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Patient stories and concussion research to highlight Brain Injury Awareness Month

Hamilton Spectator
by Steve Buist

In the blink of an eye, Donnie Rama's life changed forever.

On Dec. 6, 2013, Rama fell off a scaffold while working at his construction job and suffered a brain injury.

He spent the next 14 months immobile in a bed in the living room of his Kitchener home, dependent on his family members for everything.

Now, with the help of Shirley Martin, an advanced rehab therapist with Hamilton Health Sciences' acquired brain injury program, Rama is slowly putting the pieces of his life back together.

"It's a struggle every day living my life," said Rama, 23.

Donnie's story is now going to unfold on video as part of a series produced by HHS to highlight Brain Injury Awareness Month, which began June 1.

The five videos in the series will roll out from June 6 to 10 on the HHS website and related HHS social channels.

Three of the videos will feature the stories of patients, such as Rama, who is now able to walk again but still struggles with speech impairment, memory issues, depression and anger.

"You want to be normal again," said Rama, "but you can't from a brain injury because it stops you from doing the things you used to do."

Martin works with Rama three times a week to help him regain some of his lost functions.

"Every brain injury is different," said Martin. "He's still healing and it's really hard to say what the prognosis will be."

One of the videos in the series will feature the concussion research being conducted by Dr. Michel Rathbone, a neurologist affiliated with HHS and McMaster University.

Rathbone's work has been exploring the possible causes of the symptoms that often linger in the wake of a concussion, known as post-concussion syndrome.

"Some people with very mild brain injuries have quite severe symptoms," said Rathbone. "You can also see some people with quite severe head injuries who seem to be doing very, very well."

The lingering symptoms can include headache, dizziness, fatigue, memory problems, anxiety and depression.

Rathbone's work suggests the symptoms could be a response to inflammation cause by certain types of proteins that begin circulating in the blood. Finding a way to treat these inflammatory by-products could alleviate the chronic symptoms that plague those people who struggle with the after-effects of a concussion.

Rathbone is even proposing a new name for the problem.

 "What we call post-concussion syndrome in many cases may be post-inflammatory brain syndrome," he added.

Rathbone says he's identified a chemical compound that he believes might counteract the inflammatory proteins at the heart of the problem. He's hoping to put together a clinical trial to test the product.