Hannu Laukkanen, OD MEd FAAO FCOVD-A, President
Hannu Laukkanen is Professor Emeritus of Optometry who currently teaches graduate courses in Pacific University’s Vision Science, Education, and International programs. As a charter member of Pacific’s internationally recognized Vision Performance Institute, his past research has resulted in dozens of published articles in scientific journals as well as book chapters. He has presented hundreds of scientific lectures and courses to health professionals from many different disciplines at conferences and medical facilities internationally.
In the U.S. Dr. Laukkanen recently developed and validated a survey that is now used worldwide for assessment of vision problems after brain injury. He is a member of the Board of Directors for Northwest Congress of Optometry, and President of Brain-Injury Connections-Northwest (support organization for brain injury). He has earned Academic Fellowship with College of Optometrists in Vision Development and Fellowship with the American Academy of Optometry, in addition to multiple national awards for his service.
Personal: Dr. Laukkanen was born in Astoria to Finnish parents and raised on a small dairy farm on the northern most soggy tip of Oregon. Before his career in academe, he was a farmworker, logger, sawmill worker, and commercial SCUBA diver to support his education. Along the way he has sustained at least half a dozen life-altering concussions from a variety of causes. One of his ongoing goals is to inspire other brain-injury survivors that there are many possibilities for further rehabilitative success!
Fern Wilgus, Vice President
Fern grew up in Portland and enjoyed all kinds of activities, especially sports and working with tools. After college, she joined the United States Army Special Services “to see the world.” I first “saw” Korea up North and just a wee bit shy of the DMZ and then off to Vietnam for two consecutive tours. Being stationed in Asia allowed Fern to see and get to know some absolutely beautiful countries such as Hong Kong, Thailand, Bali and Australia and the people who live there.
After Fern retired, she learned to cook, took up riding motorcycles again, and began building my retirement life. In 2007 and 2009 that all changed when she had two strokes. After extensive rehabilitation and good care, both physically and spiritually, she has been able to regain quite a bit of my former self. What Fern misses most is working with her tools and machines, being able to do simple math and not being able to talk or think as quickly.
Fern feels that even though recovering from a brain injury is challenging, frustrating, and fearful, that her opened new doors for her. She became active in the brain injury community through working with non-profit organizations in the Portland metro area, including BIC-NW. She volunteers a huge amount of time to the brain injury community to ensure no other survivors and families fall through the cracks of healthcare, and to work towards eradicating the silent epidemic of brain injury.
Rebecca “Becky” Bellerive, Secretary
Becky is a registered nurse with over 50 years of varied nursing experience. She obtained her Nursing Diploma from Emanuel Hospital School of Nursing and holds certifications in case management, disability management and life care planning.
For the past 34 years, she has been owner and president of an independent nurse consulting practice with a primary focus on catastrophic case management and life care planning. Her work has focused on case management and providing life care plans for survivors of catastrophic, life-altering injuries such as brain injury, spinal cord injury, amputation and multiple trauma.
In 2008, she relocated her practice from Portland to Gig Harbor, Washington where she resides with her husband. She has been blessed with two sons and their families, all of whom live close by. She is retiring in 2022 with plans to devote more time to community volunteering and helping the brain injured community through Brain Injury Connections NW.
In addition to her work, Ms. Bellerive has served on the Advisory Board of the Rehabilitation Training Institute and the Oregon Medical Case Management Group (Case Management Society of America local chapter).
In her spare time, she enjoys hiking, skiing, paddle boarding, knitting, reading and especially spending time with her five grandchildren.
Susan S. Coombes, Treasurer
Throughout her career in the Oregon healthcare delivery system, first as a Master’s prepared Speech-Language Pathologist, and subsequently within both the Quality Improvement and Regulatory Accreditation and Compliance fields of the healthcare industry, her primary focus and passion has been to improve the safe, high quality delivery of care to patients.
Susan has held a number of leadership positions within three healthcare systems in Oregon, Legacy Health System, Oregon Health and Science University and Vibra Specialty Hospital, and has had the opportunity to learn from and work with State and National leaders in the development and enforcement of regulations and to be involved in National projects designed to improve the performance of the healthcare system.
In addition to 15 years of experience working with brain injured adults and children as a clinician, in acute care and rehabilitation settings, Susan also serves as guardian and conservator for her brother, Brian, who experienced a critical traumatic brain injury 31 years ago. This experience has contributed to Susan’s interest and involvement in the brain injured community and commitment to improve the services available to the survivors of brain injury.
Heather Ackles, LCSW
Heather is a Licensed Clinical Social Work (LCSW) private practice mental health therapist and values connecting, advocating and empowering brain injury survivors within our community.
Heather’s interest in brain injury began with near-death experience when she was hit by a car (in 2016.) As a brain injury survivor, Heather is passionate about ways her experience allowed her to step back and recognize gratitude and the power of being alive.Since her injury, Heather has collaborated with Center on Brain Injury and Research Training (CBIRT) for community health screening tools and services, created/facilitated the weekly Think B.I.G. (Brain Injury Group) for survivors, and is a LoveYourBrain (LYB) clinical connector.
What else to know about Heather?
She values barre, spin, dance, yoga, art, music, and gets animated/loud whenever she sees a dog. [Warning: This dog overture of emotion occurs every time she leaves the house with dogs of all sizes. No dog-discrimination occurs.] Most of all, Heather values human connection – as brains are interesting, complex, and different – similar to her love for music (Vivaldi Four Seasons, Otis Redding, HAIM.)
Teresa is a mother to five children and, prior to her accident in 2015, she worked as an event fundraiser. She was born and raised in Portland, moved away for a year for her husband’s medical fellowship, but quickly returned home.
Teresa earned her Bachelor’s degree in Business Marketing from Oregon State University and knew she wanted to be an event fundraiser while receiving her education at OSU. She has worked for multiple non-profit organizations, helping to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for those in need. She loves fundraising and hopes to be able to return to it in some capacity in the future.
In her free time Teresa enjoys spending time outside, Jazzercising (yes, it’s still around), crafting, knitting, completing various hands-on projects and spending time with her husband and children.
Teresa was introduced to the world of brain injury after she was in an automobile accident in June of 2015. There is a military term for the moments before a bomb explodes, “left of boom,” and another for after, “right of boom.” These are based on a left to right timeline. Teresa can often be heard referring to things as “left of boom” (before accident) and “right of boom” (after accident.) She is on the continuous road of recovery and is very grateful for the gains made and support of her amazing family. BIC-NW’s mission is now, and forever, near and dear to her heart.
Born and raised in the Portland area, Stephanie is a law student at Lewis & Clark who is passionate about criminal justice reform. She currently serves as an officer with the Public Interest Law Project (PILP) at Lewis & Clark. She is also a Lewis & Clark Law teaching fellow and a recipient of the Dean’s Scholarship for Excellence. Stephanie has interned with several public defense firms and volunteers her time with organizations that advocate for public safety and justice reform. She first began her professional career as a secondary teacher, specializing in Theatre and English. She earned her B.A. from Portland State University and earned her Master’s Degree from Concordia University Summa Cum Laude.
Stephanie was introduced to the world of brain injury after she was in an automobile accident in May of 2012. Her accident left her with brain injury, ocular injury, jaw injury, shoulder injury and musculoskeletal injuries. Because of her experience, she is dedicated to advocating for survivors of brain injury and their families. She understands the consequences that can occur from a lack of treatment, recognition, and support.
Stephanie is the proud mother of her son and enjoys spending as much time with him as possible. Her goal is to be a voice for hope and an advocate for those affected by brain injury.
Mariel Pinto is an energetic, positive, outgoing person who is always willing to listen. She grew up outside New York City in New Jersey and moved to Portland nearly seven years ago with her fiancé. She enjoys traveling, listening to music, and outdoor activities such as hiking, camping, paddle boarding, and snowshoeing, in her free time. This past summer she graduated Summa Cum Laude from Portland State University (PSU) with a B.S in Speech & Hearing Sciences and a minor in Public Health. She is an advocate for the brain injury community and is pursuing a career as a speech-language pathologist with a desire to work with brain injury survivors. She has been involved with BIC-NW since Summer 2020 and works to move the organization forward and fulfill our mission. She continues to try her best to help survivors and their families have access to the resources they need to lead fulfilling lives. As a board member, Mariel is the facilitator for our virtual support group meetings, provides event coordination, and writes website/social media content for BIC-NW making it a sustainable, online resource.
During her undergrad, she served as PSU National Student Speech Hearing & Language Association (NSSLHA) Chapter Secretary in 2020-2021, and volunteered in the PSU stuttering lab as a clinical and research assistant. Mariel contributed to various research studies, including the investigation of AAC coursework across accredited SLP graduate programs. She had the opportunity to present at the American Speech-Language and Hearing Association Conference (ASHA), the Oregon Speech-Language and Hearing Association Conference (OSHA), and the PSU Research Symposium. Mariel also performed qualitative research to analyze barriers that clients and SLPs encounter while using telepractice. Her role included assisting in writing a manuscript for that study which has been submitted for peer review. Before COVID-19, she was a volunteer at Randall’s Children’s Hospital on the NICU floor and hopes to return when it is safe.
Kate Robinson, MA, LPC, CADC1
Kate Robinson is a Licensed Professional Counselor and a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor with a Private Practice in Portland. She has worked as a mental health therapist for the past 13 years and her focus is on helping individuals with Acquired Brain Injury. Over the years, she has worked with individuals with TBI, concussions, stroke, Aneurysm, brain tumor and encephalitis. She especially enjoys helping clients learn how to adapt to changes post-injury and regain confidence in themselves.
Kate got her BA in French Studies from Lewis and Clark College then decided to get her Masters in Counseling (from PSU) because of her life-changing experience of having a severe TBI at the age of 16 from a private plane accident of which she was the sole survivor. Kate has retrograde amnesia so she does not remember the varsity soccer games she played or the track meets she was in pre-injury nor does she remember other significant events like her first prom. Despite no memories of her life before her accident, she is happy and fulfilled with the only life she has ever known post injury.
Kate is from Portland, OR and is very close to her many family members who live in town. She has been married for 11 years and is a proud mother of a 7-year-old girl who isn’t afraid to ask mommy about her injury and who knows more than most about how to protect your brain!
Karl “Kajomo” Moritz, Adjunct
Karl is a Product Technical Designer and has worked on teams at Icebreaker Merino, Nike, Eddie Bauer & Victor Costa Couture. He is originally from Richmond, Va. where he received a BFA in design from V.C.U. His career has taken him from N.Y.C. to Dallas Tx., Seattle Wa., and he has been in the great green PDX for the last 18 years. Karl is divorced and spends time with his three boys (ages 18, 16 & 13) riding bikes, gaming with them and living & learning with them.
Karl did work part time but his position was relocated to NZ & now in search fro work. He has a disability (severe TBI, Diffuse Axonal Injury & Aphasia). His injury happened while riding his bike home from a job he had been doing for the previous eight years. He decided to take a component of his life change, so he now rides a Track ‘Fixed Gear’ bike and races that bike at Alpenrose Velodrome Track and has competed in group race events. He calls this “Spinning for Neurogenesis”.
Karl has taken it upon himself to let other Brain Injury survivors to know that there is more than just the standard health care scope to brain injury. He has scheduled doctor speakers to speak about Healthy Nervous System and the brain connection, Acupuncture and the nervous system, Neurofeedback, Speech Pathology & Vision Therapy. He brought the LoveYourBrain team to a peer group meeting in 2016 to learn about Yoga and Meditation.
Krysti Slonaker is a Functional Nutritional Therapy Practitioner and Corrective Exercise Specialist. She has a small private practice outside of Portland where she is passionate about individuals with chronic pain, inflammation, and acquired neurological change. She has helped clients who have survived TBI as well as dementia through nutrition and exercise. Most of Krysti’s public work has been through small adult community centers teaching classes and giving lectures on nutrition and lifestyle with chronic conditions.
Krysti received her certificates through The Nutritional Therapy Association out of Bellevue Washington and the National Association of Sports Medicine. She continues to study brain health for performance and neuroplasticity, and has big dreams to continue her work on a more global scale.
Krysti was first introduced to Brain Injury when she met her father-in-law who was a stroke survivor. A few years later her little sister was diagnosed with brain Cancer, and Krysti was intimately involved with the subsequent care after her sister’s surgery. The changes in her sister’s motor skill and cognitive function after diet change post-surgery was astonishing until the cancer became too advanced. These experiences gave her an insatiable passion for helping the brain injury community through wellness modalities as simple as nutrition and movement.
Chris has been involved in various educational roles throughout her career—middle school and high school teacher, state department of education supervisor, and university professor (University of Montana, Oregon State University).
After 25 years as a faculty member at Oregon State University, she retired in 2011. Although she enjoyed teaching hundreds of classes during her career, she especially enjoyed working one-on-one in an advising role with undergraduate, masters, and doctoral students. Whether it was helping students map out a 4-year degree plan or advising graduate students in completing their degree plans and graduate projects or dissertations, the time spent in those roles was what she looked forward to every day.
Three honors that were especially meaningful were:
- Securing a Faculty Development Grant to work in Senator Mark O. Hatfield’s office one summer in order to help her in teaching Public Policy and the Family class.
- Receiving a Fulbright Scholar Award to teach for one semester at the Liepaja Pedagogical Academy in Latvia. She credits immersing herself in another culture as her greatest learning opportunity.
- Receiving the College of Education’s (OSU) Faculty Caring Award.
Chris became an advocate for brain injury survivors and their families after her daughter, Laura, sustained a TBI from a car accident in 2002. After a 4-month coma, Laura needed to re-learn basic activities—swallowing, talking, walking, etc. Laura now lives independently, works part-time, and enjoys activities provided by Brain Injury Connections NW.