From: News and Views | City Beat | Monday, March 26, 2001

Brain Power Eases Pain

Clem Richardsont contains all that we are: speech, vision, smell, memory, the way we walk and sing.

Which is why a lot can and often does go wrong when the brain, the body's central processor, is injured.

"The brain is like pudding, surrounded by a protective shell," said Dr. Paul Berger-Gross, neuropsychologist at St. Mary's Hospital for Children. "If an injury can force its way past that shell, the effect on the brain can be very traumatic."

Health care officials estimate that about 62,000 people in the metropolitan area suffer some type of brain injury each year.

That means thousands of people — mostly children and the elderly — face the often hard work of recovering from or learning to live with physical or mental changes that will never go away.

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Kayla Menucha Fogel recovered from her own head injuries to create the Brain Injury Society.

Kayla Menucha Fogel was one of the lucky ones.

Then again, sometimes you make your own luck.

The Brooklyn mother of two grown children was wearing a helmet while she was riding her bike at Avenue J and E. 19th St. in September 1995.

"I was riding down the middle of the street because I ride my bike like I drive," Fogel said.

As she paused at the corner, a truck passing on her left caught her head in its passenger-side mirror.

The driver either didn't hear or heed her screams, and when he drove off she went down, banging her head on the pavement hard enough to split the helmet in half.

"I was lucky," she says of that day. "I had injuries to my back and the right side of my head, but no frontal lobe impact. Frontal lobe impacts tend to produce more changes in personality."

Even after three months recovering, Fogel noticed that her balance was still off. "I walked like a drunk," she said.

She also had vision problems that would not go away.

"I saw three of everything," she said. "I'd see three lines of the same text, so I read the middle one."

Fogel found herself going from hospital to hospital in her search for help.

"No group gave me the information I needed, which was where to go to get help and what treatment to look for," she said. "I was one of the successful few in finding treatment because I knew something was wrong and made sure I got it fixed."

By the time Fogel had secured adequate help for herself, she decided to do the same for others.

She founded the Brain Injury Society in her basement in 1996, incorporating it the following year.

The society is a kind of clearinghouse for information on acquired and traumatic brain injuries that provides everything from medical referrals to counseling and education on treatment regimes.

That might sound like a lot for a group with three full-time staff members and 10 volunteers. But Fogel seems to have enough drive to move a city block. Consider this: She earned four academic degrees from Brooklyn College after her accident, and is now pursuing a master's in social work at New York University.

Fogel said she visited every hospital, nursing home and permanent-care facility in the metropolitan area that specializes in treating brain injuries so she could personally evaluate each. She then rounded up some of the top doctors in town specializing in brain trauma and asked them to sit on the Brain Injury Society board.

"She found all of us, then she created a system of forced labor," Berger-Gross said with a grin.

The society has a Web site ( and an office at 1890 E 5th St Suite 3S (Sam) Brooklyn, Ny 11223, where a monthly newsletter, Pathfinder, is turned out.

A Medical Center will be open within the complex shortly.

The Web site gets hundreds of hits a week, while the office averages 30 calls a day.

The group sponsors a brain injury awareness symposium and workshops in the downstate area in affiliated training with the hospital.

What Fogel really hopes is that the Brain Injury Society can help erase some of the stigma that still surrounds brain-injury victims, who often display radically different behavior before and after their injury.

"If you tell people you have a brain injury, I guarantee it will scare the people you tell," Fogel said. "The person's behavior can be affected; there can be personality changes."

Berger-Gross said, "People don't know what to expect from you, but then we don't know what to expect from people who have not had a brain injury either."

But the trauma is even more devastating for the victim.

Fogel compares it with bumping your head on a kitchen cabinet. "For a few minutes afterward, you can't speak, can't see, can't communicate," she said. "You have to hold on to something to be able to stand up.

"Now imagine that that feeling doesn't go away."

Tracking the Causes of Injuries

The two major categories of brain injury:

Acquired Brain Injury
An internal disturbance of the brain by physiological changes such as stroke, anoxia, a growth, tumor, certain diseases, aneurysm and/or removal of a portion of the brain. The term includes Traumatic Brain Injury, which is defined as an insult to the brain caused by preventable or unavoidable rapid external movements.

Traumatic Brain Injury
Often caused by accidents and assaults involving external forces against the skull. These include motor vehicle incidents, sports and recreational injuries, physical assaults, domestic violence, shaken baby syndrome, falls and bullet wounds. Consequences can include cognitive, speech, hearing, taste, smell, balance/vestibular, vision and physical mobility dysfunctions, as well as pyscho-social, behavioral and emotional impairments.