Recovering from brain injury, one therapist sought a support group – and decided to team up with her neurologist at Good Samaritan Hospital to create a new one.
By Melissa F. Pheterson
As seen in the November/December 2019 Issue of Advancing Care
Negotiating for hostages, fighting sex trafficking and empowering women through technology were among the skills that Aimee Rubin had acquired throughout her professional life.
The Haverstraw therapist and clinician holds two master’s degrees and had worked at the World Bank, helping give women and children resources to rise from poverty. But life skidded to an abrupt halt on the night of August 9, 2017, as five deer crossing the highway stopped traffic – except for the distracted driver behind Rubin who slammed into her car at 65 miles per hour.
“It just took one second for everything I had accomplished to come undone,” she recalls.
Rubin was transferred to Good Samaritan Hospital, a member of the Westchester Medical Center Health Network (WMCHealth) in Suffern. Although the MRI and CT scans of her brain were normal, her clinical examination was consistent with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).
“Most damage with traumatic brain injury is on the microscopic level,” explains Mill Etienne, MD, the neurologist and Director of the Epilepsy and EEG Laboratory at Good Samaritan Hospital, who treated Rubin. ”There is typically damage to the connections between the brain areas. A good analogy is that the bridge or cable that connects two places is broken, which makes it difficult for information to get across from one part of the brain to another.”
In the following days, Rubin began to experience a disorder called post-concussion syndrome. “Aimee had the classic symptoms: headache, memory loss, dizziness and balance problems,” explains Dr. Etienne. “She also had a problem with her eye movements that was likely contributing to her symptoms.”
Rubin, so well-versed in communicating with and advocating for others, struggled to form complete sentences. “I couldn’t even read a clock; I didn’t know my name,” she says. “I struggled to talk, walk, breathe, read and even see. The amount of pain – both physical and mental – was sometimes unbearable.”
Dr. Etienne arranged for Rubin to have rehabilitation at Good Samaritan Hospital, citing its comprehensive TBI recovery program. She received physical therapy to regain strength, vestibular therapy to address her dizziness and balance issues, occupational therapy to control her eye movements, and cognitive therapy to rebuild her memory and concentration. “Our program provides all those elements in one place, so patients do not have to drive or find transportation to multiple sites,” Dr. Etienne says.
Westchester Medical Center . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 914.493.2363
Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital . . . . . . . . . . . . . 914.493.7000
MidHudson Regional Hospital . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 845.483.5951
Good Samaritan Hospital . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 845.368.8808
HealthAlliance Hospital . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 845.483.5951
Launch, lead, learn
Over her months of recovery, Rubin struggled to find her footing – and her voice. “I felt alone and depressed, struggling to express my thoughts and scared I wouldn’t regain anything,” Rubin says.
She asked Dr. Etienne if there was a TBI support group at the hospital, and he said that he had been interested in starting one. Rubin suggested they do it together, and he agreed to support the endeavor. “He was able to see my positive attributes and past my disabilities,” she recalls. “Even at my lowest point, he believed in me.”
“Because brain injury is an invisible wound — unlike a broken arm or broken ankle — people have difficulty comprehending why someone who looks perfectly fine could be so impaired; yet, their lives have changed dramatically,” he says. “I knew a support group would be best run by someone who had suffered a traumatic brain injury, who could identify with the members. Given Aimee’s background in social work, I believe she is the perfect person for this role.”
The group had its first meeting in April 2018, with Rubin and Dr. Etienne leading sessions together. They created a safe environment for survivors to share stories, learn coping skills and form friendships. With monthly meetings at Good Samaritan Hospital, the group — which recently became affiliated with the Brain Injury Association (BIA) of New York — draws survivors and caregivers from throughout the Hudson Valley.
“Having a patient-therapist and neurologist lead the TBI support group is a model that’s original — and, I would say, ideal,” says Dr. Etienne. “Together, we dispel myths, teach members about their brains and help them find new ways to excel with their deficits. Most importantly, we serve as a reminder that the best outcome is achieved when patients and physicians work together, with an open line of communication. Aimee has been a great role model for the members.”
Guest speakers include physicians, therapists and speech pathologists discussing breakthroughs, treatments and clinical trials. Neurology students from New York Medical College also attend.
Rubin now works at Good Samaritan Hospital leading the support group, and at another Hudson Valley facility counseling individuals with traumatic brain injury. One day, she plans to open her own practice focused on brain injury.
“Our support group members have formed an amazing bond,” says Rubin of the 20 regular attendees. “When someone shares their struggles, others will respond, ‘Yes, I can relate. This is my experience; here are the tools I used.’ In a short amount of time, we’ve made big strides.”
Visit us at Good Samaritan Hospital, a member of Westchester Medical Center Health Network, to learn more. Advancing Care. Here.
Photo by Toshi Tasaki