‘Helping Patients Relish Life Differently’

As a 37-year survivor of a brain injury, Marvel Vena understands the unique issues that neurointensive care patients and their families endure. She is devoted to making positive changes for patients both locally and nationally, and as a volunteer at Rush she has touched the lives of thousands of patients and their families. Her devotion to helping others turn disability into possibility has earned her this year’s Eugene J-M.A. Thonar, PhD, Award.

“Marvel has embraced Dr. Thonar’s achievements in helping patients relish life differently,” says Barbara Klawans, who has worked closely with Vena through Rush’s Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation program. “They both display positive attitudes and push the boundaries as crusaders for patients with fundamental desires to transition from vulnerable to developing resilience in spite of their disabilities.”

Making sure ‘someone is there to help them’

At Rush, Vena was instrumental in the creation of the Family Information Group. Founded in 2002, the group meets with families of current neurointensive care unit patients every Wednesday afternoon. The purpose of the group is to provide necessary information needed to navigate through treatment and recovery.

“Families need to get information early on,” Vena says. “We go in and take their story, make sure someone is there to help them. They need to know about applying for short-term disability, about rehabilitation, and how to look for changes in the patient when medical staff is not present. We help them navigate through it all.”

In addition to the Family Information Group at Rush, Vena leads an evening support group sponsored by the Rush Department of Neurological Sciences for patients recovering from stroke and aneurysms. She has been a member of Rush’s ADA Task Force Committee and Rehabilitation Council. As past president of the Brain Injury Association of Illinois, Vena successfully advocated for the Brain Injury Medicaid Waiver in Illinois and the Traumatic Brain Injury Act of 1996.

The Thonar Award is given each year to a person in the Rush community — a staff member, student or volunteer — who has made outstanding contributions to Rush and enabled the institution to further its commitment of offering opportunities to individuals who are determined to turn a disability into a possibility.

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