Mary Ellen Hayden Ph.D., ABPP
Mary Ellen Hayden Ph.D., ABPP

Our Story

In October 1974, I was studying for my doctoral oral exams in neuropsychology when I received news that my 12-year-old son, Ben, had been hit by a car while out riding the bicycle he made from spare parts. The accident caused a severe head injury, and Ben was rushed to the hospital. At the time, it was very difficult to save the lives of people who had such severe brain injuries. Despite the doctors’ best efforts, Ben passed away that evening.

At the time of his death, brain injury rehabilitation programs were in their infancy and research on brain injuries had just started. This made me committed to improving the success of brain injury rehabilitation and outcomes. Therefore, after I completed my doctoral training in neuropsychology, I began conducting research in the field.

Improving Outcomes

After learning about the newest ways to analyze the brain, I teamed up with Dr. Dan Morrison, a physician specializing in rehabilitation. We launched an inpatient brain injury rehabilitation program at Del Oro Hospital in Houston, where we were aided by research from Dr. Roger Sperry, the 1981 Nobel Prize winner in medicine for split brain research. Dr. Sperry provided great insight into how people think, reason, remember and make decisions. Our program adopted a team-centered approach with professionals from traditional medical disciplines including physical medicine and rehabilitation; nursing; social work; and physical, occupational, speech and language therapies.

While we were realizing successful outcomes, there was a void in outpatient therapy. This led me to launch an outpatient program that mirrored the Del Oro inpatient model, but I soon noticed something was still lacking. Although patients continued to improve in the clinical setting, they seemed to struggle in other environments.

Why would patients appear to improve in the clinical setting but not be able to maintain their outcomes in the real world? We realized it was because the clinical setting is not the same as the real world where patients must go home and live. In the clinical setting, patients received therapies in isolation from one another. For example, speech therapy and physical therapy were different, separate sessions. Yet in the real world, we often talk and communicate while we are doing physical activities.  Therefore, we discovered that the environment in treatment needed to mirror the environment the patient would be returning to in order to maintain good outcomes. 

After trial and error, the clinic adjusted its outpatient activities, honing them to the provensupport-families approach still utilized today. The hallmark to this approach is creating an environment unique to each individual’s ability level and tolerance of distractions. As patients progress, therapists introduce greater complexity into the treatments while reducing structure. This model helps assimilate individuals to the outside world.

Not Just a Job at Pate

For more than 30 years, Pate Rehabilitation has been dedicated to continually improving brain injury rehabilitation to enable patients to thrive in the real world. With an emotional tie and a deep interest, it is Pate’s mission to ensure the best treatment and most successful outcomes possible for those with acquired brain injuries. Throughout our history, I have been committed to treat the people we serve with compassion, dignity, hope and respect. I know how important it is to live these values since it is what I would have wanted for Ben and my family.

Sperry R. “Some Effects of Disconnecting the Cerebral Hemispheres,” Nobel Lecture, Karolinska Institutet, Dec. 8 1981; “Roger W. Sperry – Autobiography,”, Oct. 17, 2011,