Navigating the healthcare system is a tough road to travel, add in a head injury and the road becomes filled with potholes and obstacles. Head injuries are called invisible injuries for a reason, as many people, including doctors, do not recognize the symptoms and often dismiss concussions as a bump on the head after brain bleeding is ruled out.

To help victims of head injuries become survivors and to instill HOPE into their daily vocabulary, the Brain Injury Hope Foundation put together a panel of doctors, therapists and healers for its fourth installment of the 2018 Survivor Series luncheons.

The April 13, 2018, session at Rocky Mountain Human Services in Denver and grant-sponsored by the Spalding Hospital Volunteer Foundation featured:

  • Nancy Bonifer, PT, DPT, MS
    Specializes in physical therapy.
  • Robert Gardner, Audiologist
    Specializes in hearing and how it relates to brain injuries.
  • John Hughes, DO
    Specializes in traumatic brain injury rehabilitation.
  • Beth Fishman McCaffrey, OTR, COVT
    Specializes in visual and occupational therapist.
  • Shawn VanWinkle, DC, DACNB
    Specializes in integrative neurology.

“Many injuries don’t show up on imaging – MRI, CT scans,” VanWinkle said. “We work on specific treatments for each individual. We re-establish function and work on the health of the nervous system.

“Do not let anyone tell you this is as good as it gets,” he explained. “It’s a marathon, and it’s really hard. BUT you can get better, and you will get better.”

Van Winkle uses a variety of techniques to assess the body as a whole in his approach to treating TBI, including traditional chiropractic adjustments or joint manipulations.

Balance and vestibular reflexes, cognitive processing, along with hearing and visual acuteness are just a few of the body functions he evaluates at his practice at Colorado Integrative Neurology. After the evaluation a personalized planned is drawn up to help the individual recover after years of ineffective treatments.

“Most patients come to our office already having exhausted most medical options and have been told they now need to learn how to live with their symptoms and loss of function,” VanWinkle says on his website. “I love seeing their faces light up with hope when they learn they still have options for better function and health.”

McCaffrey, who suffered, survived and is thriving after a head injury, focuses on vision therapy at Hellerstein & Brenner Vision Center, P.C.

“We look at how you see, how your eyes take in information and process that information,” McCaffrey explained. “After a head injury most people become sensitive to light and easily become fatigued. We see how we can change your vision by certain lenses, prisms, even colored tints.

“Have you ever been in a grocery store and you shut down? It’s too much visual stimulation. So we will use tape on glasses, like blinders on a horse. We use photo light therapy and color combinations to calm or boost the system. If you are on a computer, tinted glasses can help. And colors can help you sleep.

“There are all sorts of things we look at to get you back on track,” she said.

Along with too much information coming through the eyes, over-stimulation of the auditory system can be a problem after a head injury.

“Increased sound is overwhelming,” said Gardner, an Audiologist and owner of The Hearing Clinic. “Background noise, the loudness, your mind is measuring everything and you become agitated by the sound … Through sound therapy we train the brain to relax – Handel’s ‘Water Music,’ baroque music soothes the limbic system and breaks the cycle.”

Other paths to recovery Gardner takes are using devices to block out noise and then reintroducing stimuli (sound).

“You have to start putting stimuli back into the system,” he said.“Recovery takes time. We help get people get back to their lives.”

Neurological physical therapist Bonifer of Dynamic Recovery Physical Therapy takes into consideration a patient’s sensitivity to light and sound when working with a victim of a brain injury.

“We are a small clinic so we have more control over the structured environment,” she said. “Have you ever been in one of those large clinics and someone is over here riding a bike, and someone over there is working on weights? It can be overwhelming.

“We work one-on-one with patients. We can dim the lights. We can take the clock down if the ticking is bothersome. We get to know our patients and what accommodations work for them. We also go over their at-home exercises in such a way that they are understandable, and that could mean making a video of them doing the exercises, instead of giving someone a paper with stick-figure diagrams.”

Bonifer also incorporates neuromuscular re-education, core stability training, gait training, balance retraining, and vestibular rehabilitation among other therapies in her practice.

“We get people mobile,” she said.

Hughes of TBI Therapy compared the brain to a computer system – hardware vs. software.

“We upgrade the hardware,” he said. “If you are running Windows 10 on an old computer it won’t work efficiently. It will be slow and sometimes shut down. You need energy to repair your brain. When you are tired you yawn to take in more oxygen. This is why you are fatigued. You are suffocating. Your brain needs oxygen – two to three times more oxygen after a brain injury. It’s like you are living at Mount Everest.”

Hughes, who uses hyperbaric oxygen therapy, cited numerous studies that showed how increased oxygen to the brain increases blood flow to the brain and increases cognitive function along with many other factors.

Along with HBOT, Hughes uses a patented approach that incorporates intranasal adult stem cells, intranasal platelet rich plasma, intravenous nutrition, cranial osteopathy and a ketogenic diet to help patients.

“It’s a unique approach,” he said. “We are trying to generate neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to reorganize by forming new neural connections).”

Hughes also stressed being positive and surrounding yourself with positive people instead of people or groups that don’t give you hope.

“It’s not an easy path,” he said. “You can get over this. You don’t have to label yourself as a brain injury. It’s an endurance race not a sprint.”

Another therapy that was discussed at the session was Brainspotting, a technique used to release memories of the traumatic accident, along with depression. Upsetting memories are stored deep within the brain and the body. BSP helps to process and release these memories because it acts on the deeper level of the autonomic nervous system as well as the limbic or emotional brain. For more information on Brainspotting please visit The Rocky Mountain Brainspotting Institute.

The average mainstream healthcare worker and doctor went to school 10 to 30 years ago, Gardner said.

“They will tell you nothing can be done,” he said. “Find people who have kept up with the latest therapies. You can get better.”

Many of those attending the luncheon series were curious if these new therapies can help someone who suffered a brain injury five, 10 or even 20 years ago.

“Up until recently we didn’t see brain injury patients until they were 12 to 15 years out,” McCaffrey said, “and we have seen results with these patients. It takes a little longer, but we do see results.”

“We can help,” added VanWinkle. “There can be more challenges, but you can always do something to help.”

So don’t take “that’s all we can do” for an answer when it comes to your brain rehabilitation and health. It can be a long road but there is HOPE and there are healers who can help you as you travel this healing journey.

By Eliza Marie Somers

April 13, 2018, Survivor Series Panel

Dr. Nancy Bonifer, PT, DPT, MS
Dynamic Recovery Physical Therapy
6638 W. Ottawa Ave.  #115
Littleton, CO 80128
Fax: 303-979-0374  email:  [email protected]
Download Dr. Nancy Bonifer Handout

Dr. Robert Gardner
The Hearing Clinic
90 Madison Street, Suite 201
Denver, CO 80206
303-322-0054     email:  [email protected]
Download Dr. Robert Gardner Handout

Dr. John Hughes, DO
TBI Therapy, LLC
150 Old Laramie Trail E, Suite 120
Lafayette, CO 80026
303-447-1257  email:  [email protected]
Download Dr. John Hughes Handout

Beth Fishman McCaffrey, OTR, COVT
Hellerstein & Brenner Vision Center, PC
Registered Occupational Therapist and Certified Optometric Vision Therapist
Sensory Integration Certified
7400 East Orchard Road, Suite 175S
Greenwood Village, CO 80111
Fax:  303-850-7032  email: [email protected]
Download Beth Fishman McCaffrey Handout

Dr. Shawn VanWinkle, DC, DACNB
Colorado Integrative Neurology
8321 S. Sangre de Cristo Rd. Suite 100
Littleton, CO 80127
Fax: 720-306-3554
Office email: [email protected]
Dr. VanWinkle’s email: [email protected]
Download Dr. Shawn VanWinkle Handout