Berkshire Arc's brain injury work sparks new opportunities

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LEE — Deb Lindsey can't wait to rise from her wheelchair and ride a Harley-Davidson again.

A stroke victim seven years ago, the 52-year-old self-described motorcycle mama is learning to walk again at Nu-Opps, Berkshire County Arc's newly established brain injury day program. The Westfield woman learned of Nu-Opps, shorthand for "new opportunities," while she was a resident at a nursing home in Leeds.

"This is a great program. The people are fantastic as everyone is so helpful, especially Liz," Lindsey said referring to program director Liz Bartini. "She works hard and pushes you when you don't want to."

Bartini's persistence with Lindsey is paying off after six months in the program. "[Deb's] posture is so much better using the parallel bars than using a walker," she said.

Lindsay's upbeat attitude made her a good candidate for the program, according to Mike Turner, Nu-Opps special projects coordinator. "I thought she was motivated to walk again, and she has a great sense of humor," he said.

In all, 21 people from all walks of life are enrolled in Nu-Opps, which opened last summer in BC Arc's Center for Development in the Quarry Hill Business Park off Route 102. Agency officials say it's one of the few day programs in Massachusetts serving people with brain injuries.

BC Arc has always had brain injury programs at its residences, but found a need to reach those outside their network.

"This is a holistic approach to get these folks back on their feet and active in the community," said Debbie Caiola, director of BC Arc's Lee facility.

There are over 67,000 new cases of traumatic brain injuries in the commonwealth, according to the Brain Injury Association of Massachusetts.

Turner said brain injuries can be acquired through a stroke, heart attack or unforeseen accident or by poor choices such as failure to wear a seat belt, general recklessness and brain damage from opioid abuse.

Nu-Opps staff say their program is designed to meet the specific and unique needs of people with brain injury, and includes both formal and informal work on cognitive and memory skills, fitness and health. Nu-Opps also provides client opportunities to show their creative side through in-house programming and partnerships with various community organizations, such as Community Access to the Arts and the Williamstown Theatre Festival.

One artistic endeavor, based on the Unmasking Brain Injury Project, involved 13 attendees creating expressive masks of who they were before and after their life-altering injury.

Josh Aldrich, 34, loved to go to the movies with his friends and girlfriend in high school, before a car accident left him paralyzed nearly 20 years ago.

He wasn't wearing a seat belt.

Aldrich, who can't speak, communicates by spelling out words and sentences using a cardboard keyboard. In describing his mask, he explains how movie ticket stubs about the face reflect his love for the movies. He chose material for the reflective eyes because he doesn't want people to see what he's become. The artwork includes a seat belt, which is Aldrich's way of telling others to always buckle up.

The young, wheelchair-bound man still holds out hope for his future.

He writes, "I have a goal, though, to take a new girlfriend to the movies when the time is right."

Aldrich is also a big hockey fan, proudly showing an Eagle reporter the Boston Bruins jersey he was wearing.

Kathleen Ryan, injured at 18 when she fell off a roller coaster, is another passionate Bruins supporter. "Oh, I watch every game," said the Housatonic resident.

Ryan is very upbeat and writes that her sparkly, yellow mask represents how carefree she was before the accident and hopes people still see her that way today. "When people look in my eyes, I hope they see a good woman with a spicy personality who is wild and free," she said.

As Lindsey, Ryan and Aldrich got bundled up, ready to board their ride home after a busy day at Nu-Opps, Aldrich had one final thought for the Eagle reporter.

"Have a good day," he spelled out using his cardboard keyboard.

Dick Lindsay can be reached at rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com and 413-496-6233.






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