The family of a young woman who was brutally beaten and raped outside of the Bloomingdale Library in Valrico in 2008 says new therapy technology is bringing about improvements in her condition.
The woman, whose family asked that she not be identified by name, suffered extensive brain damage as a result of the attack. It left her unable to walk or even talk.
"Certain areas of the brain are not receiving messages from other parts of the brain telling them to coordinate their activity," explained Dr. William Lambos, a neuropsychologist at Cognitive Neuro Sciences in Tampa.
The treatment is called multimodal neurotherapy. New advancements in its technology are literally re-training her brain. Dr. Lambos says it looks promising.
"We think it's a reasonable expectation that she might able to walk relatively normal again," he said, also cautioning that it's difficult to say to what extent her brain can be repaired.
She was 18 at the time of the attack. Now, she's 22.
A special cap placed on her head delivers energy to the brain through sensors. That stimulates brain waves that are needed for the next phase of the treatment.
In that next phase, sensors are attached directly to her head. The sensor read the information, or brain waves, she's sending out. There is increased activity. Her mother and older sister Anna Vuong are amazed.
"We're so unbelievably grateful to have her in our lives and we can see that constant improvement," said Vuong, who notes that they weren't sure her sister would even survive the attack.
The next part of the therapy is incredible science. Her brain controls images on a monitor that she watches. Every time she makes what's called "healthy" connections in her brain, she's rewarded with visual images and music.
For example, the computer creates a solid image of a cube with accompanying music when her brain makes those healthy connections. But the cube falls apart and the music stops when her brain isn't making them.
Dr. Lambos says she understands that her goal is to get the reward, but he says the human brain also naturally responds to certain stimuli more positively.
"The cube moving is inherently more interesting and the music that accompanies the positive reward is inherently more interesting to the brain itself than random flashing and no music," said Dr. Lambos.
The more rewards she receives, the more challenging the exercise gets. Dr. Lambos says the hope is that, in turn, her brain continues to repair itself.
She did exceptionally well this session. It's why her mother always makes sure to remind us that her daughter is a survivor, not a victim.
She has at least six more 'brain training' sessions to go. Then, Dr. Lambos will check her progress to see how the therapy is working and whether she's ready for another round.
The family is accepting donations for her care. Checks made payable to "Bloomingdale Library Assault Victim Trust" can be mailed to The Bank of Tampa on Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa. Deposits are also accepted at any SunTrust bank.
Kendrick Morris is serving a total of 65 years in prison for the library attack and also the rape of another woman.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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