2015-02-20 / Front Page

‘Love Your Brain’ gala is Feb. 27

By Ben Meiklejohn
Staff Writer

SACO/SCARBOROUGH – For nearly five years, the Michael T. Goulet Traumatic Brain Injury and Epilepsy Foundation has served a mission to raise awareness and improve treatment for seizure and brain disorders. The foundation was formed shortly after the 2010 death of lifelong Saco resident Michael Goulet, who was only 21 at the time.

On Saturday, Feb. 28, at 7 p.m., a formal Love Your Brain gala will be held at The Landing in Scarborough, with hors d’ouvres, cash bar, dancing and live music by the Larry Williams Band. Tickets are $50 and can be purchased at www.michaelgouletfoundation.org.

Danielle Goulet, Michael’s younger sister and a director of the foundation, said the wintertime fundraiser is a chance for supporters to kick the winter blues and “have an elegant, nice time dressing up.”

While the foundation has had annual Face Off for a Cause hockey fundraisers, Goulet said the gala is a chance to reach out to a different demographic and appeal to the foundation’s more clinically minded audience.

Goulet said forming the foundation after her brother’s death was a way for her family to “transform our grief into something powerful.”

When Michael Goulet was 13, he experienced a brain injury in a snowmobile accident, during which he wasn’t wearing a properly fitted helmet. He made a “miraculous recovery,” said Goulet, but suffered from seizures for the rest of his life.

Goulet said her brother dedicated his life to helping others and had been studying psychology at St. Joseph’s College. Michael had appreciated how much his own psychologist had helped him and wanted to do the same for others with brain injuries or seizure disorders, Goulet said.

In October 2010, Michael was driving to school when he had a grand mal seizure and pulled over. He wasn’t found until hours later, and by then it was too late.

“My brother was a comedian of sorts. His sole mission was to make people happy and to make people feel good when they were in his presence,” Goulet said. “He was incredibly strong and persevering in the face of his injury. He fought to get back to where he was. He learned to talk, walk, eat and write all over again.”

Michael Burman, an associate professor at University of New England’s psychology department, and also a director of the foundation, said the brain is very complex and the foundation supports the university’s efforts to educate children about brain safety and injury prevention. Burman is also the K-12 outreach coordinator for the neurosciences at the university.

Each year, with support of a grant from the foundation, Burman and college students travel to local schools in Biddeford, Kennebunk and Saco to deliver a program on brain safety. For children in kindergarten to grade 12, discussions are held with children about the book, “Franklin’s Bicycle Helmet,” by Paulette Bourgeois and Brenda Clark. The students are also shown how a melon will break when dropped on the ground, but can remain intact if dropped while inside a helmet.

In grades three to six, a Bill Nye the Science Guy video is shown to educate the students on concussions. In grades seven and eight, Burman said students participate in an engineering project where they are asked to build a helmet that will protect an egg from breaking when dropped.

In high school, students are given a cranial nerve exam and taught about concussions in more detail, along with the importance of injury prevention in sports.

Burman said the college made 35 visits to schools last year, educating 2,500 students.

“One of the things to understand is that last year there were 1.5 to 3 million traumatic brain injuries in the United States,” Burman said, “and a large chunk of those are preventable.”

Burman said there has been a greater awareness in recent years about the dangers of concussions with sports organizations such as the NFL, increasing efforts to prevent permanent damage.

“Even small concussions repeatedly can lead to lasting damage,” Burman said. “The thing about concussions people don’t realize is that it doesn’t have to be a particularly bad hit. Even a mild hit, hit in the wrong way or at a certain angle can be damaging.”

Burman said one of the most visible programs the foundation sponsors is the free annual helmet giveaway, when 2,500 multi-sport bike helmets with proper fittings are provided to children at different events throughout the state.

Goulet said the foundation has provided a $10,000 grant to Maine Medical Center to support families of people with brain injuries and to help them organize their records and appointments. Scholarships have also been given by the foundation to students at Thornton Academy, St. Josephs College, University of New England and University of Southern Maine, who are either studying neurology or experienced a brain injury or seizures.

Goulet said giving back to the community was important to her brother, who was a member of the Knights of Columbus and regularly volunteered, especially during the annual Knights of Columbus Thanksgiving dinner. The event is now dedicated to the memory of Michael Goulet.

Burman said treatment of brain injuries and seizures can be a challenge for doctors, because scar tissue interrupts the neurology of the brain, but seizure prevention medication can also dull brain activity.

Michael Goulet had been attempting to wean himself off of the medication Burman said, after his doctors assessed his condition and said it was safe to do so. Unfortunately, Michael had a seizure when he was alone, with no one to help him.

By researching the brain, Burman said doctors will be able to develop better treatments for patients with brain-related conditions.

Goulet said the foundation epitomizes her brother’s spirit by carrying on his passion for education and community involvement.

“He was very active in the community and at school,” Goulet said. “He worked a lot, volunteered at food pantries, was a Knight of Columbus. He had a lot of years under his belt for a 21-year-old … He was a wise, old soul.”

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