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Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona Blog

6 Questions for Suzy Albanese,
BIAAZ’s New Resource Facilitation Specialist

Meet Suzy Albanese, MS, OTR/L, CYT, the newest Resource Facilitation Specialist for the Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona. How she got here is just as interesting as what she hopes to achieve in this crucial role.

“The Brain Injury Alliance is at the forefront of this movement, and I am honored to have joined their team.”

6 Questions for Suzy Albanese,
BIAAZ’s New Resource Facilitation Specialist

Meet Suzy Albanese, MS, OTR/L, CYT, the newest Resource Facilitation Specialist for the Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona. How she got here is just as interesting as what she hopes to achieve in this crucial role.

“The Brain Injury Alliance is at the forefront of this movement, and I am honored to have joined their team.”

1 - (BrainWaves) In a nutshell, what’s the Suzy Albanese story?

Suzy Albanese: I grew up in Middletown, New Jersey, along the northernmost part of the Jersey Shore. I lived very close to the Sandy Hook Lighthouse, the oldest working lighthouse in the US..! I’m the only child of a nurse and a letter carrier. Both of my parents worked a lot, so I spent a lot of time at daycares and babysitters’ houses.

When I was in middle school, my mom was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), which changed the trajectory of her life, our life as a family, as well as my future as an individual.

Since taking a class in high school, I became very interested in psychology. After graduation, I was fortunate enough to utilize a program called NJ STARS, which allowed me to go to my local county college for free, then transfer to a state school with a scholarship.

As an 18-year-old, it was hard to turn down the opportunity to go to a fun, out-of-state school, but my parents helped me realize it was a smart decision. I have no regrets and recommend this option to anyone who can take it.

2 - (BrainWaves) What inspired you to get into Occupational Therapy?

Suzy Albanese: I transferred to Rutgers University my junior year of college, declaring a major in psychology. Here I learned that unless I was prepared to go the doctoral route, it would be difficult to work in the field of psychology. Already being a junior, I was a bit stressed, but quickly pivoted to the idea of social work. I found a part-time job working for an inspiring social services nonprofit and began tackling my prerequisites to apply to Rutgers’ Master of Social Work program.

Toward the end of my senior year, my mom told me about a home safety evaluation she’d had conducted by an occupational therapist (OT). She explained how this professional helped ensure she was safe at home, which was music to my ears, having witnessed several falls due to her MS.

During the same week, a young girl I babysat for on weekends had an occupational therapy initial evaluation through Early Intervention Services. I got to sit in on this evaluation and found it fascinating.

In 2015, I was accepted into Seton Hall University’s School of Health and Medical Sciences, where I completed an extensive three-year Master of Science in occupational therapy (MSOT) program. Despite the challenging coursework and long hours, I knew I was in the right place.

3 - (BrainWaves) How did you get involved in the world of brain injury?

Suzy Albanese: Many people have an idea of what kind of setting they want to work in when they go to school for any of the rehabilitation disciplines (OT, PT, SLP). I had an inkling that I’d want to work in mental health, given my interest and background in psychology. I soon learned that although OTs could work in mental health, most settings were not “true” mental health settings, but neurological rehabilitation settings.

During my neuro-based rotations, I worked with people who had sustained various neurological injuries and multi-traumas. By far the most prevalent diagnoses of the individuals I served were traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and cerebrovascular accidents/strokes (CVA).

Initially, I assumed I would be working with more people with neurodegenerative diseases, such as MS and Parkinson’s. However, my repeated exposure to survivors of brain injury quickly piqued my interest in continuing to work with this underserved and often misunderstood population.

4 - (BrainWaves) How have your real-world experiences compared to your expectations?

Suzy Albanese: Since 2018, I have been working as an OT in a few different settings, including pediatrics, adult day/rehabilitation centers, and neurological outpatient clinics. I see myself continuing to work with individuals who have sustained neurological injuries or conditions, as I enjoy the diversity and see the need for quality care within this population. Although my mom is a huge part of my “why” for becoming an OT, I’ve learned that treating individuals with MS is often too close to home for me.

During my three-month clinical rotation with The Center for Brain Injuries at JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute, I witnessed many things for the first time that I had only read about in textbooks. There is really no substitute for hands-on experience working with survivors of brain injury who constantly demonstrate their resilience, perseverance, and vulnerability.

5 - (BrainWaves) What action is needed to overcome the challenges faced by those in the brain injury community?

Suzy Albanese: Ongoing awareness and advocacy for survivors, their families, and the barriers they face is critical. People without personal experience with brain injury often see it as a one-time incident that you move on from. However, in many cases, brain injury becomes a chronic condition with lifelong implications; we need to address it as such.

The Brain Injury Alliance is at the forefront of this movement, and I am honored to have joined their team. There is a significant need for increased education surrounding TBI prevention, especially for high-risk populations. As a rehab professional, I think there needs to be more continuity within interdisciplinary teams who treat survivors, as well as an increase in evidence-based protocols for brain-injury recovery.

6 - (BrainWaves) What do you enjoy doing with your spare time

Suzy Albanese: My husband and I have a cute, spunky dog named Tango who occupies a lot of our free time. I enjoy painting, reading, writing, playing piano, dancing (not well), and DIY-ing anything I can get my hands on. I also love the sunshine and warm weather – which is why I recently relocated to AZ!

Note from Carrie Collins-Fadell, CEO of the Brain Injury Alliance:
We are very fortunate to add Suzy to the team. Her background, compassion, and commitment will go a long way toward helping survivors, their families, and caregivers access the resources and programs they need.

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 Congressional Brain Injury Task Force
  • Houses Arizona Brain Health Resource Center
  • Hosts Statewide Opioid Use Disorder & Cognitive Impairment Workgroup
  • Has Statewide Opioid Use Disorder & Cognitive Impairment Response team with peer support, training, and family wraparound services
  • Facilitates Brain Health Advisory Council
  • Manages statewide Neuro Info-Line: 888-500-9165

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