I don't remember the year or the date, but I remember the day I learned that young Jason Rooker had accidentally hung himself.
I was busy at work on a day that began like any other day. From her office near mine, my mother called. She looked solemn behind her desk. I knew something was wrong. She had just gotten work of the accident from the executive director of the Virginia Press Association. Jason's father was a newspaper publisher in Wytheville and was a well-known member of VPA. News travels fast in small circles.
Jason had been playing out in his front yard, along a fence next to a tree. He had some rope. What exactly happened wasn't clear at the time. But through a window his father saw the aftermath - his son hanging still from the branch of the tree. He and his wife raced outside and immediately started CPR. They literally brought Jason back from the dead.
I didn't know Jason well, but I was still jolted by the news. I knew his parents. Greg and Fran Rooker, and his grandparents, Dan and Betty Rooker. The Rookers were a newspaper family and had had a long connection with my own.
What would happen in the coming months with a serverely brain-injured child would change that family'w life forever. Not only that, it would change the lives of others and, today, it reaches into Wise County, too.
What began as a tragedy for the Rookers has become a near life-saver for people like Sherri Collins, Andrew Arney and others served by Brain Injury Services of SWVA.
Jason, 10, had not been expected to live. He spent nine months in the Kluge Children's Rehabilitation Center in Charlottesville and had inproved enough to be sent home. He was like an infant. The Rookers became immersed in the care of their son. But nothing would be enough to save his life. Sixteen months after his accident and after five months at home with his family, Jason died.
The Rookers established the Jason Foundation and from that grew Brain Injury Services of SWVA. When an office was established last year in Norton, Greg Rooker called to seek the newspaper's support in letting our community know what the organization was all about. Public awareness is important. Just since the publication of our story Tuesday, two people have phoned the office seeking help.
While I thought I knew what brain injuries were, I didn't. I associated them [with] accidents, like what happened to Arney when he was thrown from a four-wheeler head first into a tree. Rooker told me that brain injuries went far beyond that.
Causes of brain injuries include falls, automobile accidents, strokes, aneurysms, shaken baby syndrome, near drowning, accidental hanging, surgury complications, sports unjuries, violence, heart attacks, gunshot wounds, meningitis, and a wide variety of other disorders and traumas.
I realized immediately just how many people I knew myself who could be helped by this new service to the area. I didn't know that, in Wise County alone, there are an estimated 800 survivors of brain injuries. There are countless more family members and friends.
Some people are leery of support groups. They think they can't help them, that they can't be helped. They feel different, they don't want to open up to others. I don't know all that goes through the minds of those who are hesitant.
When I read Tuesday's story about what is happening locally, I was moved. There could not have been two better examples of just how much the brain injury support group can mean - an outgoing 43-year-old mother of a 16-year-old daughter who had a ruptured brain aneurysm and complications from surgury and a quiet 27-year-old young man injured in a four-wheeling accident.
In this support group, they had bonded. So much so, they were finishing each other's sentances during the interview as they talked eagerly about what happened to them, and then what happened afterward as they tried to adjust.
Our community is fortunate to have the services of Brain Injury Services of SWVA. There is real need. There is real help. And there is hope.
For more information, call 276-679-5001, or visit the Brain Injury Services of SWVA website at www.bisswva.org. To learn more about The Jason Foundation, visit www.jasonfoundation.org.