By PAUL DILLINGER -
THE ROANOKE TIMES
RADFORD -- An 11- year-old
boy who died two years ago of complications from a brain trauma
injury has been immortalized in a New River Valley foundation created
to assist other such victims.
The Jason Foundation
was started to help other families the same way Jason's family was
helped after he accidentally hanged himself while playing at his
Claytor Lake home in 1996. His brain trauma stemmed from his having
been deprived of oxygen for 10 minutes or more.
Jason's father revived
him with CPR, and Jason surprised his doctors by living for another
16 months. He was able to leave hospitals and come home during the
last five months of his life.
Nearly 150 people volunteered
to help with Jason's therapy. They and others also arranged meals
for his family, conducted Internet and library research on brain
trauma injuries, talked with members of the medical community around
the country and helped with daily living activities, said Fran Rooker,
Jason's mother and the foundation's president.
The Jason Foundation
has actually been working quietly during the two years since Jason's
death, but is about to kick its activities into high gear. Some
2,000 fliers have gone to hospitals, trauma centers and other places
announcing its services.
The financing has come
from public contributions, which are tax-deductible. Since Fran
Rooker is the only staff member, expenses have been minimal - mostly
just for telephone and postage. The Radford law firm of Brumberg,
Mackey and Wall donated office space.
It had been barely
a week after Jason died when a Virginia Beach man telephoned Fran
and Greg Rooker, publisher of Family Community Newspapers, seeking
information on brain trauma because of someone in his family.
"That was, I guess,
kind of a sign to us," said Fran Rooker, "that there were
people out there who needed our assistance."
The foundation began
slowly, partly to give the Rookers time to adjust to Jason's death,
and also because of other health problems. Fran Rooker's father
died in March after a long illness and her mother went through two
"I'd say, in the
two years, we've probably been able to assist about 25 families,"
Fran Rooker said. Those families often found the Rookers in roundabout
ways. One family who called from New York had learned about them
in Florida from another family who had been at the Kluge Children's
Rehabilitation Center in Charlottesville when Jason was there.
One problem Fran Rooker
thinks the foundation can help is a lack of communication between
the families of brain trauma victims and the agencies that exist
to help them. "We ourselves weren't aware of it until five
or six weeks into Jason's injury," she said.
Since 1984, the state
code has required hospitals to notify both the Virginia Spinal Cord
Injury Registration and the Virginia Brain Injury Central Registry
of brain trauma cases they see. Those registries then provide information
to the families on medical information and assistance available
But the notifications
do not always occur, as they did not in Jason's case. So, for a
while, the Rooker family was on its own except for the support it
got from volunteers and friends.
Patricia Goodall, state
brain injury services coordinator, said there are no fines or penalties
for failing to report and some of the cases fall through the cracks.
"We do know that it's not 100 percent. That's pretty obvious,"
She said reporting
has improved as the state makes hospitals aware of the requirement.
Hospitals already have many registries to which they must report
various kinds of medical problems, and the paperwork is imposing.
Fran Rooker hopes the
Jason Foundation can help with that awareness, and also with putting
families of brain trauma victims in touch with agencies that can
"Part of what
we went through with Jason was that we had no information,"
she said. She said she knew a Roanoke family that went without the
rehabilitation and recovery services it could have gotten through
the state for five years, just because it did not know of them.
In a way, The Jason
Foundation represents a way of doing the same thing that other people
did in finding information for the Rookers.
Jason Rooker with his father, Greg, after his
accident, survived 16 months and was able to come home in the last
five months of his life.
He died Sept. 4, 1997.
"We've kind of
developed a network of people in the state and around the country
that have agreed to help people in need," Fran Rooker said.
She said Jason seemed to draw people into his life. "That's
probably been one of the most wonderful benefits that has happened,
you know, among all the tragedy."
One of the many people
who volunteered to help with Jason's therapy was Charles Simpson,
who composed a poem after Jason's death including a verse that seemed
to foreshadow The Jason Foundation:
Think what you have learned!
Think of how the world
will be better as many of you will say:
"We helped Jason
Rooker, now who can we help?"
An article in the Sept. 8 issue of the Journal of the American Medical
Association said traumatic brain injury is associated with 51,000
deaths per year in the United States and involved in a third of
all injury deaths. It affects an estimated 70,000 to 90,000 people
on a long-term basis. It is estimated that 300,000 injuries happen
annually in sports and recreation activities, ranging from mild
traumatic brain injury to concussion. It is relatively recent that
the medical community has learned, based on memory and planning
ability tests, that such injuries can have lingering effects and
impair cognitive functions.
"I mean, I'm just
a mom. I'm no expert," Fran Rooker said. "But what we've
also learned is that there are no experts when it comes to brain
injury ... No one can tell you exactly what's going to happen in
any individual situation."
She also wants The
Jason Foundation to be a conduit to educate families about a program
to transition injured youngsters back into their school systems
once they can handle classes. It will also provide information about
coma, stages of recovery from specific brain injuries, medicines
and medical procedures, avenues of research and where to go for
support groups, agencies and financial assistance.
"But the other
part is, when you're involved with a brain-injured person, time
is very minimal for going to meetings," she said. Her family
certainly found that situation. "And yet, we were one of the
lucky families ... In the midst of everything we probably had one
of the best situations possible because of the community support."
Some have asked her
why she continues to stay involved with brain trauma, instead of
getting on with her life. "I guess, because of what Jason exposed
us to, and when you know there are other people out there who are
having an extremely hard time and will have it for the rest of their
lives," she said, both she and her husband decided it would
be a disservice to Jason not to put to work what they had learned.
"Every 15 seconds,
someone suffers a brain injury, and it is the leading cause of death
in young people. Traffic to sports-related accidents," she
said. "And that's really a scary thing for anybody who has
a child playing sports."
The foundation has
a network of people with experience in different areas of brain
trauma, she said, "families who have been through situations
and they've agreed to be a contact person" for others in similar
some work but, actually, it's just kind of fallen into place,"
she said. "Whenever I've had a doubt about doing this, something
else wonderful has happened.
on The Jason Foundation is available by calling (540) 633-2225,
or writing to P.O. Box 430, Radford, VA 24143 or e-mailing to Fran@jasonfoundation.org.
The organization is also preparing an Internet Web site at www.jasonfoundation.org.