created distance.”

Every year, about 2.5 million people in the United States suffer a traumatic brain injury, and an additional 795,000 sustain an acquired brain injury from non-traumatic causes. TBIs can affect the functionality of the brain_affecting thinking, reasoning and memory. To raise awareness about it, the Brain Injury Association of America recognizes national Brain Injury Awareness Month every March.

Zanoni, of Jennerstown, recently shared her story in Hope Magazine, a national publication that supports people with brain injuries. In the article she wrote, she described her happy life full of faith and emotional support prior to her injury. Those things helped her cope with her injury.

“I think our story is about hope after that,” Zanoni said. “Because you are very desperate with your brain injury. First off, people think you’re normal because it doesn’t look like there’s anything wrong with you. And they look at you funny because you say things that are out of the ordinary. My husband is usually the only person who knows if I’m having issues.”

Zanoni, who is a member of the Maple Spring Church of the Brethren in Hollsopple, is not the only person in her congregation who has struggled with brain injuries. Cathi Neuhof, of Hooversville, sustained a TBI when she was in a car accident years ago. It changed Neuhof’s life as well.

Neuhof has sticky notes all over her house to remind her of things, including which stove handle controls the front or back burner.

“I think it really impacted me when my youngest daughter went to college,” Neuhof said. “I didn’t realize how much I relied on her. I never had anyone for backup like unplugging my curling iron. I had bad panic attacks and I had to relearn everything for myself.”

Neuhof is frustrated at feeling smart and dumb at the same time.

“I feel like I have a filing cabinet there, but I can’t get the drawers open,” she said.

Zanoni has done a number of things since her injury to lead a fulfilling life. She enjoys crocheting and working with kids, the latter of which really helps her engage with people.

“If you say something stupid in front of kids, they laugh and you do, too,” Zanoni said. “Working with a child who doesn’t judge your disability brings you a lot of joy.”

Neuhof, who works at North Star elementary school, said she felt the same way.

“Kids don’t know if you make a mistake,” Neuhof said. “I don’t talk too much to adults because I’m afraid of saying something stupid.”

Zanoni and Neuhof want to see more educational efforts about brain injuries to prevent them. Kids should be taught to have helmets in any major physical activity in which concussions are possible. She also thinks people should always wear a helmet and keep their car clean and free of excess possessions to reduce the chance of an injury should an accident happen.

Zanoni said she thinks that brain injuries are something you don’t ever fully overcome. You learn to deal with it.

“I feel like if you really want to take a step toward healing yourself with a brain injury, you have to focus on other people,” she said. “For me, prayer shelves got me giving back. Now I crochet hats. God may have stripped us and made us all new. But he did give us abilities and talents that we can help others with.”


Online:

https://bit.ly/2GNvp68


Information from: Daily American, http://www.dailyamerican.com