Synapse House gives survivors of brain injury a place to go

  • Chris Zinski, right, suffered a brain injury in 2012 but was left at a loss after "graduating" from therapy. His wife, Pattie, next to Chris, co-founded Synapse House to help those with brain injuries connect with the community and find purpose. The couple has four children, Max, from left, Grace, Elena and Adela.

    Chris Zinski, right, suffered a brain injury in 2012 but was left at a loss after "graduating" from therapy. His wife, Pattie, next to Chris, co-founded Synapse House to help those with brain injuries connect with the community and find purpose. The couple has four children, Max, from left, Grace, Elena and Adela. Courtesy of the Zinski family

 
By Pattie Zinski
Wheaton
Posted4/23/2015 8:00 AM

What do you do if you are 52 years old -- too young to retire yet too impaired from a brain injury to return to work?

Our family faced this dilemma. My husband, Chris Zinski, was an accomplished corporate, banking and finance lawyer with the Chicago-based law firm Schiff Hardin when he collapsed at his office in the Willis Tower on a Monday afternoon in September 2012.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Chris moved from Neuro ICU at Rush University Medical Center through acute rehab at the Rehab Institute of Chicago to subacute rehab at Providence Health Care in Downers Grove to home health to day rehab and outpatient rehab at RIC's Willowbrook facility to having graduated from therapy. While Chris relearned to breathe, swallow, walk and talk, he suffers from significant impairments in memory and cognition, vision disturbances including double vision, and poor balance.

We found ourselves completely adrift after Chris graduated from therapy. Two years after his injury, Chris needed something to do other than sit home and watch TV all day but lacked the physical and cognitive skills to return to a traditional work setting.

When I asked our rehab doctor what people do after they graduate from therapy, she told me, "Most people stay home." Another rehab doctor told me we could talk to local churches to try to find something for Chris to do.

A therapist running a support group for the brain injured told me about a woman named Deborah Giesler who was trying to form a clubhouse in the Chicago suburbs to address the long-term challenges faced by victims of brain injury. Two weeks later we had lunch. Deborah told me about the clubhouse model for survivors of brain injury, where members do the real work of the organization, including managing the business, fundraising, cooking lunch, and engaging in wellness activities.

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Directly from lunch, we went to a church in Wheaton and asked for space two days per week. The reality of Synapse House began to take shape. Through a series of fundraisers, including the Harvest Moon Gala last November, we raised enough money to sign a lease to rent an old pizza restaurant in Elmhurst. We are presently completing the renovations and plan to open by May 1.

For Chris, and for so many others, staying home is a terrible answer. You can't feel productive and engaged in life staying home. You can't develop relationships and life skills staying home.

The Synapse House Clubhouse in Elmhurst serves survivors of brain injury, whether acquired through trauma, such as a car accident, or illness, such as a stroke or brain aneurysm. Its mission is to address the long-term needs of its members by offering productive, engaging work in a structured, supportive setting whether for one month, one year or many years.

Check us out at synapsehouse.org and support us April 25 in the Human Race.

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