Daily Progress, Charlottesville, April 2, 1997 Page B2 -- Associated Press

A Pulaski County boy who was left severely brain damaged in an accidental hanging is heading home.

Jason Rooker will be leaving Kluge Children's Rehabilitation Center sometime next week, after he is weaned from most of his medications, said his parents, Greg and Fran Rooker.

Jason, 11, nearly died when he accidentally hanged himself last June with a toy lasso while playing in his back yard. He was flown to Carilion Roanoke Community Hospital, where he was in a coma for nearly three days, then transferred to the Kluge Center shortly afterward.

He still can't talk, eat or control his arms or legs and must be fed and medicated through a tube in his stomach. But his parents now accept the idea that his therapy can continue just as well at home.

"We're ready to try something else," said Rooker, owner of the Southwest Virginia Enterprise in Wytheville and two other weekly newspapers.

The Rookers also have been under pressure from their insurance company, Trigon, which has continued to pay for Jason's care on a month-to-month or week-to-week basis. But the possibility of coverage ending has persisted for months.

Rehabilitation and medical care had run about $1,000 a day, but several months ago Trigon negotiated with the Kluge Center to cut the charges in half. The Rookers said the center assured them that Jason could stay at no charge, if necessary, until it was medically safe for him to go home.


Meanwhile, a special wheelchair Jason will need has been delivered; the chair cost about $4,200. A special shower chair with a head support and straps, which cost about $400, has been ordered. Insurance paid for neither.

The Rookers are apprehensive about taking Jason home, but they have reluctantly concluded that the Kluge Center has done all it can for their son. Most of the center's 20 or so patients are recovering from crippling auto accident injuries.

"It's like getting up [at all hours of the night] for an infant," Mrs. Rooker said.

The Rookers said many friends have offered to help so they can take occasional breaks. The couple plan a trip to Philadelphia in late April for a week of training in how to work with their son.

The Rookers and others will help retrain undamaged parts of Jason's brain to take over physical functions he has lost - chewing, swallowing, talking, using his hands and legs.

The Rookers hope their son will regain the use of his hands and learn to walk again in five to 10 years.


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