When Joe Veight flipped his '93 Mustang over the guardrail on Route 553 in New Jersey and slammed into a pole so hard that it snapped in half, he should have died. Doctors told his family that if he survived, his best case scenario was to spend the rest of his life in a vegetative state.
Seventeen years later, Joe confidently walked into a room to talk about his near-death experience with a matter-of-fact attitude. He speaks about the accident and the 110 days he spent in a coma fighting for his life in a New Jersey hospital as the turning point in his life, a life that had been ravaged by drugs and alcohol.
“The accident stopped me on a dime,” he says. “It turned me around 180 degrees.”
The demons that haunted Joe years ago are in the past. He calls that time in his life his "bad boy" days. All that remains from that time is the look: the Harley Davidson T-shirt, gelled hair, gold chain and earrings. But now Joe is a positive force in the community with a focus on the future. Joe participates in the ThinkFirst program that allows him to give talks to middle school and high school students about brain injuries and how he’s learned from the mistakes he’s made in his life.
“It felt good knowing I was reaching the kids and that they can learn from me,” Joe says.
'The residence is great. They have a great staff, people respect me, and my friends live there. I’m just glad and happy for what Moss did for me.'
For Joe, none of this would be possible without the help of MossRehab. The nationally-ranked rehabilitation hospital has a location in Woodbury, N.J., with a unique program that helps people who have suffered a brain injury. (There is another location at 7612 Dungan Road in Philadelphia's Northeast neighborhood.)
The program, known as The Clubhouse, provides Joe and his fellow members with an environment where they learn to be self-sufficient and successful. The days are heavily structured, which is good for persons with brain injuries, and the program emphasizes equipping each member with life and occupational skills and a feeling of independence. The structured environment and daily routines helps the members by providing stability and reducing anxiety and stress.
“The Clubhouse has been a safety net for Joe,” says Walter Lewis (left), Life Long Living Manager at MossRehab. “It gives him a place to work on work-related skills and a place to help others.”
On this late summer Friday afternoon, Joe has just finished his Clubhouse activities for the day and reflects on his years at MossRehab.
“The staff is wonderful. I trust her,” he says pointing to Heather Kite, his clinical case manager with whom he’s developed a close rapport.
Joe spends some of his time in the Clubhouse on the "Communications Unit" producing a newsletter called Clubhouse Happenings.
The Spring issue features a three-page spread of photos showing the members doing gardening activities, playing games and throwing a baby shower for a member of the staff.
Joe and a handful of other Clubhouse members live in a residence across the street where they are assisted by MossRehab staff. The home, which is decorated for fall and the football season, features eight bedrooms, two common areas, a big kitchen and a reading room.
The goal is for the residents to go about their daily lives like anyone else. With the help of the staff, they cook their meals, wash their clothes and clean their rooms.
“The residence is great,” Joe says. “They have a great staff, people respect me, and my friends live there. I’m just glad and happy for what Moss did for me.”
Walter sees Joe as a great example of how the residential program can make an incredible impact for many patients.
“He’s able to live in the community and not have to reside in a more restrictive environment like a nursing home,” Walter says. “He’s more able to be independent in the community. He goes to the gym using public transportation, he has his own space and he goes to outings in the community.”
While he enjoys his time at MossRehab, Joe continues to set goals and work towards complete independence. He aced his driver’s permit test and hopes to soon enroll in the MossRehab Driving School in an effort to be able to live on his own and regain his job at a local printing press.
Always looking ahead, Joe is appreciative for the care he’s received.
“I’m looking for the next step,” he says with a smile. “To get a job and live on my own. Before, I never thought it would happen. Now, I live for my future.”