MADISON, Wis. - UW has become the first hospital in the Midwest to create a Brain Injury Peer Visitor program that brings together former brain injury patients with those currently being treated in the Neurosciences ICU unit.
"There's a commonality that I can't share with them. I've always tried to practice, as a nurse, as if this were me or my family member, but you can never put yourself in someone's shoes until you actually are in it," said Jodi Atwell, nurse case manager in the Neurosciences ICU unit.
Atwell started the Brain Injury Peer Visitor program at the request of a former brain injury patient, Rodney Noll. He recovered from his brain injury at UW Hospital, but participated in a long-distance Brain Injury Peer Visitor program that originated in Georgia. He believed the benefits he received from talking with someone who understood the challenges that come with a brain injury would benefit patients at UW Hospital.
"Unless you've been through it, I guess, a good example would be guys will never know what it's like to carry a child and no matter how much we read, how much they tell us, we're never going to have a clue, basically, and so unless somebody is really close to somebody that is going through it, there's just no way you can understand," Noll said.
UW Hospital has six volunteers working in the Brain Injury Peer Visitor program. Five of the volunteers are former brain injury patients at UW Hospital, and the fifth is the caregiver of a former patient. The volunteers visit with current brain injury patients and their families. They answer questions, listen and, maybe most importantly, let the patient know they are not alone.
"I'm able to say that, 'Hey, I was a patient here lying flat, couldn't really do much of anything, and now I'm able to come back and help encourage people. Hey, I'm taking it one day at a time, you can do the same,'" Noll said.
Chris Loeffler, a current brain injury patient in the Neurosciences ICU unit, visited with Noll and Michael O'Malley, another volunteer, and said it made him realize others have dealt with and overcome the same challenges he faces.
"The most important gift that people who have had this injury get is to know that we are not alone," Loeffler said.
O'Malley was a patient in the Neurosciences ICU unit in 2011 and said there is a satisfaction in helping current patients.
"I feel more free now, and it's really because I've gone full circle," O'Malley said.