- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 1, 2017

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - “Forty-two … I think I’m 42,” Mike Drury of Leesburg, Virginia, said with a smile. A car accident in 2011 left Drury with a traumatic brain injury that affects his cognitive abilities.

But that didn’t stop him from traveling to the state Capitol for the 14th annual Brain Injury Awareness Day. After meeting with legislators, dozens of survivors, advocates and caretakers of people with brain injuries held a rally Wednesday to call for improvements in services for disabled Virginians.

Because of a budget deficit, in October the state cut $375,000 in funds for brain injury services, the rally’s organizers said.

“There are still so many unserved areas that don’t have any brain injury services at all in Virginia,” said Krystal Thompson, executive director of Brain Injury Services of Southwest Virginia. “We need a lot more funding to reach the scope of the problem.”

Several lawmakers have introduced budget amendments to help people with brain injuries:

.Sen. Janet Howell of Fairfax County and Del. Brenda Pogge of James City County have proposed restoring the $375,000 that was cut last year.

.Sen. John Edwards of Roanoke and Del. Nick Rush of Montgomery County want to provide an additional $1 million to expand and support brain injury services in Virginia.

.Pogge and Sen. David Marsden of Fairfax County have called for improvements in collecting and analyzing data about Virginians with brain injuries and the services they need.

“There’s a lot of data of brain injury that’s sort of scattered all over the place,” said Anne McDonnell, executive director of the Brain Injury Association of Virginia. “We’d like it to be consolidated in one place so we can make some plans for the coming wave of individuals that are going to need care.”

Nearly 168,000 Virginians are disabled as a result of a traumatic brain injury, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. With more funding, McDonnell hopes to provide care for more people with such injuries.

“It’s a rare privilege to watch a brain come back online,” McDonnell said.

Among the people at the rally was 15-year-old Maya Simbulan. In 2009, she was getting ready for a school play when she fell down a flight of stairs at home and suffered a traumatic brain injury.

Simbulan, a sophomore at Lake Braddock High School in Fairfax County, said she owes her recovery to Brain Injury Services, a nonprofit organization based in the Springfield. The group helps residents of Northern Virginia find rehabilitation resources, manage the effects of their injuries and connect with people with similar problems.

“Sky’s the limit. We want Maya to get every opportunity everyone else gets, and that’s what we’re here to do,” said Simbulan’s case manager, Brooke Annessa.

Annessa has been with Brain Injury Services since 2009. In 2011, she adopted her daughter, Addie, who had suffered anoxic brain damage, which is caused by a lack of oxygen. Wednesday was Addie’s fifth birthday.

“So I’m either the best mom ever, or the worst mom ever,” Annessa joked.

Addie doesn’t talk yet. Shortly after her injury, Annessa brought Addie to Brain Injury Services. There, the girl was handed an iPad with Proloquo2Go, a symbol-based “augmented alternative communication” app to help her express herself.

Within the first day of using the iPad, Addie was speaking through the app. A month later, she was constructing sentences.

“That little bit of hope, that little bit of proof, is what got me more services at school for her. I was able to show she is smart, she is understanding - she just can’t explain that to you,” Annessa said.

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