Contact us at NPFAC@mednet.ucla.edu to speak with a volunteer.
UCLA Neurosurgery’s Peer Support Program is a free resource that connects you with a former UCLA Neurosurgery patient or family member of a former patient during your hospital stay or beyond.
This is not medical advice.
This is an opportunity to connect with an individual who can empathize with your experiences.
Department of Neurosurgery Peer Support Program Volunteer Bios
On March 13, 2016, I suffered a TBI after falling off my horse in which I fractured my skull and fully occluded my right internal carotid artery. Although, I did not have a massive stroke immediately upon losing blood supply to half of my brain, I did have a small stroke a few days later that paralyzed my left side for nearly one month. My horse and I both fell, and while my horse was trying to stand back up he stepped on the back right corner of my skull and fractured the base of my skull, which compressed my facial and trigeminal nerves and caused loss of both sensation and movement in half of my face.
This brings me to my encounter with UCLA neurosurgery; I was transferred to UCLA just days after my accident from another hospital, and Drs. Blanco and Vespa of the neuro-ICU were the ones that kept me alive those first few days. Dr. Neil Martin partnered with Dr. Akira Ishiyama to perform a 12-hour surgery to repair my skull and decompress my facial nerve. Leading up to the surgery, they weren’t sure what condition my nerve was in; I wasn’t stable enough for surgery until an entire month had passed since my accident, so whatever damage the nerve had suffered would likely be long-term. Luckily, the nerve was not severed but did not regenerate fully, and I still have near-total numbness and paralysis on the right side of my face. In total, I was at UCLA in the neuro/stroke unit for 2 months, then an external inpatient rehab facility for 2 weeks.
Nearly 4 years later, I have graduated college, and am currently working as a research scientist at a local biotechnology startup company. I am in the process of applying to medical school; my desire to pursue medicine has undoubtedly stemmed from my experience with UCLA Health and the incredible care and compassion I received.
NPFAC member Brad Lusk was admitted to UCLA in February 2006 for a Meningioma resection. In February 2007, he completed 31 Radiation Treatments. He repeated another 31 treatments in January 2016. Brad volunteers regularly with UCLA in the Neurosurgery Departments Peer Support Program. He continues to run competitively in 10K races. He is a delegate for AMAC (Association of Mature American Citizens) in the 33rd Congressional District and a member of the Trail Crew at Snow Canyon State Park.
My name is Chinna Balachandran, and I sustained a traumatic brain injury in January of 2019 while playing a sport. It was not immediately clear that anything was wrong; I did not lose consciousness or even fall down, I had coherent conversations with people after playing, and I drove home without issue. About an hour after going home, while showering, I began noticing signs of neurological dysfunction. First, I saw dark circles out of both of my eyes. I then vomited, and my breathing became increasingly labored. I then lost control of all motor function on the left side of my body, and soon thereafter, I was in and out of consciousness. I was able to signal to my partner who was in the other room that I needed to go to the hospital by thrashing loudly on the floor. UCLA found that I had sustained a subdural hematoma, which was causing cranial herniation, and the tilt on my brainstem would have killed me if not for the on-call neurosurgeon's decision to perform a decompressive craniotomy.
The path for recovery was terrifying for me. I lost things that I never thought could be lost. Beyond the loss of my body, I had this immeasurable loneliness --how could anyone possibly understand what I was going through? Who could relate to the fear that comes with losing the basic bodily functions controlled by our brainstems? While I am blessed to have regained the skills needed to live an independent life and return to work, I have not lost my connection with my feelings throughout recovery. That is why I became involved with UCLA's neurosurgery peer support program and PFAC. My hope is to be the person that I wanted during my recovery for someone else. Every recovery is different, and I cannot say that what worked for me will work for anyone else. However, I can say with certainty that leaning on the support of others is what pulled me through my darkest times, and I believe my purpose now is to support others.
Dana Rivera is a 10-year Stroke Survivor. My Stroke was from a condition called a PFO (Patent Foramen Ovale). My Stroke left me with left side paralysis at the time. Over a course of 4-5 months, I was able to make a full physical recovery. "Time, Determination and my Family Support were the key components to my recovery journey. My mission has been for the last 9 years to pay it forward so other survivors can learn from my own personal experience and by facilitating Stroke Support groups at a number of hospitals and outside community centers.
Lorie Kahn is a Los Angeles native born and raised in Westwood. At the age of 57 she had a cavernous angioma (brain bleed) that was treated at UCLA. After endoscopic surgery, she received great care from the neurosurgery team and would like to give back and help patients here.
As a fitness consultant, working with people, and keeping them moving in a safety manner, was becoming difficult for me, once I started losing my balance. It then came to a point when I could not comprehend a discussion that I was having. I was taken to UCLA after I had a seizure, which would not let me pronounce words, as I wanted to say them. The MRI showed a meningioma over 8 cm. Two years later, a second meningioma measuring over 4 cm showed on an MRI and I underwent surgery and 39 days of radiation. The third meningioma was spotted at only 1 cm, so we did another round of radiation, and I have been clean since December 2014.
My professional life has been fitness and rehab, so I had to set up my own rehab schedule; first surgery was almost 6 months before I could go back to work; second surgery was only 2-3 months before going back to work. When I speak to patients, and/or family support on 6N, I give them knowledge of my recovery, in hopes that it might enlighten their hopes, and help their faith in their recovery.
I am a father of a child with a “Brain Tumor” who has survived now over 15 years with many surgeries and complications, accumulating hundreds of days in the hospital. The specific brain tumor is unimportant, but the overwhelming emotional toll as a parent or sibling is incomprehensible unless you have walked in the same footsteps. Denial, anger, grief and blame are just a few of the emotions that go through your head, but seeking emotional support is equally an important course of treatment for a family as it is for the patient, young or old. Keep in mind a positive attitude is a key component for success down the road, and if I can assist by sharing my experience to those on this path, I welcome you to contact me by email or phone.