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Art helps brain injury grad reach out to others

April 20, 2017

Marissa Albat grew up surrounded by the rugged beauty of Wyoming. She got to see a lot of it as her mother worked as a traveling nurse in cities and towns throughout the state. Loving the outdoors, Albat developed a passion for photography and art. She was also talented in drama.

In August 2010, on the last weekend before starting college, she was headed out for a camping trip when the car flipped and she was thrown out. Albat was in a coma for 19 days, with multiple injuries, including a severe brain injury.

Being an experienced nurse, her mother wanted her brought to Denver. Albat got a spot on the waiting list, and in September she saw Craig Hospital for the first time. At that point, she was angry. So much had changed, and she pictured a bleak future for herself. “How could I do art, when I couldn’t even hold a brush?”

The professionalism of her team and the can-do atmosphere at Craig won her over, and now she has fond memories of her experience at Craig. “My therapists were terrific,” she says. “They helped me to adjust and to relearn lost skills.” She worked hard to recover, and set ambitious goals for herself. As she prepared to leave Craig, she considered her future and set some career goals. She thought about how the recreation therapists help people not only to live with their disabilities, but to relearn how to do what they loved. Albat decided that’s what she wanted to do.

Although she liked Craig, she missed Wyoming, and didn’t care much for Denver. “Too much traffic, too many people.” She couldn’t find a training program in recreational therapy in Wyoming, so she earned a degree in psychology and now she has nearly completed a Master of Social Work degree. Currently she works as a case manager for individuals with developmental disabilities and brain injuries in Laramie. Most of her clients are children. Helping them to learn new ways to do things with their disabilities is her favorite part of her job.

Bear Artwork by Craig Hospital Traumatic Brain Injury Patient Marissa AlbatIt took years for Albat to get back into art. She began by creating pieces only for her family and friends. Sometimes she finds that she can incorporate art into her job. For example, she was working with a small boy who was interested in dinosaurs, so she created a dinosaur watercolor to brighten his life. Four big sensory “monsters” in her office help kids to explore different textures. Albat has learned to apply her artistic talent and her unique life experiences to helping others.

Her artwork, along with pieces by other Craig Hospital graduates, will be featured in the silent auction at the 2017 PUSH Dinner on April 29. The Craig Hospital Foundation's biggest fundraiser of the year, the annual PUSH dinner, raises money to support Craig’s programs and research. The 2016 event raised more than $1.8 million.