EAGLE LAKE, Maine — Suzanne and Ronald Morneault of Eagle Lake have finally paid off the home equity loan 11 years after they needed it to pay for expenses related to their daughter’s treatments for a traumatic brain injury.
Mindy Morneault Forino was hurt during a college soccer game, and had to make frequent trips to Portland for the specialized health care she needed to treat her brain injury.
Now Suzanne Morneault and Forino are trying to relieve the financial burden on others by starting a respite home in Portland — similar to the Ronald McDonald House for cancer patients — where people with brain injuries and their families can stay for free while they obtain medical treatment.
“I don’t know how people can do it if they do not have the opportunity to access money like we did,” Suzanne Morneault said. “How do they weather that and keep their house?”
An estimated 10,000 Mainers experienced a brain injury in 2021, according to the Acquired Brain Injury Advisory Council of Maine — whose members are appointed by the commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services.
Forino was defending the University of Maine at Fort Kent goal at a soccer game against Maine Maritime Academy in Castine when she and another player collided. The other player’s shoulder caught Forino in the left temple, causing a traumatic brain injury that nearly killed her.
Costs incurred related to Forino’s injury included housing near Portland where she received years of medical treatment.
“We would commute at the beginning and try to do day trips which were counterproductive for Mindy‘s brain injury,” Morneault said.
In the aftermath of her brain injury, Forino and her mother founded All Things Become New, a non-profit organization that educates people about brain injuries and provides support for patients and their caregivers. These efforts include the Haven of Rest respite home for caregivers in their hometown of Eagle Lake.
In 2018 the Brain Injury Association of America-Maine awarded Forino and Morneault with the Lewis and Clara Lamont Brain Injury Advocacy Award.
The aim of the Portland home is to lighten the financial load for other people with brain injuries and their families who find themselves in similar situations, Morneault said.
International business leader Steve Spiro, CEO and founder of Halotherapy Solutions, who met Morneault and Forino at a Float Conference held in August at the Cross Insurance Center in Portland, agreed to join the board of All Things Become New to help make the Portland respite home a reality.
The Float Conference showcases alternative healing methods such as chambers that use salt therapy and infrared lights.
“I was blown away by the passion of Suzanne and Mindy, the importance of the project and the excellent match to my experience/skill set,” Spiro said.
Spiro has more than 45 years of business experience to bring to the endeavor, including having been on the original startup team of Audible.com, which was sold to Amazon, and as an executive at Motorola, during which he provided free pagers to family members who stayed at Ronald McDonald Houses throughout the country.
“I’ve worked with the Ronald McDonald House previously, so I very much understand the mission [of All Things Become New],” Spiro said. “I’m quite confident once I dive in more, I will be able to help.”
Fundraising will be the primary goal for the time being.
Morneault said she hopes All Things Become New will raise enough money to purchase a seven- to nine-bedroom home near the vicinity of Brighton Avenue in Portland to make it an easy commute to Maine Medical Center for people who use the home.
All brain injury survivors will be able to stay in the home, whether due to an accident, stroke, brain tumor or a complication from birth, Morneault said.