RADFORD - The accidental death of
a local boy has helped spawn yet a second program to help families
living with the consequences of brain injury.
Pulaski County youth Jason Rooker
accidentally hanged himself while playing at his Claytor Lake home.
He went on to live for 15 months as his parents and many friends
and volunteers struggled with his severe brain injuries.
Shortly after his death in 1997,
Jason's parents, Fran and Greg Rooker, created The Jason Foundation
to help families deal with the tragedy of brain injury.
Now The Jason Foundation is sponsoring
the establishment of Brain Injury Services of SWVA, which will provide
more intensive programs helping people who have sustained brain
injuries. The Jason Foundation was established to provide resources,
information and a friendly ear to families dealing with brain injuries.
"Our aim was to erase the information lag that creates a breakdown
in communications between the time families and professionals get
the information they need to cope with the injuries and the aftermath,"
said Fran Rooker.
For several years, the Jason Foundation
has helped educate the families of those who have sustained brain
injuries, leading them to resources that are available to help their
loved ones recover or compensate for their losses. Its funding has
come from contributions by businesses and individuals in the region.
But with all its successes, the
foundation did not seem to be enough.
"While families have been exceedingly
thankful for our help we have come to realize that their needs were
far greater than our abilities," Rooker said. "We went
looking for a model to deal with those needs and found it in northern
Brain Injury Services of Northern
Virginia in Fairfax has been doing that kind of work for 12 years.
"They've been gracious in partnering
with us by sharing all of the details of their model so we wouldn't
have to reinvent the wheel," Rooker explained.
With a ready framework in hand,
Radford native Andrea Lewis was hired to be Director of Program
Services. Lewis, who worked for seven years as a Long Term Case
Manager with the state Department of Rehabilitative Services, began
her new duties November 13.
She explained that BIS of SWVA will
provide programs in the New River Valley and Roanoke areas aimed
at actively helping people with brain injuries recover and overcome
the obstacles in their lives, as well as promoting prevention.
"It's something you don't really
think about until you are affected. But once affected, you're affected
for life," Lewis said.
Beyond dealing with the brain injury
survivors, the new organization intends to promote education regarding
the needs of persons with brain injury, and the use of best practices
in their treatment through partnerships with area medical facilities,
public organizations and institutions.
Both The Jason Foundation and Brain
Injury Services of SWVA are housed in recently donated offices on
the second floor of the Norwood Street Branch of First Virginia
Bank - Southwest in downtown Radford.
"Thanks to the incredible generosity
of folks like those at First Virginia Bank we've got the wherewithal
to make this dream into a reality," Lewis said.
"According to recent studies,
every 15 seconds an American sustains a brain injury," Lewis
reported. Statistics show that brain injury occurs more frequently
than breast cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis and spinal cord injury.
"We estimate that in the Roanoke
and New River Valley areas there are a minimum of 1,200-1,500 brain
injury survivors who suffer from ailments that cause them to lead
less than ordinary lives. However, the discomfort that most of these
people experience can be lessened and in some cases corrected,"
The Jason Foundation is a public
charitable foundation primarily funded by contributions from individuals
and businesses across the region. BIS of SWVA is also a not-for-profit
charitable foundation. Both qualify for tax-deductible contributions,
which may be sent to P.O. Box 430, Radford, VA 24143.
"If we do what we have set
out to do, the impact will be incredible for people with brain injuries
and their families," Lewis said.