Brain Injury Day Treatment Program Helps Friends Ride Toward Recovery

Unique program helps people with traumatic brain injuries get back to the things they love

San Diego cyclists experience recovery and new friendship thanks to Brain Injury Day Treatment Program at Scripps Encinitas.

“I don’t remember the days leading up to the accident, or the days after,” P. Marino recalls, trying to piece together her accident. “I was with my mountain biking team and we don’t know if it was operator error, technical error or nature, but given physics, body weight, it ended with a face plant. And that’s how I got a new face.”

“No fair!” shouts Jayne Geisler, sitting next to Marino. “She got a face lift out of it!”

It’s not hard to tell why these two are friends if you’ve spent any more than a few minutes with them. Thelma and Louise come to mind. Marino and Jayne have a bond that is tangible and spiritual, and humor plays a huge role in it. It was smiles, laughter and a shared love for cycling that brought them together back in 2014 while recovering from separate cycling accidents in the Brain Injury Day Treatment Program at Scripps Memorial Hospital Encinitas.

Unique care for each unique patient

As one of the few facilities in Southern California that is internationally accredited for brain injury rehabilitation by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities, Int., the Brain Injury Day Treatment program is uniquely qualified to care for people with traumatic brain injuries (TBI), including concussion and other head injuries, as well as stroke and other neurological disorders.

Therapy for brain injury patients includes a combination of physical, occupational and speech therapy, audiology and social services. All therapy is tailored to each patient’s individual cognitive, physical and emotional needs in order to help regain independent living skills and return to the community and work or school.

Returning to the community

The treatment program uses all that Scripps Encinitas’ rehabilitation department has to offer. From multiple gyms to help regain strength, balance and coordination, to state-of-the-art gait lab, robotics, certified driving program and a therapy team that are experts in the field of brain injury rehabilitation, participants have access to everything they need to reach their goals.

“Outings in the community as a part of therapy allows our patients to rehabilitate the skills needed to return to their life before their injury,” says Jessica Martinez, supervisor of rehab therapies and the brain injury day treatment program. Individualized return-to-work or –school plans are developed for each patient, and education and support is provided for a smooth transition.

Supportive structure to regain independence

Patients partake in an expressive art program that includes drawing, journaling and creative writing along with group sessions to help with their thought processes and cognitive skills. “All three of those were structured in such a fashion that we learned from each other as patients,” says Marino. “One thing I’m glad I heard was one patient sharing their experience during the writing program, how people don’t see their injury. ‘I don’t see your injury. What’s wrong with you?’"

“That question hadn’t been posed to me yet in my recovery,” Marino adds, “but fast forward and I finally went through it and I recalled what they did to get through it, how they coped with it, and what our professionals here at Scripps gave them as guidance to cope with it. I applied that to my own situation.”

Ongoing community care

Brain injury treatment doesn’t end when the program does. There is also an outpatient support group that meets twice a month. In this group, participants celebrate their successes and milestones in recovery, discuss challenges, share solutions and ultimately connect with others who are in the same situation.

“Group members report that meeting others who understand what it is like to have a brain injury helps to bring new hope and optimism for the future,” shares Andrea Schwarb, LCSW, community program coordinator for the brain injury day treatment program and outpatient therapies.

An unmistakable connection

Two cyclists, one loving the adrenaline and views of mountain biking, one craving the speed and cunning of road biking, Marino from the South Bay and Jayne from Oceanside, may never have met if it weren’t for their accidents. But each says their recoveries would not have been as significant if they didn’t have each other.

“Jayne understood my desire to get better,” shares Marino. “Besides her personality, she has experience being a mom and she also has experience with her own daughter who had a really severe illness. With that, she held my hand. She wasn’t my mom, but she immediately became my sister. I could go to her and just talk to her about certain things that I didn’t quite feel as comfortable talking to someone else about.”

“Marino was this great personality with, as you can see, this really warm smile — a whole face smile — and it was this instant bond,” remembers Geisler. “It wasn’t so much the bike; I mean it was a total plus that we both were into biking, but there was just something on a different level that we both connected on.”

Conquering fears

The first time the two women actually rode their bikes together was a moment neither of them will ever forget.

“We rode at the beach together and we were like two old ladies, yelling at each other, ‘You got your helmet on!?’” Geisler says smiling. “And then it was like two little kids going ‘Weeeeeeeeee!!!’ We had the ocean, the sun and the breeze — everything we love about life. It was just free. From where we had come, it was amazing.”

“It was liberating,” adds Marino. “What it meant to me was success. I feel elated to have conquered my fears that were imprisoning my passions.”

Learn more about Scripps Health, a nonprofit integrated health system in San Diego, Calif.