By Candace Lightner
Did you know that March is National Brain Injury Awareness month? I have a special interest in this as my son, Travis, was run over by a car when he was 4 years old. The driver was on prescription meds and distracted by her baby in the back seat. He was outside with his friends, sisters and neighbor children and because we lived in a cul-de-sac, I thought we were safe.
The day is forever etched in my memory. I was on the phone when I heard my daughter, Cari, scream that Travis was dead. I ran out the door and helped lift the car off his precious little body. I rode to the hospital in the ambulance with him and cursed when other drivers wouldn’t pull over. I listened as the doctors told me he probably would not survive the surgery and if he did, he might be permanently brain injured. I just told them to fix whatever was wrong and left the room. He was in surgery for more than 6 hours and they told me they didn’t know what to fix first. He was in a coma for 4 days and the first thing he did as he was coming out of the coma was to kiss the air so we had to lean over the railings so he could kiss us and we constantly kept kissing him. They put a picture of him in his bed so he could see what he looked like because his head was so swollen. His little body was so torn and broken that I thought he would never heal, but his body did as best it could. He lost his spleen so we have ongoing issues when he gets sick and his brain is not the same. It isn’t as bad as they predicted but he has permanent learning disabilities.
He wore a helmet for the first year to protect his brain where there was no skull and it was amazing how cruel people could be – also how kind. However, living with a brain injured child was a constant challenge that never ends. We watched as he crawled around on the floor because he couldn’t walk. He had to relearn so many other things such as feeding himself, etc. that I wondered if he would ever get “back up” to the age of 4. He lost the ability to hear in one ear only to get it back and then lose it in the other, then lose it in both. His hearing is fine now. He went from being a precocious little boy who could speak complete sentences by the age of 1 year to a child with all kinds of learning disabilities and special education classes as he grew up. He couldn’t participate in sports unless he wore a helmet and he was constantly at odds with us when we wouldn’t let him play like the other kids did. He loved to swim and because he couldn’t wear his helmet while in the water I cringed every time he went into the pool. We had to give away his favorite dog for fear the animal would jump on him and knock him down. He was a German shepherd who loved Travis and loved to swim with him.
I remember once trying to put his shoe on and as he leaned against the wall for me so I could shove his foot in, when his head pushed up against the wall and started bleeding. He had just had a bath so we didn’t have his helmet on but after that he had to put it on as soon as he got out of the tub. We rushed him to the hospital for the umpteenth time and they said his brain was fine.
He was my baby and still is, although he would cringe if he heard me say it (unless he wants something). I am one of the lucky ones and so is he. But I know what it is like to almost lose a child then dread the thought of what he might have to face in his life as the result of a car crash. We learned to take each day as it came and hope for the best. He was in and out of hospitals for the first year and the doctors and nurses were amazing. You can still see the scar on his head where his skull was replaced and to me, it is a constant reminder of how lucky we are that he made it.
Please remember to always make sure your child wears a helmet when on a bicycle, is seat belted into the car, looks both ways before crossing the street and for good measure hold their hand. We can’t always protect them all of the time but we can do our best. Because I care . . .
President of We Save Lives.org and founder of MADD