Survivors of brain injuries face the unique challenges in their daily lives with great determination, strength and perseverance. Fourteen-year-old KJ and his mom, Mary, are no exception. Mary and her husband, Kenneth, have two children, Haylee (19 years old) and KJ (14 years old). Both children are caring and kindhearted beyond their years, but KJ suffered a trauma as a baby that would last a lifetime.
Twelve years ago, Mary was playing softball for her work team while her husband and children looked on from the stands. Suddenly, a foul ball sliced toward their direction and struck 18 month-old KJ in the head, resulting in a traumatic brain injury (TBI).
The first few years after KJ’s injury were difficult as he struggled with balance and behavioral issues. Like many people dealing with a TBI in their family, Mary also struggled as KJ’s main advocate. “KJ had to relearn the simple daily skills a child his age has already mastered, from eating to walking and everything else in between,” explained Mary. “I felt so alone trying to find the next answer, the new doctor, or the newest information. I stayed awake many nights just to make sure he was still breathing.”
Making sure KJ had all the help he needed was a constant struggle for Mary. When KJ started attending school, educators did not understand his TBI. His teachers did not know how to handle it when he shut down emotionally, and oftentimes made the situation much worse.
After several problematic incidents, Mary decided to move to Michigan in the hopes of getting him into a school that would better understand his TBI. Mary did her homework, and found a school that fit his needs.
“I found a school with the sweetest teacher I have ever encountered, Mrs. Carol Stacy,” said Mary. “Not only did she understand what I was going through, but she was also walking in the same shoes as me. They say people are put in our path for a reason, and I believe she surely was.”
While Mary had finally found the educational support that KJ needed, she also found an advocate in the Brain Injury Association of Michigan (BIAMI).
“I found the BIAMI through Diane Dugan, another angel,” explains Mary. “Help and support started flooding in. I felt so blessed! I was now learning to breathe again, and was no longer alone.”
Just when it appeared that things would continue to get better, they got worse. The school KJ and Mary had grown to love closed, and they were back to square one in finding the right environment for KJ. Mary again struggled to help educators understand KJ’s TBI. After many shut downs, suspensions and misplaced diagnoses, KJ was charged with assault after hitting a teacher during an emotional outburst.
However, the judge in KJ’s case listened intently to testimony from KJ, who explained in detail the symptoms and particular challenges of his TBI. It was after this explanation that the judge dismissed the case completely.
“He won both of his court cases by telling the truth and being a strong boy,” explains Mary. “He has a traumatic brain injury and he is the best he can be, and more! He is understood by some, but misunderstood by so many.”
With KJ now in 8th grade and moving onto high school next year, Mary is understandably worried about the challenges that will accompany that change. She will have to again be his main advocate, making sure that educators understand his TBI, and using the strategies that have worked for him. KJ, though, continues to demonstrate strength in overcoming the obstacles his TBI has brought him and is determined to do his best. One thing is for certain, both KJ and Mary will face the challenges they come up against with strength and perseverance.