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PM&R Nursing Assistant Treats TBI Patients at Work and Home

PM&R Nursing Assistant Treats TBI Patients at Work and Home

By Hillary-Anne Crosby

Surprisingly, Kaitlynn Collins will tell you that 2020 was the best year of her life. She gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. She took advantage of the ample time spent safely at home to pursue a new career as a certified nursing assistant. And she began working at the Craig H. Neilsen Rehabilitation Hospital.

“People don’t love 2020, but I got a baby and a new job that I absolutely love,” she says. “2020 was kind of my year!”

While it was a big year, the events that led Collins to this point loom even greater. Seven years ago, her father was in a car accident. Despite the lack of any visibly serious injuries, it wasn’t long before the family began to notice the tell-tale symptoms of traumatic brain injury (TBI), including short-term memory loss, changes in emotion, and a new tendency to fixate. Always a self-described “daddy’s girl,” Collins needed to learn extra patience for her father’s new mood swings—and how to provide new kinds of support for her mother.

Just one short year later, she put those newfound lessons to the test when her future father-in-law experienced a traumatic injury of his own. During his treatment and recovery at University of Utah Health, Collins played an invaluable role in helping her boyfriend’s family not only adjust to the changes but understand and embrace them.

“We wouldn’t wish a TBI on anyone, but we wouldn’t change it for the world either,” Collins says. “We’ve learned so much.”

She remembers clearly the amazing care team who gave the family so much information, answered all of her future mother-in-law’s questions, and provided invaluable physical therapy. So in the spring of 2020, she committed to becoming a certified nursing assistant and helping those who are working to overcome their traumatic brain injuries.

“I love my job—hands down. absolutely love it,” she says. “Because I have two men in my life who have traumatic brain injuries, it has helped immensely with how I got into this work—I know how TBIs can affect people.”

At Neilsen Rehabilitation Hospital, where Collins now works, patients receive world-class care for TBIs and many other life-altering injuries and conditions while recovering in a state-of-the-art medical facility. Made possible by a $47.5 million donation from the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation and a vision for a beautiful and inspiring space, the center looks and feels more like a fine hotel than a hospital. Patient rooms are spacious and fully customizable, and the picturesque Beth Hersh Goldsmith garden allows a space to relax and reflect. The rehabilitation center features an entire apartment replica so that patients can re-orient themselves to operating in home spaces—and one of the longest zero-gravity tracks in the U.S. so patients can learn to walk again.

So, knowing what she knows now, both professionally and personally, what advice does Collins have for families who have a traumatic brain injury in their lives? Understand that some things have changed and embrace the “new normal.”

“A family member will say, ‘She never did that before,’” Collins explains. “And, well, you’re right—maybe she didn’t do that before. But she does it now, so let’s talk about that.”

To help patients and their loved ones adjust to that “new normal,” the care team at Neilsen Rehabilitation Hospital provides a bounty of information and resources. Support groups, information packets, connections to mental, physical, and occupational therapists, and so much more are all made available for the transition. Of course, the richest resource of all is skilled and passionate health care workers like Kaitlynn Collins.

“It makes me a better rehab CNA because I’ve learned,” she says. “I’ve been through it. I’m able to step back and offer a different point of view. I understand what these families are going through. I can listen and be helpful.”