HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - More than two million Americans sustain brain injuries each year. There are few programs in Hawaii that help patients transition from hospital and acute care into the community, but we found one that helped change them - right before our very eyes.
Through the Brain Injury Association of Hawaii, transformation happens. 56 year old Carl Debo is teaching 22 year old Consolacion "Ching" Mongco to swim.
The pair couldn't be more different. Carl is an attorney and former teacher. Ching is former college student. The two were brought together by both hardship and hope.
Three years ago, Carl suffered a stroke. Everyday life as he knew it would never be the same. He became introverted, and finding the right words can still be difficult. He was slow to respond in our interview.
Around the same time in 2009, Ching left a party with her ex-boyfriend who she says had been drinking. They got in his car. He started racing another driver, lost control, and flipped. Ching was badly hurt. "I was in a coma for, like, one month," she said. She still uses a crutch to walk.
When Ching and Carl heard about a pilot program for people suffering from brain injuries, they applied. Hawaii has little out there to help survivors transition into the mainstream.
"It will give us something to have a structured program after brain injuries, relearning. So relearning how to talk, relearning how to communicate, social skills, you know, our brain controls everything," said Mary Wilson, the Executive Director of the Brain Injury Association of Hawaii.
1.7 million Americans sustain traumatic brain injuries (TBI) each year, according to the Brain Injury Association of America, and almost 800,000 have acquired brain injury from non-traumatic causes. More than three million have lifelong disabilities due to TBI, and 1.1 million have a disability due to stroke.
At the outset of this program, participants were asked to state a goal. "I always wanted to learn how to swim. I live in Hawaii and I don't know how to swim!" Ching said with a laugh.
Carl used to be an instructor but hadn't been swimming since his stroke. He volunteered to teach her. And the man who, just minutes before, had struggled for words during our interview, spoke to Ching like he'd never suffered a stroke. His words were clear and came out smoothly.
Somehow, Ching's spirit to learn and Carl's willingness to teach are helping both brain injury survivors – thrive.
The BIAHI is looking for new applicants and funding for its program. For more information, go to its website, www.biausa.org/Hawaii.