Holes in VA Brain Injury Care

advisory committee on OIF_OEF Veterans and Families

Last week Erin took a short trip from Kentfield (Marin Co.) to the VA Hospital in Palo Alto to meet with the Advisory Committee on OIF/OEF Veterans and Families.  The VA hospital in Palo Alto is home to one of the four VA polytrauma rehabilitation centers in the United States.  The other three being in Minneapolis MN, Tampa FL and Richmond VA.  One of the specialties of the polytrauma centers is acute care and rehabilitation of patients with traumatic brain injury (TBI).  After Sam was stabilized last year, he was transferred from the National Navel Medical Center in Bethesda Maryland to the VA Polytrauma Center in Palo Alto.  He received wonderful care at the VA facility and Erin was very impressed with the doctors and loved the staff at the facility.  There was only one problem—After being in Palo Alto five months, and still in an “emerging state of consciousness” Sam wasn’t improving enough to move on from the coma stimulation program to the next level of therapy (called C-trip) at the Palo Alto Polytrauma Center.  We were very fortunate (with the help of the doctors and social workers at the Palo Alto VA hospital) to get Sam transferred to the Kentfield Rehabilitation Hospital in Marin County (about 1 hour north of Palo Alto).   Sam has made wonderful improvements since being at Kentfield and he has been fortunate enough to be under the care of Deborah Doherty, MD who has been the Medical Director of the Brain Injury Rehabilitation Program at Kentfield Hospital since 1985.  She has been a wonderful blessing to both Sam and Erin and is widely known throughout the West for her work in treating brain injury patients.

Erin found herself standing before the Advisory Committee last  Wednesday.  It is comprised of retired Generals, other high ranking officers and even the mothers of some wounded soldiers.  Erin told her story and at a certain point was asked, “why did Sam have to leave the VA hospital in Palo Alto?”  Her answer was, “I wasn’t ever really clear on why we had to leave”.  As I said, there is a hole in the acute care and Sam and Erin_9_20_08_Kentfieldrecovery of brain injured patients at the VA polytrauma centers and it seems to be a problem across the board.  In fact, one of the committee members told Erin that they had heard the same story over and over again at other facilities they had visited.  Hopefully, the advisory committee will will take this information back to the secretary of the VA and they will do what ever is necessary to “fill the holes”.  And, as I said, Sam was very fortunate in being sent to Kentfield…it may very well be better for the slow to recover brain injury patients to be sent to places like Kentfield where there are civilian doctors with more experience working with severe brain injury.

Erin’s talk with the Advisory Committee went very well.  She said she was so proud of the fact that she was able to communicate exactly what she wanted to say without getting getting mixed up or fumbling for words.  Although there were other people at the meeting talking to the Advisory Committee, she found that they were focusing in on her and asking her opinion on many aspects of the care received at the VA hospital.

Sam’s medical status (from Sam’s father Eric):

I got to see Sam and Erin a couple of times this week; on Wednesday when she did her presentation at the VA conference in Palo Alto; and again yesterday when I had the pleasure to visit with Sam and Erin along with Tony and Julie. (Erin’s parents) I appreciate Tony & Julie so much…often times it is hard for an outsider to know which kid belongs to who as they love Sam dearly, and I love Erin like my own. Our Love for God, and for our kids; creates a bond that will last for the rest of our lives. Thanks to all of you who prayed for Erin at her conference.  Although she doesn’t love speaking in front of an audience, she felt she did well and underscored a point to the panel members about gaps in the care and rehab process. The panel was appreciative of her testimony and I’m sure will have a long lasting impact on policy and procedure of treatments for future brain injuries. I’m proud of her…

Bronx Cheers_9_20_08_KentfieldSam had a great week!  Even with a touch of UTI (urinary tract infection) and a mild cough, he attacked his therapies with vigor and enthusiasm. He broke his own records for sitting alone unassisted, raising himself while on his tummy, and even played checkers while standing in the frame. The most noticeable improvement was his ability to speak in sentences.  Erin and the therapists would ask him questions like name three countries, where in the past he would answer multiple choice questions.  Now he has to generate his own multiple choices.  He chose these:  Singapore, Jordan, and Syria…coming from the middle east, I guess I can understand the latter two, but Singapore? Ha! I was firing many questions to him on Wednesday, to largely test his memory; and when he didn’t know, I’d fill in the correct answers.  He responded, “I didn’t know that”!  But to many, his answers were right on.  I asked Erin yesterday how she comes up with so many ways to stimulate his thinking process, as sometimes I’m just amazed.  She said that sometimes their silliness to each other from prior to the accident is much material for their stimulation now, and besides she continued, it keeps me from getting bored…Ha! See the next picture where Erin is leading Sam in a Bronx cheer, or a duck call, if you will…It was funny to watch and hear…

Much love,

I too, am very thankful for Sam’s parents (Erin’s other mom and dad).  I couldn’t ask for more loving and caring people to be my daughter’s father and mother-in-law.

A quick note on our (myself and my wife Julie’s) visit to see Sam and Erin.  I don’t think I’ve laughed more on a visit to see Sam and Erin than I did this weekend.  We really had a good time—and both Erin and Sam kept us laughing.  While we were sitting outside on the porch at the hospital, a very pretty young blond walked by and Sam (always looking for a physical therapy opportunity) followed her with his head and eyes as she walked by.  It was so funny and wonderful to see him so “conscious” of a pretty young lady walking by.  Erin of course, asked him, “Hey Sam…were you checking her out?”  and he of course said, “No”.  Erin’s next question to Sam was, “who do you like better—blonds or brunettes”?  and of course his very quick answer was “brunettes!”.

Peace to all,


5 Responses to Holes in VA Brain Injury Care

  1. stacy lee says:

    I am so glad that he has a great week. I look forward to reading your updates on the kids. Thank you so much for sharing their story with us.

  2. Kris Abbruzzi says:

    WAY TO GO ERIN!! I’m positive that your story and the way in which you presented it had a profound effect on everyone that was there to hear it. I’m also positive that the effect will be long lasting and will have influence as decisions are made. All of your fans out there are sooooo proud of you!! 🙂

    And yes Sam you are continuing to kick butt! These updates are wonderful. With each one you are doing more and more. And keep your eyes on the brunette dude, you don’t want to be getting into any trouble! 🙂 Hee hee.

    God bless you Sam, Erin and your families. Thoughts, prayers, support and load upon load of Angel Hugs come your way every single day, and they always will.

  3. Carol Calloway says:

    This is one very convincing way for Sam to show that he is getting better–looking a pretty girl. Erin don’t worry about the looks as long as nothing else happens. It doesn’t sound like Sam would ever consider anything; he loves you too much for that.

    I have to respect you for the courage to get up and speak in front of all those people. It sounds like you did a great job. You are one very good wife and extremely supportive of Sam. It is also good to see that he really appreciates you too.

    God bless you both and know that you are in my prayers daily.

  4. Dana Williams says:

    Go, Erin! I’m sure you were awesome at the Advisory Committee. Sam is making excellent progress, in no small part because of your endless love and devotion.

    We miss you here on the East coast, but I’m so glad you are surrounded by family.

    Much love to all the Nichols’ and Neria’s!

  5. George Kovach, RN says:

    Dear Erin and Sam,

    I am sitting here in tears of gratitude…yes, I mean real tears…..I thank the dear Lord Jesus that he has let me come across your names, never letting you out of my heart. Whatever I may have failed to do as a caregiver for the betterment of you, my dear Sam, please know in your heart that EVERY single day of your life is a gift given directly to ME by the Lord Jesus Christ, and OH how I miss you and Erin SO much!! I just pray that somehow, through the knowledge and grace of the Holy Spirit, He would please let you guys know just how much I love you, and MISS you as if you were my own family. And I THANK you for every single moment that you have given me in the opportunity of helping you, in the smallest way that I possibly could, on your road back to the most wonderful happiness that I can ever imagine……the happiness and joy of a family who KNOWS just how much our Lord Jesus Christ loves you all, and continues to watch over each and every one of you this Christmas season.

    Please, always remember this……the badge of honor, thankfullness and joy over the priviledge of knowing both you Sam, and Erin, is a LIVING BREATHING badge that lives with me, and I will enjoy its warm breath of LOVE and HOPE every day that I am alive……. and it is ultimately YOU, Sam, and Erin, and your dear families that give ME a daily joy for life through Christ…….THANK YOU, and I would be HONORED to be counted among your continued friends, for I am your loudest cheerleader from the sidelines at every single milestone of your progress. You two have given me such a miracle, and THANK you for the HONOR of being a part of your lives!!!!

    George V Kovach, RN
    formerly of Palo Alto Polytrauma Center

    PLEASE forgive me that I could not have done more for Sam and you, Erin, that I was able to do….but that each day that God gave me with you has been a miracle…and I would consider it an HONOR of the greatest value if you would find it in your hearts to keep in touch. I need a miracle in my life, such as you two have provided me.

    Merry Christmas, and may our Lord Jesus Christ always shower you both with His ultimate and undescribable blessings……and please remember, this Holiday Season, that I have NOT forgotten…..I could nor would EVER forget, your sacrifice to ME, Sam and Erin…..and if there is ANYTHING….I mean ANYTHING in this world that you desire…….I consider it my honor to desire to fulfill it for you according to the desires and Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

    Only GOD knows how much I MISS you guys! PLEASE stay in touch, if you have time….and MERRY CHRISTMAS, my DEAREST Sam and Erin.

    With amazement, gratitude and love always,

    George V Kovach, RN

    I LOVE you guys, and PLEASE never forget what a grateful loving nation FULL of people just like me feel for you and love you and pray for you each and every day!

    Thank you…..you have TRULY blessed my life as few others ever have. God Bless You!


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