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JFK Johnson Among 16 'Model System' Sites

Carol Ann Campbell, Campbell Health Media

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has named JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute one of just 16 Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems (TBIMS) sites in the nation, a designation that includes a $2.1 million grant to conduct brain injury research over the next five years.

The designation prompted U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J. 6th District), ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-N.J. 9th District), co-chair of the Congressional Brain Injury Task Force, to visit the institute recently to recognize the achievement.

Pascrell, chairman of the Congressional Brain Injury Task Force, said he works to ensure funding of the program because he understands the need for continued research to help people with traumatic brain injuries.

"I'm especially excited that JFK Johnson is the recipient of a Model Systems grant," Pascrell said. "I won't stop fighting for important resources for individuals with traumatic brain injury. They need supports, services and quality health care, so you won't see me letting up."

Patients at Model Systems sites can participate in cutting-edge research projects and benefit from a higher level of resources.

Pallone and Pascrell toured the JFK Johnson Center for Brain Injuries and met with patients to hear their stories and learn about their recovery. They also talked to staff members who work directly with patients recovering from brain injury.

During the visit, Pallone and Pascrell observed patients obtain rehabilitation at the Brain Trauma Unit, a specialized unit for those recently injured by brain trauma. They also visited Independence Square, a section of the institute that simulates a typical community with sidewalks, a "grocery store," car and elements of a fully furnished home.

Each year, an estimated 1.7 million Americans suffer a traumatic brain injury, and 80,000 to 90,000 of them experience the onset of long-term disability, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. The Model Systems program advances medical and rehabilitation treatment to improve outcomes so patients reach the highest level of recovery possible.

The grants are awarded to institutes that are national leaders in brain injury care and research and come from the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, & Rehabilitation Research within HHS's Administration For Community Living. The grants can focus on innovative projects and also support research to evaluate and develop therapies and interventions.

"At JFK Johnson, we're committed to advancing what's possible for our patients with brain injury," said Sara Cuccurullo, MD, vice president and medical director of JFK Johnson. "We are so proud to once again be awarded this grant to help us research the most innovative and effective ways to help not just our patients but all patients with brain injuries."

This is the third time JFK Johnson has been designated a Model Systems site.

"With so many New Jersey families dealing with Traumatic Brain Injury, it is critical that we fund the research to develop the best treatments possible," said Pallone. "The JFK Johnson Center for Brain Injuries is a leader in brain trauma evaluation and treatment, and I am confident that its work will make a difference in the lives of so many facing this challenge."

Brian Greenwald, MD, director of the Center for Brain Injury at JFK Johnson, said brain injury affects the entire body.

"Your memory, your hearing, your ability to think — even swallow," he said. "Everything can be affected. We aim to get you better from head to toe. This grant will support research into the best ways to help our patients."

Keith D. Cicerone, Ph.D., director of Neuropsychology and Rehabilitation Psychology at the JFK Johnson and JFK Neuroscience Institute, will serve as project director and lead researcher related to the grant along with Dr. Greenwald and Yelena Goldin, Ph.D., a neuropsychologist in the JFK Johnson Cognitive Rehabilitation Department.

Model Systems are networks of hospitals and institutes across the nation that focus on improving recovery of patients with one of three types of injuries: burns, spinal cord injury, or traumatic brain injury. The Model Systems are federally funded.

For additional information, call 732-321-7733.