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Building a Bridge: Overcoming Obstacles After a Traumatic Brain Injury

November 1, 2012

From the outside, one house near downtown Charlottesville looks like any other house on the street. Chairs line the front porch and bags of freshly-raked leaves lean against the white picket fence guarding the property. But what's going on inside the home is changing lives.

Charlottesville resident Robert Maute had a cancerous brain tumor and stroke when he was just seven years old. Nearly 30 years later, he is still dealing with the effects.

"For what my son has been through, both my wife and I feel that we should give him every chance he can possibly have," his father, Fred Maute, said.

They hired a placement service, giving them a 400-mile range to find the perfect next step for Robert.

"After about two weeks, they came back to us and said, 'You won't believe this, but the place that we recommend for him is in Charlottesville.'"

This weekend, his son will become the newest resident at a home run by Building a Bridge, one of Charlottesville's best-kept secrets.

Despite living here for a dozen years, the Mautes had never heard of the non-profit specializing in adults with traumatic brain injuries. But to those familiar with Building a Bridge's unique model, it's not surprising.

"There is basically no other organization like ours," executive director Daniela Pretzer said.

Adults with traumatic brain injuries get individualized support while living together with staff, like a family.

"While I'm the staff person, I really view them as my housemates," residential counselor Beth Elliott said. "We shop together, we cook together, we disagree about recipes together."

Maute said, after doing his research, the family-style living is the best fit for his son, but he noted there aren't many options out there to choose from.

"I think, as a society, we've more or less forgotten those with brain injuries," Fred Maute said. He said the wide range of possible complications involved with brain injuries makes survivors' care and needs difficult to comprehend.

"With other programs, I think people with traumatic or acquired brain injuries tend to fall through the cracks," said Elliott. "Other programs may focus on another disability or a combination of issues. This is the only program that really focuses on the needs of someone with a traumatic brain injury."

For residents like Ted Drake, that means support tailored to his specific needs.

Building a Bridge has helped him gain the independence he needs to live on his own. As Robert Maute gets ready to move in, Drake is moving out and into an apartment of his own, a goal he has had since joining the program.

"It's going to be wonderful for me because it'll be so close to here, and I can grab them whenever I need to go to the store or any other place," Drake said.

Drake is an example of what Building a Bridge is striving to prove.

"[A] brain injury does not mean this is the end of the world," said Pretzer. Pretzer said, no matter how long ago the injury occurred, given the right environment and support, progress is possible.

"We've had residents who were in a coma for four months and the family was told their loved one would basically be a vegetable the rest of their life," Pretzer said. "That is just not true. I've seen it. People come out of it. They move forward. And sometimes the steps are small; they're baby steps, but they're steps forward."

Steps in the right direction, helping adults with traumatic brain injuries cross the bridge to independence together.

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For more information about Building a Bridge or to donate to the non-profit, click here.


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