New BIAAZ Leaders Share Vision of Promoting Brain Health
It has been said that leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality. Fortunately for the Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona (BIAAZ), the medical professionals leading the way are united in their efforts to make a tremendous impact in the communities they serve.
Together, Julie Rake, MSPAS, PA-C, President of the BIAAZ Board of Directors, and Dr. David Adelson, Brain Health Advisory Council Chair, are making the promotion of preventative brain health priority number one.
Julie’s lifelong interest in the area of neuro wellness was formed in large part to her own childhood adversity and trauma. In the pre-dawn hours of a morning that would change her life at age 16, she was walking alone to school. Neither her father nor her mother was around at the time, and she was extremely vulnerable. She was suddenly and violently attacked and assaulted by a man who left her no exit.
The outcome would have been much worse if a woman randomly driving by hadn’t stopped and saved her.
Although she physically escaped, Julie developed chronic anxiety and a panic disorder, complete with regular flashbacks and nightmares. She also started drinking more.
This cycle lasted until she turned 21, when her brother introduced her to meditation. At once, she was hooked, and her anxiety and panic attacks melted away. She also appreciated meditation as a medication-free option for recovery and general well-being.
“I marveled at the relationship between the brain and the body’s ability to heal,” Julie shares.
Julie had earned her BA in Integrative Studies with a focus on Life Sciences from Barrett, the Honors College at Arizona State University, but her involvement in the field was just beginning. After receiving her Master of Physician Assistant Studies at A.T. Still University, she embarked on a 15-year stint as a PA with a focus on family medicine.
Then in 2015, the Phoenix native resumed her studies and received a fellowship in Integrative Medicine from the University of Arizona Medical School.
She believes her own healing journey, as well as her studies, have led to a deeper understanding of Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS). “I had always been interested in the brain, especially how psychological injuries like PTS affect its structure,” she says. “You see it with victims of crime and natural disasters, first responders, and veterans. I’m fascinated by how trauma and stress affect the brain and how it heals with integrative mental health care.”
The key to reducing the negative effects of trauma, according to Julie, lies in the ability to be pro-active before the traumas occur. For her, it’s not enough to just treat a person’s symptoms and wish for the best. She also sees hope for the future. “Now we’re discovering more about neuroplasticity; the brain is extremely malleable,” she acknowledges.
When Julie became President of the BIAAZ Board of Directors in 2019 (after being a Board Member since 2017), she was impressed with the organization’s ability to do so much. When Executive Director Carrie Collins-Fadell asked her how she could help reach even more survivors, Julie was ready to jump in.
“I was already an active speaker to brain injury survivors, addressing anxiety, depression and hopelessness,” points out Julie. “I knew [with BIAAZ] I had a new speaking home.”
She also helped spearhead BIAAZ’s 2019 Brain Health Gala, one of their top fundraisers of the year. Out of observance of health and safety guidelines, this event will be postponed in 2020. “We have to reinvent this part of how we have gatherings,” Julie says. But for the present, she’s focused on the important services, such as resource facilitation, that BIAAZ is still offering during COVID-19.
“We need to be the community’s brain health advocate,” she emphasizes
This same vision is shared by Dr. David Adelson, Director of Barrow Neurological Institute at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, Chief of Pediatric Neurosurgery, and BIAAZ Advisory Council Chair.
“Our goal this year, with all that is going on, is to optimize brain health, make it our mission at the Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona,” he states. “During this unique time, diet and exercise are key. Just because you’re at home doesn’t mean you can’t enrich your day.”
Dr. Adelson tries to practice what he preaches, taking 16-mile walks, hiking, eating right, and doing daily crossword puzzles. He also plays golf and races through…spy novels. “We all have to be pro-active,” he says.
Recent studies reinforce his contention that exercise is good for your brain. Aerobic activity in particular seems to lead to positive changes in the brain’s structure and operation. For adults, this can be seen in cognitive tasks; with children, it presents as enhanced learning.
In a 2016 study in the Journal of Neuroscience, researchers discovered that during exercise, the brain takes in glucose and other carbohydrates. This helps build neurotransmitters, which relay messages throughout the nervous system. It’s this “restocking” that helps the brain operate at peak levels.
A report from the University of Arizona indicates runners develop increased connectivity between parts of the brain affecting memory, attention, mind-wandering, and decision-making— the same functions that deteriorate quickest as we age.
In addition to physical exercise, Dr. Adelson encourages cerebral stimulation or “brain exercise.” He suggests that “we can take this time with limited community engagement to learn a language or instrument, art education, reading, and other things beyond sitting in front of a screen.”
It’s not surprising he encourages a lifetime of learning. After graduating from Columbia University in New York, a residency at UCLA, and a pediatric neurosurgery fellowship at Children’s Hospital of Boston and Harvard Medical School, he brought his expertise to Phoenix Children’s Hospital from his faculty position at the University of Pittsburgh in the Department of Neurosurgery.
Dr. Adelson has always loved working with children, which is why he specializes in pediatrics. In addition to their energy, he is encouraged by their brains’ plasticity and ability to heal and make new connections. “When it comes to recovering from brain injury like trauma or stroke, children are the best examples of the brain’s potential to recover,” he believes. “It is from children that we should be learning lessons to treating adults, not the other way around.”
The good doctor is the first to admit childhood brain injury doesn’t receive enough attention or support, despite its prevalence. The fact remains that brain injury is the most common cause of death and disability among children. It can also carry long-term emotional and physical complications.
In the past, “if a brain was damaged, it didn’t show up on standard imaging. Now, we can see the microscopic disconnections and bleeds,” says Dr. Adelson. Additionally, due to breakthroughs in technology, pediatric neuropsychologists are now able to employ better testing to measure neurologic, neuropsychologic, cognitive, and language functions.
Dr. Adelson believes BIAAZ is integral to the brain injury community. “We open doors to people with all types of brain injury, including stroke, epilepsy, meningitis, and COVID-19, not just traumatic brain injury,” he reminds. “We’re learning so much; this organization is a wonderful mechanism for bringing together professionals and the community for better treatments, ideas for care, and resources necessary to optimize each person’s outcome.”
He noted many people with brain injuries are vulnerable to losing their jobs. “We’re here to provide support and help with vocational stability. This is the place to go for all these sources and to help with complex societal issues,” he states. “What’s more, we’re an open source for everyone, from older adults to kids, in order to improve their lives.”
This is a notion that rings true with Julie Rake as well. Julie says, “by promoting brain health through education and free resources, we’re accomplishing our mission of greater understanding of prevention and recovery from brain injury.”
ABOUT BRAIN INJURY ALLIANCE OF ARIZONA
The Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona (BIAAZ) is the only statewide nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of adults and children with all types of brain injuries through prevention, advocacy, awareness, and education. BIAAZ also houses the Arizona Brain Health Resource Center, a collection of educational information and neuro-specific resources for brain injury survivors, caregivers, family members, and professionals.
What began in 1983 as a grassroots effort has grown into a strong statewide presence, providing valuable life-long resources and community support for individuals with all types of brain trauma at no charge.
The Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona:
- Works with the Congressional Brain Injury Task Force
- Houses Arizona Brain Health Resource Center
- Hosts the Statewide Opioid Use Disorder & Cognitive Impairment Workgroup
- Deploys a Statewide Opioid Use Disorder & Cognitive Impairment Response Team with peer support, training and family wraparound services
- Facilitates the Brain Health Advisory Council
- Manages a Statewide Neuro Info-Line 888-500-9165