Ten years ago Diana Tafur was ejected from a New York City taxi in an accident involving a drunk driver and landed on her head.
The impact left the then 22-year-old woman with a traumatic brain injury that completely changed her life and that of her family’s.
After surviving four and half months in a coma, she began rehabilitation therapy that continues today. Her Lake Mary family rallied to support her recovery.
“We provide whatever she needs to help her 24/7,” said Ivan Tafur, her father and primary caregiver.
Over the years Ivan Tafur and his daughter have learned there are few opportunities for TBI survivors to be active and interact with different people. But that could change thanks to a special harness system that offers just those opportunities.
Today UCF and partner Aramark launched the Knights on the Go Café in Health and Public Affairs I as the first site to demonstrate the harness system in Florida.
Behind the cafe’s counter was Diana Tafur.
She wore a harness suspended from the top of a customized metal frame. The harness provided her with a safe, active experience outside a traditional physical therapy session. A UCF physical therapy faculty member stood nearby to assist her as needed.
The harness system was developed by Professor Cole Galloway, brothers Ralph and Steve Cope, and a team at the University of Delaware in Newark. The university opened the only other café with the harness system in the nation on its campus in 2014.
“This is a big day for all of us,” said Jennifer Tucker, a member of UCF’s physical therapy faculty who is leading the project in collaboration with Galloway. “We’re very excited to offer TBI survivors the next step in their journey of recovery.”
Tucker said people with TBI are challenged with doing two things at the same time ― walking and talking for example. The café and harness create an opportunity for individuals with motor and cognitive impairments to have an immersive experience to work on vocation and rehabilitation skills. The harness provides the safety net needed in case they lose their balance as they work.
“It places them in the real world and that can’t be created in a health care setting,” Tucker said. “It’s safe and comes with clinical supervision.”
Tucker hopes other organizations will implement the harness system to help more TBI survivors. She also sees the possibility of expanding its use to benefit people with a wide variety of motor disabilities.
“This experience should be made available to more people with disabilities,” said Ivan Tafur. “They will greatly benefit from the experience.”
Knights on the Go Café is located in the HPA I atrium and sells fresh fruit, packaged sandwiches and salads, and drinks. This spring the café is open Monday-Thursday, 9 a.m.-2 p.m., and Friday, 9 a.m.-1 p.m.
Diana Tafur and another TBI survivor will work twice a week on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, 11 a.m.-1 p.m., although their schedule may vary. Aramark is employing UCF physical therapy students to work alongside them and other UCF students to work the other days and times the café is open.
“Aramark is honored to partner with UCF on this extraordinary and innovative program,” said Stephen Corren, marketing manager for Aramark’s dining services at UCF. “This wonderful opportunity truly expresses our mission of enriching and nourishing lives daily.”
Before her accident Diana Tafur was a vital young woman who worked in television advertising. Although she is not getting paid for her shifts at the Knights on the Go Café, it offers her an opportunity to reclaim more of the life she once knew.
“It allows me freedom to get out in the world,” said Diana Tafur. “It gives me purpose.”