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Couple at LIJ center find love, heal wounds

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Snyder, 32, and Leach, 35, met in 2003 at Transitions of Long Island, a rehab facility of the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System that provides comprehensive therapy for people with neurological injuries. They became romantically involved about a year ago, and their love has given them strength in their struggles to overcome tragic and isolating injuries.After suffering a brain injury in 1999, Snyder began going to the Manhasset-based center five days a week in 2001. At the time, he was confined to a wheelchair and could not speak. Leach, who lives with her family in Huntington, L.I., was in similar condition.Now the two can walk and talk - and give each other Valentines."Perrin became quite depressed, but now that he found Laura, it has opened up his life," said his mother, Sylvia Snyder.Both she and Barbara Leach, Laura's mother, spoke of how their relationship has helped the couple cope with the isolation and frustration from which victims of brain injuries suffer. Barbara Leach said her daughter can share thoughts and feelings with her boyfriend that she would never communicate with her own family."Now she has someone and she's like a rose," Barbara Leach said. "She's just blooming."The pair went out on their first date two weeks ago, for Laura's birthday, to the fancy seafood restaurant 105 Harbor in Cold Spring. Snyder requested a table by the fireplace. They are planning to go out again in April for Snyder's birthday.They both said finding love has helped them through their sometimes difficult therapies."It's better," Leach said. "I can do more."Snyder spoke about the feelings of loneliness he battled after his injury and said Leach's love has been a salve."Now we all have each other," he said.Dr. Deborah Benson, a neuropsychologist and the executive director of Transitions, said she noticed that Snyder and Leach have improved since they became involved."It's really helped boost their recovery," she said.Transitions offers complete therapy for people who have sustained traumatic brain injuries, strokes, brain tumors or other conditions that damage brain function. The outpatient facility sees about 50 people from across metropolitan New York each day, Benson said. Most come between two and four times a week, depending on their need for therapy.About 1.4 million Americans sustain traumatic brain injuries each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Of those, about 50,000 die and 235,000 are hospitalized, but most are treated and released from emergency rooms.Doctors and parents said victims face particular emotional hurdles because they retain their long-term memory and are fully aware of what their lives used to be."When you have a traumatic brain injury and you want to be the way you were, it's an uphill battle," said Sylvia Snyder."He's very kind and she really adores him, and that makes him happy," said Barbara Leach. "This is a miracle."Reach reporter John Tozzi by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300 Ext. 188.

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