It has 'taken some work but, actually, it's just kind of fallen into place'

The Roanoke Times, New River Current, November 14, 1999, Page NRV12-13

Fran Rooker is the only staff member of The Jason Foundation, whose mission arose from a call the Rookers received soon after their son's death. A Virginia Beach man was seeking information on brain trauma because of someone in his family.


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 hospital operations.

"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 to them.

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.

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 help them.

"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 situations.

"That's taken 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.

Further information 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.

Fran Rooker's tribute to her late son is helping the families of brain trauma victims.

Fran Rooker and the foundation are carrying on in the spirit of the help they received after Jason's accident, when nearly 150 people volunteered to assist with his therapy.


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