Headway member Wilbert 'Wil' Young at Banks Street Service Station, where he does vocational training.
When it comes to brain injury recovery, neuroplasticity is one of the most critical processes and gives hope to people living with these injuries. Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to reorganize itself throughout life, producing new connections and pathways, which means if a part of the brain becomes damaged, other parts of the brain can compensate for the injury and restore function.
One of the keys to neuroplasticity is stimulation.Headway participant, Wilbert ‘Wil’ Young, shows us what neuroplasticity and stimulation is all about.
Wil served as a mechanic in the US Army and National Guard from 1994 until 2019 until he acquired a traumatic brain injury of unknown origins. For months, Wil received treatment in a California rehabilitation hospital and was unable to communicate who he was or where he was from. Eventually he recovered enough to identify himself and was reunited with his family in New Orleans.
Despite his homecoming and reuniting with his mom, Wil was still largely uncommunicative with limited motor function. His parents found out about Bastion’s Headway program and Wil joined it in 2020. Wil began attending the group sessions and one-on-one therapy with Headway’s occupational therapist, Rachel Schwenk.
“He’s made significant strides and improvements in his brain injury recovery,” says Rachel. “He was practically nonverbal when he first arrived and now is communicative, friendly and enjoys the camaraderie of the Headway group.”
During one OT session in his Broadmoor neighborhood, Wil and Rachel combined exercise and photography, which was part of the disposable camera workshop led by photographer/artist Fanny Garcia, who is also a veteran.
Wil stands next to his award-winning photograph.
Wil’s photograph of an abandoned bus was displayed in an exhibit at the New Orleans Photo Alliance, and later won first prize in the color photography at the local Veterans Affairs’ arts festival. And just a few weeks ago after displaying the photo in another exhibit, Phelps/Dunbar purchased the photograph and it’s now permanently hanging in its law offices.
“That was fun. I liked that,” says Wil. “I feel like an artist.”
Wil is also regaining his automotive mechanic skills from his days in the service. As part of Headway’s vocational skills training, Wil and Rachel have been spending time at the Banks Street Service Station, and he has been working with owner Tommie Thurmond and the other mechanics on brake repair and other jobs.
Wil says that the experience has been kindling old memories, stimulating him to remember things he used to know, and he’s thankful that the Headway program continues helping him in his recovery.
“It’s great. It actually helps you harness your abilities and brings out the best in you.”