UIHC Brain Registry studies traumatic injury recoveries


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When she looks in the mirror, Tara Fall doesn’t recognize her own face.

She doesn’t recognize her own children or remember the face of anyone she meets.

Fall, who lives in Menifee, Calif., suffered a stroke after surgery at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics for epilepsy in 2003. As a result, Fall has prosopagnosia, the inability to remember faces.
“I’ve scared myself many times,” said the 36-year-old Iowa native.

But this ordeal has not made the mother of two bitter. Instead, she donates her time, participating in research through the Iowa Traumatic Brain Injury Registry at the UIHC. Through the registry, researchers are able to study the progress of brain-injury survivors undergoing treatment.

Melissa Duff , director of the registry and a UI assistant professor in the neuroscience interdisciplinary graduate program, implemented the program in January.

“We’re going to be studying people who have these kinds of injuries and long term do a better job of predicting who is going to get better,” Duff said.

Since the registry began, it has grown to 15 patients. Duff said she hopes the program can have 20 to 30 patients by the end of the year.

To study the effects of brain injuries, researchers administer non-surgical tests to examine patients’ memory, language, and emotion. Family members provide feedback about changes in the patient’s behavior.

“The long term goal of the project is to follow people over time and look at the outcome,” Duff said. “Who goes back to work [and] who has difficulty in relationships.”

Duff said over time, the registry will examine how brain-injury survivors handle the aging process.

The research subjects are not paid, but each brain scan costs roughly $500 per hour, Duff said. The registry received a grant from the UI MRI Research Facility in May to cover those costs, and it will seek future federal funding.

According to the Brain Injury Association of Iowa, more than 70,000 Iowans live with a long-term disability after suffering brain injuries, and more than 2,500 Iowans per year are hospitalized after sustaining a traumatic brain injury.

Geoffrey Lauer, the executive director of the Brain Injury Association of Iowa, said the Iowa Traumatic Brain Injury Registry is important because it links patients to services they can use during treatment.

“I think it’s a great initiative to increase our knowledge about the short- and long-term outcomes from traumatic brain injury,” he said.

The association provides information and resources to patients in effort to provide awareness about brain injuries.

“I’ve had such a great life compared with what people with brain injuries have had before because of the work that researchers have done,” Fall said. She maintains a blog about her experiences.

She will never recover from prosopagnosia, but she uses her condition to raise awareness about traumatic brain injury and the registry.

“I’m paying it forward,” Falls said.

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