BIAAZ’s Brittany Sweeney-Lawson is Happy to Help
The business cards on her desk read “Brittany Sweeney-Lawson, Resource Facilitation Manager, Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona.” But everyone around BIAAZ knows they should more accurately read “Brittany Does It All.”
For the past three-and-a-half years, Brittany has been a vital presence at BIAAZ. In addition to overseeing the resource facilitation team, she edits the quarterly e-zine The Noggin, and oversees student site visits for the Midwestern University’s School of Pharmacy, Community Partnership in Public Health program. Her interactions with the University’s students has helped raise awareness for the importance of accessible brain injury resources in the next generation of young professionals. Her effort and hard work haven’t gone unnoticed by her student visitors.
“She’s a lady boss, for sure,” Midwestern student Nikita Tripathy said playfully. “It’s inspiring to see what she has done.”
Brittany is on a mission to help, not only people who have suffered brain injuries, but those living with a variety of disabilities as well. It’s a trait she developed while growing up in central California helping care for her little sister with Down Syndrome. “It forced me to be more present and sensitive to how the world treats people with disabilities, as well as what opportunities were available to my sister,” she shared.
It was at this point in Brittany’s life that she learned how essential it is to have someone in your corner when trying to get through the system with a disability. “I realized how important it was that our mom was and still is my sister’s biggest advocate, always ready and willing to fight the good fight,” Brittany said.
Many people have asked Brittany how she became involved with BIAAZ in the first place, usually curious if she has a personal connection to brain injury. As it turns out, she does. While living in the Dominican Republic serving a church-based mission in 2012, her grandfather had a stroke. Several years later, he had a second one— just before her wedding. She observed the toll aphasia took on him as he became increasingly frustrated trying to form words to express his thoughts.
“My Papa has always been quick-witted, always telling jokes, or sharing his hard-earned wisdom,” Brittany recalled, “so it’s been hard on our family to see him struggle so much with his speech.”
In 2010, Brittany earned her B.A. from Brigham Young University, and after her time in the D.R., which included several stints of teaching English classes, she realized how much she enjoyed working with students. Upon returning to the states, she taught 7th and 8th grade English Special Education, first in Phoenix, then in Queen Creek. However, she wasn’t enamored of the bureaucracy and endless student testing often involved, and sought a career change that would still allow her to do what she loves most—helping people.
The central California native was introduced to BIAAZ by her friend’s husband, who was a BIAAZ intern at the time. After shadowing former BIAAZ Resource Facilitation Manager Jeanne Anderson, Brittany knew she’d found an organization with a mission she could get behind. Her dedication to improving the lives around her was quickly acknowledged, and she rapidly rose through the ranks to become the Resource Facilitation Manger after Jeanne’s retirement in July of 2018.
Brittany’s most recent contribution to BIAAZ’s many services and programs is her involvement with the aforementioned program with Midwestern University’s School of Pharmacy, Community Partnership in Public Health. “I believe the earlier we can plant the seeds of brain injury comprehension and compassion with the students, the sooner and easier it will be to see the fruit of these efforts when they go on to work with patients in their respective fields,” she said.
She stresses it’s also important for the Midwestern students to comprehend the realities of working for a non-profit during their office visits. “They’re very eager, young, tons of energy, and very open-minded. I show them everything involved behind-the-scenes at BIAAZ, from cleaning the fridge and loading paper into the copier, to speaking with survivors of brain injury and their families in need of resources,” she shared. “Everyone here is part of a team; we all work together.”
Midwestern student Jonathan Snyder loved working with Brittany. “She is a great person – very personable, likeable and professional,” he said. He also appreciated the opportunity to participate in a learning experience outside his typical element. “It’s very eye-opening to see other aspects of health care, not just the medicine side,” he explained. “We were able to learn about other available resources.”
In addition to pertinent information and resources, a solid understanding of brain injury is a growing necessity for pharmacists. As professionals who interact directly with patients from all walks of life, they are playing a bigger role than ever before in the treatment of brain injury. By combining pharmaceutical advances with brain injury best practices and education, pharmaceutical professionals will continue improving their capacity to provide patients with brain injuries greater opportunities for improved recovery outcomes.
Mr. Snyder explained the potential for positive benefits in a more direct way, stating, “as a pharmacist familiar with BIAZZ, we’ll have resources [for patients] to get help, ways of cutting through red tape, and the ability to get [them] access to care.”
These ah-ha moments Midwestern students experience as part of their exposure to BIAAZ is a big reason why Brittany believes programs like Community Partnership in Public Health are so worthwhile. “These students get to see up close and personal how the invisible disability of brain injury affects peoples’ daily lives up close,” she commented. “Once you’ve been touched by a cause, you’re compelled to do something about it.”
For Brittany, the reason she gets up every day and does what she does is simple: “I want to help people, and people are grateful for the help. For me, that’s the best kind of gratification.”
ABOUT BRAIN INJURY ALLIANCE OF ARIZONA
The Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona (BIAAZ) is the only statewide non-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of individuals with brain injuries through prevention, advocacy, awareness, and education. What began in 1984 as a grassroots effort has grown into a strong statewide presence, providing valuable, life-long resources and community support for individuals with brain injuries, caregivers, and the professionals who work with them.
The Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona also works with the Congressional Brain Injury Task Force on legislation to ensure the behaviors of dishonorably discharged military service men and women are not the result of brain injury.