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Thursday, April 11, 2019

COE professor named to statewide Traumatic Brain Injury Advisory Board

Dr. Check Degeneffe

Dr. Charles Degeneffe made researching and teaching about traumatic brain injury rehabilitation his life’s work in part because he was fascinated by the perilously thin line between professional and client.

"If you were my client with a traumatic brain injury, I could easily be in your position in one second if I go home and get in a car accident, or if I trip and hit my head,” said Degeneffe, professor in rehabilitation counseling in the San Diego State University College of Education and coordinator of the No. 4-ranked Rehabilitation Counseling Program. “I always find that to be a humbling thing."

Indeed, a life-altering traumatic brain injury can happen to any of us, at any time. Yet the lack of long-term support services and understanding encountered by persons with brain injury and their families remains a constant source of frustration.

Degeneffe is now in a position to help make significant change in that regard.

In January, he was named to the California Department of Rehabilitation Traumatic Brain Injury Advisory Board, a 12-member board made up of researchers, physicians, traumatic brain injury survivors and family members focused on determining what legislation and awareness efforts are needed at the statewide level.

"Given how large of a state we have and how much influence California has on everything, this has the potential of really driving services throughout the rest of the United States,” Degeneffe said. “If we're able to do some things that are very unique, innovative and effective, I think other states will pay attention. I have a lot of hope that this is going to make some major changes."

It’s very much an underserved area. If you experience this kind of injury, you're really left on your own to a large extent when you go back home.—Dr. Charles Degeneffe

Assessing needs, building relationships 

The Traumatic Brain Injury Advisory Board meets four times a year in Sacramento. Degeneffe, who was appointed to a three-year term, will serve on a committee to assess what services are needed by brain injury survivors and their families. Another committee will work to determine the scope of these needs by creating a traumatic brain injury registry.

Degeneffe attended his first meeting on Feb. 25 where he had a chance to chat with the board’s most famous member — forensic pathologist Bennet Omalu, whose discovery of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in football players was the subject of the movie “Concussion.”

"It was a surreal experience to be able to talk to him about CTE,” Degeneffe said. “It was great to meet (researchers) like him, but it was also great to able to speak to a family member who was on the board about some of her experiences and some of the things she would like to see happen. I anticipate being able to form some close relationships with people over the next three years."

An underserved area 

Degeneffe, who joined COE’s Department of Administration, Rehabilitation and Postsecondary Education and Interwork Institute in 2005, is a longtime board member and past president of the San Diego Brain Injury Foundation.

He first became interested in traumatic brain injury rehabilitation following completion of his master’s program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison while working as a service coordinator for individuals with developmental disabilities in Janesville, Wis. One thing he’s found over the years is that while acute care — the ability to keep patients alive after a brain injury — has improved dramatically, the long-term services needed to help survivors live and work independently after an injury have not kept pace.

"It’s very much an underserved area,” Degeneffe said. “If you experience this kind of injury, you're really left on your own to a large extent when you go back home. “We need to have more funding and better training for teachers and counselors. Outside of our college, there needs to be better training for physicians — family physicians for instance — who are going to work with people on a longer-term basis."

How to participate 

All California Department of Rehabilitation Traumatic Brain Injury Advisory Board meetings are open to the public. Anyone interested in learning more about the work of the board or the issues discussed is welcome to call in and listen to the discussion via a teleconference line found in the board’s events calendar.