The Southwest Times, Pulaski, Oct. 24, 1999, Page A1 & A3

By BOB THOMAS - Radford Bureau Chief

RADFORD - On Thursday, Sept. 4, 1997, an eleven year old boy named Jason died in his home on Claytor Lake. Sixteen months earlier, he had miraculously been brought back to life after accidentally hanging himself while playing. A devoted family and hundreds of volunteers worked tirelessly to give him back some semblance of normalcy.

Jason Rooker had been deprived of oxygen for as long as 10 minutes before he was found that June day. But CPR and love revived him to live those extra 16 months, although with severe brain damage.

His parents, Fran and Greg Rooker, never gave up on Jason, nor did his older sisters, Jennifer and Stephanie. They learned how to put Jason through exercises to revitalize his brain's ability to deal with movement.

"Jason's accident threw us into a whole new world of brain injury," said Fran Rooker. "Resources seemed so hard to find, about therapies, treatment centers, how to help Jason." She said they did not know there was a Brain Injury Association in Virginia, or a State Registry in the Department of Rehabilitation Services which lists anyone with brain injuries for a network or answers.

But all the love and caring could not prolong Jason's life. Still, the Rookers were determined that his short life was to have some long-term meaning.

"It took a year for me to get over Jason's death, and then my father was hospitalized with cancer. It was another blow. He died in March of this year." All of that slowed an idea that started with their son's passing - a need to help others who face brain injury. "We did not want others to face the same situation we did," Fran said. They felt there was a real need for some kind of organization to provide help, resources information, a friendly ear for families dealing with brain injuries.

"During Jason's recovery period, all our time was taken up with his care. We did not have time to do research on where to get help, or how to find funding from agencies. So, we decided that's what we wanted to do for others. Now I have the time."

That time is spent in office space donated by Brumberg, Mackey and Wall, on First Street in Radford. The project is The Jason Foundation.

"There is not enough awareness of brain injury," said Fran. "Every 15 seconds, someone in the US suffers a mild to moderate brain injury. 373,000 people a year are hospitalized for brain trauma. And recovery is a lifetime proposition. It affects memory, motor skills, emotions, behavior skills, our whole life." Even minor head trauma can bring about reactions years later, if not immediately.


Jason Rooker's special friend, Charlie Simpson, holds a Cockatiel that seems to fascinate the youth.

Fran Rooker is proud of the first tangible result of the Jason Foundation - a printed flyer that is designed to inform those in need about the organization, and its services.

"We have been able to help 23 families in the past two years." Now the Foundation, with its new flyer, is ready to spread the word to hospitals, care centers, physicians, and newspapers - anywhere they might reach families in need of help.

The Rookers say money to help with the Foundation began to come in during Jason's final year, and more after his death and that of her father. Those funds are being used to get the Foundation started, pay phone calls and research to help other families.

Fran Rooker is an activist, too, and says that people need to get involved. The state is holding ten town meetings, including one in Roanoke on Thursday, Nov. 4, 4-7 p.m. at St. John's Church Parish Hall.

Fran says the 16 months Jason lived, though impaired, "were meant to be. We learned so much from our final months with Jason. We could not just let him go and not do something with all we had learned."

During those special 16 months, she says 83 churches prayed for Jason, and they heard from people in 30 states and 15 countries. "We could not have made it through this without that support and prayer."

October is National Brain Injury Awareness Month, and no better time to kick off the project. The Jason Foundation can be reached at 540-633-2225, or by email at jasonfoundation.org. The mailing address is P.O. Box 430, Radford, VA 24143.



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