BRAIN WAVES

Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona Blog

Social Worker Ashley Bridwell Lives a Life of Gratitude

Ashley Bridwell, LMSW believes her purpose is to channel gratitude. This theme resonates throughout her personal and professional life as social worker in the Phoenix area.

Some people might feel as though they’d been dealt a bad hand, but that’s not how Ashley viewed it. Instead, she was grateful for all the care and support she received from her family, friends, and medical team. “I really feel as though I’d experienced something special.”

Social Worker Ashley Bridwell Lives a Life of Gratitude

Ashley Bridwell, LMSW believes her purpose is to channel gratitude. This theme resonates throughout her personal and professional life as social worker in the Phoenix area.

Some people might feel as though they’d been dealt a bad hand, but that’s not how Ashley viewed it. Instead, she was grateful for all the care and support she received from her family, friends, and medical team. “I really feel as though I’d experienced something special.”

While a sophomore at Arizona State University, doctors discovered she had a massive brain tumor. Despite four surgeries, she developed a movement disorder, limiting the use of her left arm, shoulder, and hand, as well as experienced peripheral visual field loss to the left, often referred to as a “field cut.” When she returned to the ASU campus, she used a white cane to help others recognize she was visually impaired and might not see them.

Some people might feel as though they’d been dealt a bad hand, but that’s not how Ashley viewed it. Instead, she was grateful for all the care and support she received from her family, friends, and medical team. “I really feel as though I’d experienced something special.”

However, she wanted to do more, so she pursued her mentor’s suggestion to dive into volunteer work. She shadowed lawyers, teachers, and other professionals to get a realistic view of their careers.
Then she walked into the school of Social Work at ASU; when they handed her a brochure, she knew that was where she belonged. “It all spoke to me,” she says. “I fell in love with social work – from the healthcare aspect, working with the most vulnerable, learning to leverage community resources, educating, research – all of it.”

She changed her major to Social Work and never regretted it; Ashley finished an advanced clinical-focused master’s degree in 2004. In her senior year, Ashley formed a student activist group, “Social Workers for Social Justice.” Here she discovered her passion for community organization and finding ways to help others from a different angle.

Over the years, Ashley has channeled that enthusiasm for community engagement by serving on several non-profit boards with a focus on empowering people with disabilities, including Ability 360 and the Crisis Response Network.
“The social work field is so diverse, it’s everywhere now,” beams Ashley. “I have never been more grateful to be a social worker. I never thought I should be anything else. My goal is to help progress the profession.”

Her subsequent internship at Desert Banner Health helped her bring major life events full circle: She ended up on the same floor and Neuro Ortho unit where she had surgeries for her brain tumor. This has helped her throughout her career. “I have this unique inside-outside perspective, I frequently tell people that I know what it’s like to be on both sides of the desk.”

As Outreach Coordinator at the non-profit Advocates for the Disabled, she helped people experiencing homelessness apply for benefits and get housing, leading to an even deeper understanding of people’s needs and how to help them access available resources. “Most of us are just one paycheck away from being on the street.  It could be any one of us out there, and everyone is somebody’s daughter, son, sister, or brother.”

Ashley also volunteered for Project H3, the local implementation of the national 100,000 Homes campaign, through the AZ Coalition to End Homelessness, now the Arizona Housing Coalition. Project H3 was a collaborative project with over 50 community agencies providing care to homeless individuals. These groups came together to screen, identify, and house the 50 most medically vulnerable chronically homeless people in Phoenix.

This venture demonstrated that wraparound, permanent, supportive housing reduces cost to care providers highly utilized by this population. These include Emergency Rooms, EMS services, jails, and crisis mental health services to manage conditions that are treated effectively by consistent housing. In typical Ashley fashion, she became obsessed with helping reduce vulnerabilities in this population, including brain injury. “Our surveys revealed over 25% in Phoenix and Tucson had brain injury. It was a real eye-opener.”

Currently Program Coordinator, Barrow Bridge Neuro Rehabilitation and the Barrow Domestic Violence and Traumatic Brain Injury Program, she realizes that many people are reluctant to reveal their disabilities. By channeling her desire to express gratitude and help others experience a dose of the care and concern she experienced with her family and friends, Ashley co-developed the Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Domestic Violence (DV) Program at Barrow. The first of its kind, this program treats DV some identified survivors from five community shelters for repeated injuries often sustained from long-term abusive relationships.

As a social worker in a level one trauma hospital specializing in neurological injuries, Ashley has many responsibilities in multiple neuro rehab outpatient clinics. She meets with patients and their family members to ensure they are connected with all the appropriate resources. She also educates families about resources for financial and emotional support, including Social Security Disability, AZ Long Term Care System, affordable housing, short-term rehab, and Vocational Rehab.

“The needs for people with cognitive disabilities are enormous and the resources are scant. Most people don’t plan for brain tumors, strokes, brain injuries, or neurological illnesses. They never imagine a life where the primary breadwinner is suddenly unable to tie their shoes, toilet themselves, or are unable to control their emotions and behaviors.

“When I refer people whose lives have been turned upside down to the Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona, I know they’ll help survivors and their families with long-term and short-term needs.”

Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona Executive Director Carrie Collins-Fadell believes professionals like Ashley who take the time to refer survivors to the organization make a world of difference in the quality of their lives. “When we receive a referral from a professional and are able to work with their clients, it’s a sign they truly understand the depth and breadth of the impact brain injury can have on someone’s life,” claims Collins-Fadell. “You can have the best medical care in the world, but there comes a time when treatment is completed, or the insurance is maxed out, and it is time to move on to ‘what’s next.’ 

“The beauty of the Brain Injury Alliance is we are there for years and years of ‘what’s next’ after brain injury. Since we can’t sit in every hospital or neurologist’s office and find everyone who could benefit from our programs and services, we rely on professionals for referrals.”

Collins-Fadell points out that they have worked with several people who have had successful medical treatment, only to be confused by the full impact the brain injury has on their life. “Your medical team might be really excited about the successful brain surgery that you had after an accident or injury, but lying in a hospital bed, it may be hard to gauge how those cognitive deficits are going to play out in your life once you return to work or school.

“Ashley can see that full 360-degree viewpoint because she has lived it. Cognitive effects of injury may hit you two months post-treatment when you are at your desk at work, then realize that something is not right.  It’s in that moment that you appreciate the importance of the paperwork filled with community referrals and social supports Ashley gave you.

“We are really lucky to have her in our orbit,” adds Carrie. “It’s kind of funny because she has accomplished so much. She has discussed her work on NBC’s Today Show with Maria Shriver. She’s also a Flinn Fellow but is so down-to- earth and ‘just Ashley,’ which is probably why she clicks with so many patients.”

She has had great success in advocacy, brain injury education, and is one of the very few (if only) brain injury professionals on the Use of Force Review Panel for a major metropolitan police department. However, she has never forgotten what it feels like to be that patient facing the neurological unknown. 

Collins-Fadell says, “She is also my favorite person to grab brunch with. In fact, that is one thing I’ve missed this past year, grabbing brunch downtown on a Sunday and not even pretending that we are not going to talk about work because of course we are.”

Ashley made several referrals to the Brain Injury Alliance in 2020 that resulted in life-changing services for survivors of brain injury and their family members. Sam was one such person who thanked her on a live morning TV show appearance. 

After Sam was badly injured in a rollover car crash and receiving treatment at Barrow, the Brain Injury Alliance Utility Fund supported him with rent assistance before the holidays. What’s more, his beloved dog Diesel sustained a tail injury too graphic to be shown on the local segment. Fortunately, the Brain Injury Alliance Butters Fund was also able to provide for tail amputation surgery for Diesel. Collins-Fadell states, “That is the perfect example of someone being able to live a better life after brain injury because of the combined power of medical treatment and community support.”

The appreciation goes both ways. Ashley tells everyone, “I’m grateful that the programs, funding, and compassionate people at the Brain Injury Alliance are always there for us.”

As a further testament to her belief in the power of ongoing support for life after brain injury, Ashley will be facilitating a virtual support group for stroke survivors for the Brain Injury Alliance beginning in February.

For more information, email info@biaaz.org or call 602-508-8024 to speak with the Resource Facilitation Team.

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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