When Joe Veight flipped his '93 Mustang over the guardrail on Route 553 in New Jersey and slammed into a pole so hard that it snapped in half, he came uncomfortably close to death. Doctors told his family that if he survived, his best case scenario was to spend the rest of his life in a minimally conscious state.
Seventeen years later, Veight confidently walked into a room to talk about his near-death experience with a matter-of-fact attitude. He speaks about the accident and the 110 days he spent in a coma fighting for his life in a New Jersey hospital as the turning point in his life, a life that had been ravaged by drugs and alcohol.
“The accident stopped me on a dime,” he says. “It turned me around 180 degrees.”
Bad Boy Days
The demons that haunted Veight years ago during his "bad boy" days are in the past. All that remains is the look: the Harley Davidson T-shirt, gelled hair, gold chain and earrings. Today, Veight is a positive force in the community with a focus on the future. Joe participates in the ThinkFirst program, which provides him the opportunity to give talks to middle school and high school students about brain injuries and how he’s learned from his mistakes.
The ThinkFirst National Injury Prevention Foundation's programs help people learn to reduce their risk for injury. MossRehab (and the Einstein Healthcare Network) work with ThinkFirst in a variety of ways, including providing bike helmets and helmet fittings to children.
“It felt good knowing I was reaching the kids and that they can learn from me,” he says.
For Veight, none of this would be possible without the help of MossRehab. The nationally-ranked rehabilitation facility has a program in Woodbury, N.J., that helps people with brain injuries develop roles in the community. (There is a similar program at 7612 Dungan Road in Philadelphia's Northeast neighborhood.)
The program, known as The Clubhouse, provides Vieght and his fellow members with an environment where they learn to be self-sufficient and successful. The program emphasizes equipping each member with life and occupational skills needed to further integrate into the community. The structured environment and daily routines helps the members by providing stability and reducing anxiety and stress, frequent feelings for people recovering from brain injuries.
“The Clubhouse has been a safety net for Joe,” says Walter Lewis, life long living manager at MossRehab. “It gives him a place to work on work-related skills and a place to help others.”
On this late summer Friday afternoon, Veight has just finished his Clubhouse activities for the day and reflects on his years at MossRehab.
“The staff is wonderful. I trust her,” he says pointing to Heather Kite, his clinical case manager with whom he’s developed a close rapport.
Veight spends some of his time in the Clubhouse on the "Communications Unit" producing a newsletter called "Clubhouse Happenings".
The Spring issue features a three-page spread of photos showing the members doing gardening activities, playing games and throwing a baby shower for a member of the staff.
Community Residence Program
Veight and a handful of other Clubhouse members live in a residence across the street where they are assisted by MossRehab staff. The home, known as the MossRehab Community Residence Program, is decorated for fall and the football season and features eight bedrooms, two common areas, a big kitchen and a reading room.
The goal is for the residents to go about their daily lives like anyone else. With the help of the staff, they cook their meals, wash their clothes and clean their rooms.
“The residence is great,” Veight says. “They have a great staff, people respect me, and my friends live there. I’m just glad and happy for what Moss did for me.”
Lewis sees Veight as a great example of how the residential program can make an impact for many patients.
“He’s able to live in the community and not have to reside in a more restrictive environment like a nursing home,” Lewis says. “He’s more able to be independent in the community. He goes to the gym using public transportation, he has his own space and he goes to outings in the community.”
While he enjoys his time at MossRehab, Vieght continues to set goals and work towards complete independence. He aced his driver’s permit test and hopes to soon enroll in the MossRehab Driving School in an effort to be able to live on his own and regain his job at a local printing press.
Always looking ahead, Veight is appreciative of the care he’s received.
“I’m looking for the next step,” he says with a smile. “To get a job and live on my own. Before, I never thought it would happen. Now, I live for my future.”
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