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Sara Kerr Reges, RN, Brain Injury Services at MedStar National Rehabilitation Hospital (NRH) in Washington, D.C.

July 2013

In 2011, Dr. Elizabeth Chabner Thompson founded BFFL Co. (“Best Friends for Life”) to help improve patients’ post-op experience and prepare them for the post-op recovery process. After her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, Dr. Thompson underwent prophylactic mastectomies to help minimize her personal risk of breast cancer. Her experience in recovering from this surgery was what led her to begin working in the reconstructive surgery practice and inspired her to start the BFFL Co.

The Breast BFFLBag® and axillapilla® were launched in 2011 to enhance the breast cancer patient experience. Elizabeth and her best friend, Sara Kerr Reges, RN, then created the Neuro/Brain BFFLBag® for patients recovering from traumatic brain injury, brain trauma, concussion, brain tumors and stroke. This month we spoke with Sara about the inspiration behind the Neuro/Brain BFFLBag® and how she feels the bags have helped enhance patients’ rehabilitation experience.

Q. What was the inspiration behind the Neuro/Brain BFFLBag®?

A. Six years ago, one of my sons was hit by a car and suffered from a traumatic brain injury. After the accident, he was on life support for two weeks and hospitalized for three and a half months. His recovery really was a miracle – he was half paralyzed and unable to talk, but he ended up walking and talking out of the hospital. After that, I became very passionate about brain injuries and very involved with different facets of brain injury, from working with Wounded Warriors to working directly with Children’s National Medical Center. Now I work at MedStar National Rehabilitation Hospital (NRH), where we treat brain and spinal cord injuries.

I’ve known Elizabeth since I was a little girl, and after she developed the Breast BFFLBag®, we decided to work together to develop the Neuro/Brain BFFLBag® to help patients recovering from traumatic brain injury and concussion, stroke and brain tumors. The admissions staff at MedStar NRH now helps me distribute the bags to our patients.

Q. How did your role as a nurse help with the process of developing the Neuro/Brain BFFLBag®?

A. Working closely with brain injured patients and being a parent of a survivor gave me incredible insight into what items would be necessary for patients to begin healing. I also knew what comfort it would bring patients to have a care bag waiting for them to help give them a running start in the recovery process!

Q. How has the Neuro/Brain BFFLBag® helped patients recovering from traumatic brain injuries?

A. Patients and their families often feel helpless and out of control when going through the recovery process for a brain or spinal cord injury. I know how I felt after my son was hit by a car, and in a traumatic situation like that, your sense of control is the first thing you lose – you don’t have time to run home to get anything.

When I give the Neuro/Brain BFFLBag® to patients, it helps them regain a sense of control and feel better prepared for the rehabilitation process. They feel a greater level of comfort and security knowing that they have everything they will need in one bag. It’s been so nice to be able to provide that for my patients.

Q. In your opinion, what are some of the most important components of the Neuro/Brain BFFLBag®?

A. As part of the Neuro/Brain BFFLBag®, we developed whiteboard communicators which help patients better communicate with doctors and nurses. It has basic needs on one side of the board – signs that indicate the patient is happy, cold, hungry, or needs to use the restroom – and on the other side, the patient can write whatever he or she needs to communicate. The board is a crucial part of the Neuro/Brain BFFLBag®, as many times a patient’s speech can be impaired from brain injury or stroke.

There’s also a place for patients to keep business cards of all of the physicians, therapists and nurses they work with during the rehabilitation process. That way, if they need something, they can more easily remember the name of the person they need to speak to.

The bags we distribute at MedStar NRH include a personal letter from me that provides more information about brain injuries, as well as things that the family can do to help support the patient. The letter also tells the story of my own son and how miraculous his recovery was, which often helps give them a greater sense of hope.

Q. What type of response have you seen from patients who have received the Neuro/Brain BFFLBags®?

A. We have received so many unbelievable “thank you” notes from patients. They are always so grateful to have the support tools they need for recovery. Sometimes patients who come in for outpatient therapy are still carrying their bags! It’s a sense of pride for them and helps them identify with other brain injury or stroke patients within the hospital.

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