The Ski Lesson: Recovering from a Head Injury

Organized by: Ellen b. Fine

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Ellen b.'s Photo
Ellen b.'s Photo
Ellen b.'s Photo
Ellen b.'s Photo
Ellen b.'s Photo
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Ellen b.'s Photo
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Ellen b.'s Photo


The Ski Lesson:  Recovering From a Head Injury

This is a story about an accident while on the job as a ski instructor, a traumatic brain injury-concussion, memory loss, and an irresponsible insurance company called Liberty Mutual. It’s also a story about helpful therapies, supportive friends and hope for brain, neurological and emotional health restored.  Finally, it’s a story about healing and community spirit and making the world a bit happier!

You can help determine how quickly this story ends by donating to my fundraiser to make it a happily ever after story!

Prologue: The Short Version All you need to know on March 25, 2015 I had a debilitating head injury when one of my four year old ski students crashed into me.  Who knew a four year old could cause so much damage? My brain has been a mess-cognitive thought, memory, emotions a wreck, normal brain function GONE.

Though the injury was on the job, I haven't received a dime of Worker's Comp from The Liberty Mutual Company, insurer’s for my former employers Cannon Mountain, owned and operated by The State of New Hampshire. I only received 1/4 compensation of just some of my medical bills.  I am not well enough to work a full time. I have tried and did not do a good job. In the words of my co-working Amy, 

" It was easier to do technological tasks for Ellen rather than to just keep teaching her to do it again and again." 

A year ago, Liberty Mutual cut me off from all compensation which means I have been without the very valuable neurotherapy which had restored my brain. My brain function has diminished 30-40% since they cut me off! I do get some healthcare through MassHealth,  though the neurotherapy which restored my brain function is not covered.

 Neurotherapy was restoring my brain function.  I could read with coprehension, write, fathom decision making and my emotions were healthier with treatment once a week While I needed approsimately 80 sessions, Liberty Mutual bitched and moaned about paying 1/4 of 33 sessions, then they abruptly cut me off when New Hampshire decided not to continue a contract with them for Worker's Comp. As ou read below, you will understand why New Hampshire made that deciso!  My savings that I had intended to use to start a new business are gone to healthcare.  

 I used to be under the assumption that Worker's Compensation existed to cover ANYONE who was injured on the job whether you had worked at a company for ten minutes or 30 years, whether you were a part time employee with a massive heart attack or the CEO with a papercut...

Like many Americans, I found myself as a pawn in the game Liberty Mutual plays with those injured at work. This fundraiser should be totally unnecessary! My medical bills were promised to be paid in full by a representative of the company and they simply were not! I can no longer put my health and life on hold waiting for the end of this game to be played by the insurance companies.

And then there are life expenses, heat, electric, food, taxes, etc.  Normally, this would be a tie for family to step in and help instead I've been dealing with wealthy relatives on both sides of my family who procured money that my parents had left me, one was my cousin and and a lawyer and recently realized after a 10 year legal struggle his heirs are following in his footsteps of stealing money that my folks had left me...  So, to reacap, injured- unable to work full time,, poorly functioning brain, ripped off by relatives and the, had a therapy that worked and is not covered by Mass Health. And I want to restore my brain function, and I have taxes and life espenses due! Even if I were to start this minute and could fill out a form, Social Security Disability would probably be at least two years and several more legal battles away.... Just to give you an idea of what it is to deal with a state agancy, last Friday, I took 3 hours of public transportation to spend an hour waiting to get to argue with DTA  in Massachusetts just to reinstate my foodstamps.  Even though I spent two weeks with a social worker, sent in every proof they required, had a phone interview and several times  requested accomadation for extra time to fill out forms, I have been denied that.  And this was the very easiest of the hassles I have been through since my head injury!

Thank you for your kindness in helping me restore my brain health and get back on my feet again... The rest of the story talks about my accident, some funny highjinks of being a ski instructor, my accident, what a piss awful company Liberty Mutual is and the really amazing holistic and other therapies I was doing that helped me to recover that I will be able to do again with your help!

 Part Two:  The Backstory

For two decades I worked to educate others about the consequences of pesticide use using my own story and health as an example.  When I got sick from lawn care pesticides my first instinct was to remove myself from the barage of toxic chemicals, educate others and change laws.  With this head injury and the resultant neurological and emotional trauma due to neglect by insurance company, I put my pen to paper or hands to keyboard once again.

My goal, as it has always been, to help create awareness of conditions that affect many and destigmatize and create compassion and the impetus to change systems that are not working for millions of Americans. And of course to raise some funds so I can continue to get well. Thank you for reading my story...

If you only have a few seconds, skip to the donate buttons, and I thank you... If you have a few minutes more and like a good story about how an insurance company is reckoned by karma, read a bit more.  The good part about life changing holistic treatments for head injuries, depression, ADD/ADHD and PTSD, is at the end of the story.

Just think of it as a short story. I only wish it was worthy of Alice Munro!


Chapter One:  Here's My Story

In December of 2014 I was thrilled to get a job Cannon Mountain as a ski instructor.  I spent decades on skis, starting at three. I loved to ski! As a teen, I was a ski racer but racing implies words like fast, speed, and concepts like fearlessness.... Not in my DNA. So I quit racing and started teaching. (See the photos above- the early years at Loon).

Skiing is what brought me to my sacred White Mountains where I went to Holderness School in Plymouth, NH. After undergrad at Bates College in Maine, I moved back to Waterville Valley, NH. It was idyllic until the Chemlawn trucks showed up, blanketing the valley with dozens of pesticides that made me quite ill. Made it through many of the courses at Plymouth State towards an M.Ed in Teaching Writing before having to stop. Founded the LEAH non-profits dedicated to pesticide awareness and promoting everything from organic land care to herbal medicine. LEAH was named for my dog who also got sick from the lawn chemicals. Transformed our pesticide poisonings into awareness of these toxins and worked to ban them. (Check out the photos of Leah, too!)

 Chapter Two:  My Life as a Ski Instructor

My 2014-15 Ski Season Was Going Great! After years of being ill from the pesticides, I was finally back to work I loved, teaching skiing for $10 an hour. It wasn’t a mega money maker, though it was a good winter off from my normal gig with pesticides and activism… I woke before the alarm clock at 5am in Needham, scrambled water over my face, shoved some food in a bag for the next few days, slinging my ski boots into the car next to the car heater for the three hour drive to Franconia. 

Cannon is a great ski school-small class sizes, nice supervisors and what fun, coloring with the kids before lessons. I taught the Never Evers.  My days consisted of teaching kids to walk in heavy ski boots, mastering the pizza stop (snow plow), stopping, turning, etc.  Half of being a ski instructor is clothing and equipment control. Bundling up kids with fleece, gators, gloves, jackets and goggles happens at least 7 times a day.

The lesson goes something like this...  We color with the kids, learn names, play ski boot hopscotch to train brains and their feet before we put on skis. The jackets are on. The kids are boiling hot while rushing the door to get outside. That jacket doesn't zip... this kid blocks the door... No one can get in or out! Then, one of them asks, "Why do we have to go outside …" "Because we want to ski don't we…"

 "OK kids... which end of the ski is the front?" Rachel wants to ski next to her brother, but he doesn't want to ski next to her... "Josh pay attention...." "Oh Carly, we can't roll down the hill..." Oh there goes Carly. Carrying Carly up the hill while... Kids slipping around on one ski, some kid has snot running down his nose, another one wants to go potty and there go four layers of… gloves, hats, jackets and ski pants.

 One ski instructor models a pizza stop and if all else fails, gently pushes kids down the bunny slope while another instructor plays catcher if the kids don't stop. Then it's time for the magic carpet, a rubber hits the snow conveyor belt of children up the mountain.

Chapter Three: March 25th, 2015. The Day that Changed My Life… I was coloring with a set of twins from Massachusetts. I taught my heart out with them the day before. The little girl was a great skier, fearless, laughing and the little boy was a ball of fears and terrors. I had never seen a child hold on for dear life gripping his feet to the skis. I pulled out every ski instructor trick in the bag, breaks for cookies and hot chocolate and educational kinesiology exercises to improve co-ordination and strength. I told him stories where he was the slayer of dragons, a hero vanquisher of fears... Nothing seemed to work!

At lunch, I asked a supervisor… "Check to see if his boots are too big..." "Boots too big?.... "Huh?" Sure enough the kid's tiny feet were swimming in those ski boots. Daddy and the ski tech at the ski store in Mass. forgot to measure his feet before fitting them to ski boots. Note to Ski Schools: DO NOT allow children to rent skis anywhere but through your ski school. And make sure you do the proper boot fitting!

Finally, the kid was skiing better, having more fun and gripping less, though he simply hadn't mastered the Pizza or any other kind of Stop. His sister had gone ahead and he was trying to catch up, picking up too much speed, and he wasn't stopping!

 I tried to Get Out of the Way!!!!!!

 I felt the crash and something go in my spine as I hit the ground. Blacked out for a second or two... Thankfully, I had my helmet on. The kid's skis and my skis were in a jumble.  Rich, another instructor was uphill trying to stop his student from running into us. Rich called it, ' A Yardsale' which is snowsports talk for me and half my gear and the kid and half his gear sprawled out in different places on the hill... like a YARDSALE!

Slowly made it to standing, did the four turns down the mountain to get to the ski room. "Kids, we're going in" "But why Miss Ellen..." Guess I thought that would have been obvious. But when you are four years old, not everything is so obvious.

My head was totally wonky, my eyesight was off and my nervous system was screaming every which way, wrist hurting, back too. I was dizzy and kind of out of it… blathering to my supervisor... Yet, I somehow did all the required stuff, passing kids off to other instructors, accident reports, ski patrol, etc. 

The kid's parents said they saw the accident, barely asked me how I was doing. Note to parents: ski instructors are paid like crap! If someone spends two days picking up your four year old twins 29 times a day, with all the gear and clothing and you forget to measure your kid's foot for ski boots and this causes a crash, a tip would be nice.

Rich got me to the hospital.  He kept checking in on me in the Emergency Room. The Doc in the ER checked me out and gave me the verdict: "You have a concussion!" (duh) "No cars, no computers, no thinking, no cell phones, No Nothing!" Jenny, who I stayed with all winter, set me up in the downstairs. "No stairs for you!" Soup and toast for supper.

That first night, at my friend Jenny's house, my head felt like it swelled up as big as The White Mountain National Forest which is about 800,000 acres and conveniently where Cannon Mountain is located....

Chapter Four:  'After The Fall...' or Post Concussion Syndrome

The first month my head was wonky. I was forgetful, confused, fearful and angry, a lot! The time I do not regret is yelling at the representative for the Liberty Mutual Insurance/Hellmsman Agency and outsourced insurance claims mangers. And thus began an eighteen month battle to get Liberty Mutual to pay for the Worker's Comp for which they are contractually obligated to pay. This fight will include a lawyer friend who works for next to nothing, dozens of efforts from my health care practitioners’ offices and me when I can hack the frustration levels.

As the spring moved on, my symptoms worsened and The Concussion turned into Post-Concussion Syndrome which is what they call it when the concussion symptoms linger longer than they are supposed to linger.

The past year and a half has been a surreal slow-motion run down a ski slope... It's like going backward on my skis and my boots are on the wrong feet.  Cognition, memory, brain function... some days they are a distant memory. Last summer I sat in the backyard for hours constantly falling asleep only to wake up and find hours rather than minutes had gone by. The experts call this uncontrolled dozing.

I knew it was time to get help when I couldn't remember how to drive to places I had driven to my entire life. Sometimes there are funny moments like Thanksgiving Dinner, when an elderly friend said to me, "I didn't know you were a football player!" when I told her I had a concussion. Like so many others, she saw reports of the NFL hiding the seriousness of concussions and assumed all concussions were from football.

Repercussions from concussions aren't limited to football players. It happens to skiers, soccer players, people who have had car accidents and just plain folks who have head injuries. Brandy Chastain and Frank Gifford's family will donate brain tissue to research Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE)—a progressive degenerative brain disease.  Concussions and head injuries are a near constant in the news.

 Chapter Five: 'What the Heck is a Brain Map, Anyways?'

I  found Advanced Neurotherapy and I had a Brain Map which is a sci- fi looking set up with electrodes that measures brain activity. The findings: my brain had greatly diminished capacity for 3.5 to 4 seconds out of a 7 second cycle. My brain didn't work for understanding new tasks or concepts, written or oral directions, organizing, reading comprehension, writing, and filling out forms. Using computers, cell phones, any systems thinking still poses a huge challenge.  I got to find out about a new term, Executive Functioning and how I don't have that anymore, either! 

Neurotherapy helps for head injuries, ADD/ADHD, depression, dementia and problems with Executive Functioning and other psychological brain based illnesses.   It's pretty miraculous stuff!

It works like this.  I watch a movie while bells and louder tah dah sounds are going off at intervals matched up with my brain waves. A bio feedback is attached to my head with electrodes to pinpointed places on my head that were determined by a brain map. It was working! It's best to do two or three sessions a week, and I would have been healed by now but I was only able to afford one session a week and  haven't had one in four months. One needs to be consistent so just to pay for one session here or there isn't advised which is why I am turning to an online fundraiser for help. 

 Chapter Six: Whatever Happened to Workers' Comp, You Might Ask?

Liberty Mutual only paid a small percentage  of some of my neurotherapy claims.  They covered psychotherapy for a few months, then cut me off from that too, so I couldn't even go to the therapist to complain about how stressful it was that the insurance company had cut me off from health care.  And Liberty paid nothing for my other therapies and not a penny for lost wages. The particular devaluation of being a part time seasonal employee.  Unions for ski instructors you might ask? Yeah right. We're lucky we get two hours of show up pay even though we wait hours to teach, all unpaid.

Particularly painful during The Olympics was the constant running of Liberty Mutual Commercials which a lovely and brave Massachusetts Olympian promotes.  Liberty paid millions to advertise during primetime Olympic viewing hours, while paying NOTHING for my Worker's Comp. I've heard similar horror stories with this company. The State of New Hampshire recently cancelled Liberty Mutual as the worker's comp company. Great for the Granite State but bad for me, they still refuse to cover me.  If you have dealt with Worker's comp companies like this please email me, perhaps in community we can do something about this...

Chapter Seven: Filling Out Forms Has Become My New Pastime... or Decent Into The Hellfires of Bureaucracy

 I applied for Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance Emergency Assistance, Social Security and The Ride, Mass Health and other services. I still seem to fall through the qualifying cracks for just about all of them. New Hampshire's responsibility to take care of an injured state employee has been outsourced to Massachusetts. This doesn't sit well with me! 

Perhaps the sickest cruel joke is telling a woman with a head injury, "Oh just fill out these forms (with terms you don’t understand), get it back to us in ten days." I've learned that the Department of Transitional Assistance in Massachusetts which is supposed to provide Emergency Financial Assistance is great... if you can wait over a year for $200 a month and fill out so many forms and visit so many doctor's offices and return to the Framingham DTA office several times,  paying  $30 dollar train rides that take three hours each visit. Because you live approximately one half of a mile beyond the delineation between The Boston Area and Metro West, DTA won't let you transact  your appointments in Boston which is far more convenient and cheaper to get to each time by $28 per trip. If you actually want to reach someone at DTA on the phone- yeah good luck with that! Return phone calls from DTA happen less frequently than the Red Sox win the pennant! In 2016, the Massachusetts DTA hasn't yet modernized to email.  And if you wait too long to fill out these forms or get a bogus doctor's appointment, your application is cancelled and you get to start the whole process over again.

 I've filled out 80-100 pages of forms with help from a social worker for social services and insurance companies and haven't received much in terms of support or money, except headaches, frustration and an understanding that this insurance system really stinks! And of course, the agencies responses of, "Deny, deny, denied!"

Though some of my symptoms have improved, I still forget a ton, get off track, confused and head achey and spacey, tired and depressed. I forget things and basic stuff about the people or things I knew. I get irritable, easily overwhelmed and have trouble concentrating. For a time, I had ringing in my ears and now have hyper sensitive hearing so being around microphones and most live music, lectures or events isn't possible.

Getting easily startled or frightened are all part of my life now. I was a grad student in Teaching Writing, easily writing copy, editing or being creative. I ran a non-profit for five years and researched, wrote articles and edited.  We wrote reports, too and did all of the above tasks for that too. For months, I have labored over this Crowdrise page!

Chapter Eight:  PTSD.... This One Isn't So Fun or Funny

I’ve also been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. PTSD doesn't just happen to Vietnam or Iraq War vets, it can happen after any kind of traumatic event, physical and/or emotional. You go from Angry to Happy to Depressed to Confused to Angry to Numb in a matter of seconds. Impulse control- with my new damaged brain... what's that?  Loud noises and fluorescent lights are also particularly hellish, especially the squealing wheels of the trains and the MBTA.  Loud noises like construction for ugly McMansion nextdoor or weedwhackers and lawnmowers that run in my 'hood from 7am to 6pm, are particularly difficult.

I read in one of those Chicken Soup Books on Traumatic Brain Injuries that auditory and visual sensations are often magnified after a head injury prompting the need for quiet and minimal lighting.  I have come to learn that with PTSD, adrenalin responses in the body are skewed which leaves us in a constant state of stress and hypervigilance.  If you want to read more in PTSD check out the Anxiety and Depression Association of America website  or webMD Read about the very effective EMDR for PTSD here,  Learn what 5 million Americans and millions more worldwide deal with and how we manage.

Boyfriends do not understand, longtime friends don't get it and others say stuff like, "I haven't had a head injury and I forget things all the time…"  As if that's supposed to make me feel better. The brain and neurological system are tricky things, when they are damaged or there is disease or lots of inflammation, things naturally happen to the emotions. Quite frankly, how could it not? The emotional centers of the body are located in the brain and now there is new research showing there is a strong connection with the gut biome too.  As in gut feelings...

Others have a hard time understanding and expect those of us who are dealing with traumatic brain injuries to just be able to turn off these intense floods of emotion. A man who founded a center for brain injured called me his hero for wanting to take on the insurance company.  I cried when he said that. 

The shrug it off kind of feeling I used to have is absent. And that 'oh it will be alright', 'oh I can figure' this out kind of thing has been mostly AWOL since my accident. Because quite simply put, I can't figure a lot of it out anymore. I used to wake up happy and ready to live a day, now it takes a long time to get out of bed and my joie de vivre seems to be a thing of the recent past.

 Chapter Nine: 'I Forgot So Much Like Paying Bills…'

“Oh there went the electric for several months!” In the summer of '15 it was an easy choice to be an eco-warrior in my own home, going 'off the grid'. Then, the choice was pay for medical or pay for electric. By mid December, it was cold! A few friends have gone to extraordinary measures to help, social workers have been great, Rev. Catie and the UU First Parish Church in Needham, amazing! Friends Jonathan and Susan have helped me run errands so many times to the dump or store or listened to the difficulty so many times I have lost track. My pals form activism on the pipeline when I can participate have also been great. Karen Piedra and her Reiki magic  organized a few kind souls to turn my electric and heat back on a blessing!  

Chapter Ten:  The Good Stuff- All It Takes is a Few Good Practitioners, Professionals and People...

 I get a super helpful protocol called Koren Specific Technique a type of applied kinesiology which removes neurological and energy blockages”.  It works wonders with the neurotherapy.  I received psychotherapy, chiropractic and ortho-bionomy or polarity therapy- when I could afford it. Sadly, almost all of this has gone by the wayside. Symptoms worsened significantly without it.

 I do supplements for my brain when I can afford and remember them! I want to do a GAPS nutritional and anti-inflammatory protocols. This manner of eating is revolutionary for emotional and psychological health. In restoring the gut we actually can heal many of the psychological conditions that afflict millions.

 My health care practitioners have given me financial breaks. Liberty Mutual said they would cover some of these treatments, just send us the bills … Instead they tried to coerce these practitioners to become part of their network with lots of red tape for them to jump through.  And about my coverage... Oops then they decided not to…. 

My awesome friend Judy Reardon has been helping me legally, calling Liberty Mutual three times a day every day and still getting no answers. Like so many who have been injured on the job, the response from the company: "It's a dispute between your doctor and the billing department". Translation: your doc or healthcare practitioner gives you services that are saving your life, restoring your brain and the insurance company who takes exorbitant amounts of money from the employer  will find any excuse to not cover these claims by handing them off to Helmsman outsourced insurance handlers. The system is set up so you can't actually talk to the decision makers about your case or the billing department or anyone, really. Insurance companies deny and figure most of us won't have the money or the stamina to pursue them legally. It's the American way don't you know?

Chapter Eleven:  The Seventh Circle of Hell or Where Insurance Company Docs Go On Vacation

Eventually, I asked for a neuropsych evaluation.  It was my only chance to get more medical care and to pay for the truly objective evaluation with another brain scan with my psychologist.  The upshod:  I had a neuropsych evaluation without the neuropsych evaluation!  Normally, these evaluations focus on testing with multiple choice questions  that elucidate one's capacity for memory and other objective evaluations. I know because I looked it up in several places online and spoke to friends who had legitimate Neuropsych evals. After I answered questions about my life and accident and treatment, I asked when we would begin the neuropsych testing, I was told the 'evaluation' was over. I begged the guy to look at my medical reports from my psychologists, he refused.

The psychologist who did 'the evaluation' is paid to be an independent evaluator by a company that pays Liberty Mutual. He decided what I was wearing that day (he actually wrote this in the notes) was more important to write about than details about my symptoms and treatment from reports from my psychologist who I was in treatment with for 8 months. Now I am officially denied Worker's compensation coverage and medical treatment based on his 'evaluation'. Perhaps there is a seventh circle of something for healthcare practitioners who work for insurance companies only to deny health care. I am long past the point of waiting to find out. 

I need to resume my care! Though I am grateful to qualify for Mass Health- Obama Care, they do not cover any of the treatments I do and that have improved my health thus far.  The choice is, I can start over waiting until the first available appointments this winter and then wait even longer for consultations with specialists, MRI's, another diagnosis and rehab...  OR ask for assistance paying for what is already working. BTW, there isn't even a doctor who is accepting new patients who will take  Mass Health in Needham; Health Care For the Rich, ONLY!

Chapter Twelve: The Lesson: Community, Caring and Leaving That Broken System Behind....

Then I realized, how many more years of my life can I spend fighting with the insurance company.  If there was a code for Stress Related Illness Caused by Insurance Companies, how many millions of Americans would be able to make a claim on that... Twenty million, thirty million, ninety million?  I cannot continue to be unable to work or pay electric, water and sewer, taxes or have heat... Or just get better... So I am turning to you my friends, some acquaintances and friends of friends and Just Kind Folk…

I will be using this money to pay for the medical care I need and alternative health care and supplements that make me so much healthier, anti-inflammatory foods for the brain like salmon, greens, blueberries and healthy fats.  I'm looking forward to paying basic life expenses like electric, heat and transportation and taxes, too. 

I had been planning on turning my place into an Air BNB last year with a healthy scent free and chemical free place to stay.  Helping others get healthy is my goal with healthy eating and juicing. Creating a sustainable business, finding joy in sharing a Green and Healthy lifestyle is still in the future possibilities, now I will focus on my own wellness.

Just really wanting to get my brain back…. And just a little bit of my joie de vivre, and emotional well being... Won't you help…. I think it will be just a little bit better for all of us, then I can return to my activism.  I was a small but vocal and I hope helpful part in letting you know pesticides and GMO’s and pipelines aren’t healthy. And I might just have to try my hand at overhauling the insurance/worker's comp industry. Don't you think it's about time! I want to join you all again soon in health and in making this world a better place…

Post Script:  The Final Ask and The Giveaway

If by some miracle, I win the lottery or I am able to sell something of value (which I have been trying for several months when my brain bandwidth would allow), I would like to give the money to two friends, one with a head injury, the other dementia. Depression has crept into both of their lives like unremitting rain.They are lovely people both of whom this work with neurotherapy would be so valuable. 

The suggested $18, $36, $54, $72, $90 or $108 etc donation amounts reflect my Jewish heritage of donating multiples of 18, a number that signifies Chai or life; it's a tradition to donate money in multiples of this sacred number. I believe it signifies life spirit for the giver and receiver. However, please feel free to donate in any way you feel comfortable. It is so very much appreciated!


Thank you and Blessings,




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Ellen b. Fine

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Jonathan Tholl

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