A Helping Hand

Radford News Journal, April 5, 2003

By Heather Bell

Fran Rooker (standing, center), co-founder of The Jason Foundation, looks over a brochure with Sheridan Parker, the new Brian Injury Services of SWVA service coordinator for the NRV. The two are seen here with Becky Haupt (seated), administrative assistant for the Foundation.
RADFORD – After their son, Jason, died in 1997, Greg and Fran Rooker looked for some kind, any kind, of meaning they could get from his injury and subsequent death. During Jason’s rehabilitation period, they also found themselves in search of answers, resources and other people going through the same experiences as they were. From that search for meaning and answers, the Jason Foundation was born. Now, looking back five years later, the Rookers say they are amazed, and a bit in awe, of how much the foundation has grown since its inception. Its most recent growth has been the entrance of a full-time service coordinator from Brain Injury Services of Southwest Virginia into their Radford office.

The Rookers founded Brain Injury Services of SWVA (BIS SWVA) in November 2000, two years after the inception of the Jason Foundation. Modeled after a similar program in Northern Virginia, BIS SWVA provided much-needed services to people living with brain injuries, and their caregivers. Founded through a partnership with Radford University, Brain Injury Services of Fairfax, Virginia, and with seed money provided by the Jason Foundation, BIS SWVA was developed in response to a statewide needs assessment and regional public meetings to determine the needs of brain injury survivors in near Southwest Virginia. The mission of Brain Injury Services of SWVA is to empower survivors of brain injury and their families through individualized service coordination, education, and advocacy.

BISSWVA is based in Roanoke, and although it did provide services to the New River Valley on a part-time basis, there was no funding for full-time personnel available for the NRV. Thanks to a grant by the Commonwealth Neurotrauma Initiative, BIS SWVA was able to hire Sheridan Parker for full-time work in the NRV in February, and was also able to hire a pediatric service coordinator for the Roanoke office. They were also able to hire a part-time administrative assistant for the Jason Foundation. Becky Haupt joined the team in February, and is intimately aware of the Rookers situation, as she was one of several volunteers who helped to take care of Jason Rooker when he returned home from the rehabilitation center he spent months recovering in after an accidental hanging in the family’s backyard.

“I’m really happy to be a part of this work,” said Haupt. Fran Rooker says she is elated that BIS SWVA can now reach out to more people in this area with the inclusion of Parker in their Radford office. “There were just so many people not getting the services they needed, and with Sheridan, they will be able to get the help they need,” she said. The pediatric service is also both a benefit to the community, as well as provides a personal sense of accomplishment for the Rookers, who lost Jason when he was just 11- years old.

“Offering pediatric services is like coming full-circle for us,” she said. “It represents our original purpose and helps to complete our mission.” For Parker, fulfilling her part of the mission by offering adult services in the NRV represents a driving force in her life.

“I love my clients,” she said. “I have 18 years in working with people with disabilities, and it is my passion.”

Parker’s job as a service coordinator really adds up to being a life manager of sorts for her dozens of clients. From helping her clients to set goals, make it to doctor’s appointments, remember to eat correctly, live independently, hold down a job, remember to pay bills and deal with the ever-changing nature of a brain injury, Parker’s job is to provide a safety net to her clients. She also coordinates other assistance for her clients through agencies that offer specialized services in transportation, psychology, medical services, behavior modification and other needed assistance.

Parker and Rooker say the field they work in is broad, because each person that lives with an acquired brain injury reacts to that injury in a completely individual way. Added to that already individualized experience is the fact that a brain injury has the habit of changing from year to year, month to month, even day to day.

“The brain is the most complex organ in the body, so it makes sense that injuries to it are the most complex injuries a person can sustain,” said Rooker.

“It’s a completely evolutionary experience,” added Parker.

The range of effects a person can experience after sustaining an acquired brain injury is broad. Some cognitive effects include memory loss, slowness in thinking, difficulty in concentration, impaired perception, verbal communication and reading and writing skills, and deficits in judgment.

Physical impairments include problems with speech, vision, hearing, other sensory impairments, headaches, lack of coordination, paralysis, seizures, sleep problems and muscle spasms. Behavioral and psychosocial impairments can include fatigue, mood swings, anxiety, anger, denial, self-centeredness, lack of motivation, lack of emotional control and others. “People who are dealing with a brain injury, as well as their caretakers, often do not realize the depth of these injuries,” said Rooker. “We didn’t, and we were left without many answers and feeling quite isolated after Jason’s injury. We wanted to provide help not only for the patients, but also for the caregivers.” Greg Rooker agrees.

“When a person is dealing with the constant care of another person who has sustained a major brain injury, you sometimes start to feel like you are the only one dealing with it,” he said.

That was the original purpose of the Jason Foundation, from which BIS SWVA and so many other initiatives were born. The Foundation’s website provides its purpose in a nutshell. “The Jason Foundation is here when you need: To talk with someone who has been in a similar situation, to know what questions to ask to be an effective advocate for your family member, to learn how to deal better with insurance companies to receive appropriate care or coverage and to discover what to expect when your family member returns to school or community.”

Greg Rooker says the work of the foundation has helped he and his wife deal with the daily grief of losing their child.

“This mission puts meaning into our son’s accident and death, and it provides vital service to people who need it,” he said. “And service is good for the heart.” To find out more about the Jason Foundation and BIS SWVA, log onto www.jasonfoundation.org or call 633-2225.


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