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Woman fights barriers after brain injury

| Saturday, May 18, 2013, 11:48 a.m.

LANCASTER — Thirteen years ago on a Manheim soccer field, freshman Lyndsi Binford ran into a hard-kicked ball. Thrown off balance, she tumbled and her head struck the ground.

Unconscious, breathing shallowly, the 14-year-old student had surgery at Lancaster General Hospital that stopped the bleeding inside her skull. It could not prevent brain damage.

The teen had to relearn such skills as walking, writing with her left hand and reading simple sentences. She spent years in special schools in New England.

Now 27, Binford is living independently, and her new goal is getting a job — no easy task.

For seven months, Binford volunteered eight hours a week at Lancaster General's cafeteria, hoping it would turn into a job. A Medicaid-funded coach known as a community integration specialist helped her, and she was learning to do more on her own.

But at the end of March, Binford left the cafeteria after the state Department of Public Welfare cut funding that helped her volunteer and after the hospital chose not to hire her.

“I was working so hard. I put everything into it,” said Binford, who volunteered nearly 1,200 hours over four years in different positions at the hospital.

Her parents, Robert and Lesli Binford of Manheim, say what happened to their daughter underscores the barriers those with traumatic brain injury encounter in trying to regain a normal life. Robert M. Stein, a psychologist and co-founder of Lancaster's Center for Neurobehavioral Health, is Binford's cognitive therapist, and he said the young woman has memory deficits and requires heavy repetition to learn tasks.

When Binford started volunteering in the cafe­teria, Stein said, her coach had to stay by her side and remind her what to do. But through the coaching, Binford got better at doing the work.

Binford started volunteering at the hospital in May 2009. Slender and fair-haired, Binford at first pushed a candy and magazine cart. The hospital then created the volunteer cafeteria position for her as a step to possible employment, Stein said.

“There's things she will always struggle with,” Stein said, such as reading and using a computer. “Her fine motor skills are poor.”

But Binford was having enough success in the cafeteria that Stein thought within another year she could be working independently, just as she has learned to live on her own, about 2.5 miles from her parents' home.

Hospital spokesman John Lines said that after the family asked Lancaster General to hire Binford, the human resources department reviewed open entry-level positions and decided she didn't meet the requirements.

“There are differences between serving as a volunteer and working as an employee,” Lines said. “We would welcome Lyndsi's return to volunteering, and we're extremely hopeful that she finds employment.”

Since losing the position at Lancaster General, Binford has had only one job interview.

She fills her days listening to music, watching TV, visiting friends, going to a gym and riding horses at a therapeutic stable. But what she wants is a job, a paycheck and a chance to prove herself.

“It's not easy,” she said of having to relearn elementary skills and fight for acceptance in the community, “but I try my hardest to be the best I can be.”

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