‘Every day is better than the last day’
In Dracut, a new rehabilitative home for the brain-injured
By Amaris Castillo
DRACUT — A heroin overdose forever altered Robert Francis Marcin’s life.
The North Andover native had fallen into drugs as a college student in Connecticut, where he was pursuing a bachelor’s degree in finance.
“I didn’t jump into heroin at first,” he said. “I started off with pills, and then I moved up to the heroin.”
Marcin overdosed in 2013 and suffered an anoxic brain injury — damage to the brain caused by a lack of oxygen. He was in a coma for three months and lost his ability to walk.
Marcin’s circumstances have now landed him at a new home for those who suffer from acquired brain injury run by the Mental Health Association of Greater Lowell Inc., in partnership with the state Department of Developmental Disabilities.
“Every day is better than the last day,” said Marcin, who receives therapy. “Persistence and determination are what it takes.”
The four-bedroom house at 10 Jones Ave. in East Dracut began phasing in clients in October. Marcin moved in mid-January. His room is painted a light green and is very tidy, with photos and his framed finance degree from Quinnipiac University hanging on the wall.
Director of Disability Services Sudhanshu Misra and Robert Marcin, 27, from North Andover, who is rehabbing from brain injury caused by loss of oxygen due to a drug overdose, at the Mental Health Association of Greater Lowell’s new acquired brain injury home on Jones Avenue in Dracut
Historically, there has been a big issue in how the system treats people with traumatic brain injuries, according to Daniel Nakamoto, executive director of the MHA of Greater Lowell.
“Historically, there hasn’t been sort of appropriate places for them, and so what happened is that they were placed inappropriately in nursing homes or long-term care hospitals,” he said. “They’ve had a serious brain injury and they’ve gotten some impairment but, cognitively, they can communicate and — in some cases — there’s very little difficulties.”
At Jones Avenue, the four residents receive around-the-clock care and support. Nakamoto said estimated costs for clients are upwards of $150,000 per year. “This home is a residential rehabilitation, so it is centered primarily around regaining of skills and reintroducing people back into the community,” said Jason Campbell, ABI program supervisor. He added that another goal is to add more homes similar to the one in Dracut within the next four years.
“First there’s the assessment,” he said, “trying to figure out what skills a person still has available to them, and then, after we focus on that, we start to narrow down to building their what’s called ‘ADLs’first — activities of daily living — things like selftoileting, brushing your teeth, combing your hair.” After clients begin to regain those skills, Campbell said, they’re geared toward occupational skills such as learning how to cook again, or how to do simple tasks such as shopping.
“Eventually, our goal is to help them regain as many skills as they possibly can to create what we like to call their ‘new norm,’” Campbell said.
His head propped up by his wheelchair neck support, Marcin sat in the home’s common area late Thursday morning with Campbell, Nakamoto and Sudhanshu Misra, director of disability services for the MHA of Greater Lowell.
Asked how he likes his new home, Marcin said it’s all right. “No, I’m just kidding,” he said after a short pause, a smile widening on his face. “It’s actually good.”
Nakamoto and other staff members erupted in laughter. “Sense of humor,” Nakamoto said. Another resident, Billie “Earl” Tune, said the home on Jones Avenue has given him much more freedom than the Tewksbury State Hospital, where he lived before arriving in Dracut. The 62-year-old Lowell native proudly showed off his light-blue room. On a wall hangs a dreamcatcher he created, and a large piece of cardboard lay on top of his bed, material for his next project.
A serious accident injured Tune’s brain and left his hip fractured. He now has mobility issues, but staff members said it doesn’t stop Tune from making things with his hands. Campbell emerged from the kitchen with a wooden spice rack Tune built and said the client is also working on something new to donate to charity.
“I create things,” Tune said. “Where I was before, I couldn’t create what I wanted to create because they limited me.”
The Mental Health Association of Greater Lowell’s new brain injury home at 10 Jones Ave. in Dracut.
Mental Health Association of Greater Lowell Executive Director Daniel Nakamoto said of the new brain-injury home on Jones Avenue in Dracut, “Historically, there hasn’t been sort of appropriate places for them, and so what happened is that they were placed inappropriately in nursing homes or long-term care hospitals.”