Rookers' foundation helps families of brain injury victims

Southwest Virginia Enterprise, December 15, 1999, Page B1


Three years ago Enterprise publisher Greg, and his wife Fran Rooker of Claytor Lake struggled through months of fighting for the life of their son, Jason, and subsequently suffered the pain of his death. Throughout their ordeal, they sought information from every source they could find to help them understand what was happening and how to deal with it. Now, they are sharing what they learned with others.

The Rookers formed The Jason Foundation approximately two years ago to assist brain injury survivors from Southwest Virginia. Today, the foundation's influence is spreading across the state to all Virginians in need of information and assistance.

The Rooker's son, Jason, then a 10-year-old, accidentally hanged himself while playing and was deprived of oxygen for more than 10 minutes before he was found. His parents revived him through CPR techniques but he spent a year in the Kluge Hospital for Children in Charlottesville, and another five months at home under daily therapy before his death.

"Jason had an anoxic injury which indicates a complete lack of oxygen to the brain," said his mother, Fran. "We wanted to understand exactly what was happening and we couldn't find the information we needed." After Jason regained consciousness, his parents wanted to know what to expect during his convalescence. They gradually realized that neither Jason's life nor theirs would ever be the same. "We wanted someone to talk to. It seemed no one could give us any information."

Fran learned that although 50 percent of brain injuries occur in car crashes, anoxic injury is also quite common. Cases can involve people in post cardiac arrest, during medical procedures and near drownings.

The Rookers searched for information, and many of their friends searched for them. They looked up agencies, made calls, browsed the Internet and contacted every place they heard of, collecting information that could help.

"We called the Brain Injury Association of Virginia but they couldn't tell us what we wanted to know. We didn't know then that unless we contacted them again and asked for additional information, they couldn't volunteer to give it out.

The Rookers had to learn through trial and error over many months how to find and contact sources that could give them the information they needed. They learned how to deal with insurance companies, where to find information, what questions to ask and what was available. It was a long, hard search, but they kept digging.

In 1977, a woman from Virginia Beach called the Rookers to ask them questions about their son, seeking information for her own family. Fran realized that there were many others in the same situation and that a desperate need for information existed. The help they had found could help others. Thus, The Jason Foundation was formed.

Fran serves as its president, and the law offices of Brumberg, Mackey and Wall in the McCraw Realty Building on 1st Street in Radford donated office space. Operating hours are 10 a.m. through 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. An answering machine takes calls when she is out. Volunteers assist Fran with mailing and clerical work. She is hoping to get an intern from Radford University to assist in the office after the first of the year. The foundation is funded through donations from some small businesses and individuals. She has recently applied for a matching grant.

Fliers are being distributed. The first mailings went to people who sent baskets of cards to the Rookers during Jason's illness. Many wrote to offer inspiration or to tell them what they were going through. They were also sent to friends and churches. Another batch is going to rehabilitation facilities, hospitals and schools. Fran will provide educational information for school staffs and faculty about how brain injury can affect students who return to school.

Fran Rooker is president of The Jason Foundation, an organization that assists families of brain injury survivors with information sources and networking with other families. The foundation has assisted approximately 30 families in Virginia.

A student at Emory & Henry did a report on Images of Disability, and what is available for traumatic brain injury. "The teacher was a friend of ours," said Fran, "so she asked the student if she would mind sharing the information with us. It has helped to broaden our base of information."

The Jason Foundation is basically a clearinghouse for all kinds of information. It can provide information on comas and recovery, students going back into the school systems, help for spouses and caregivers and how these traumas can affect the entire family. "When situations like this occur, it has wide-ranging effects on the whole family for the rest of their lives. It forces a totally new lifestyle. The information can teach people how to have a better quality of life while facing this situation. Some people are not aware of the stages that a survivor goes through, some of them more than two years down the road," said Fran.

People can request forms and fliers find out about agencies that can help, and what information is available that they can request.

"We set out to help Southwest Virginia," Fran said, "but we have had calls from all over the state. "There are currently 378 survivors of brain injuries between Roanoke and Bristol, from concussions to severe traumatic injuries. Statewide, there are 4,930 survivors. Our first priority is to help families who contact us. Our second priority is to see if we can be of assistance in making services and support systems more readily available. There is no support group for this kind of injury between Roanoke and Bristol. Some caregivers have tended survivors for 10 to 15 years, and we can help them as well."

The Jason Foundation has helped approximately 30 people so far who have had family members with brain injuries, five or six of them in this area. Its main goal is to access information and network families with similar situations, but if Fran can't locate financial sources for them, then the Jason Foundation helps financially as well.

Survivors and caregivers can access information on medical care options, rehabilitation facilities, alternative therapies, legal advice, financial aid and school system support. A list has been prepared of Services for Individuals with Brain Injury in Virginia, from centers for independent living to personal assistance services.

"I'm not an expert in any given area," said Fran. "I'm just a mom. But I can share what I've learned with others. I would like to stress to people to be careful driving. This is the time of year when you see more crashes and more head injuries. And remember that caregivers need additional support during this busy time. People can lend a hand and it will be greatly appreciated."

The Jason Foundation can be reached through the following:

* The Jason Foundation, P.O. Box 430, Radford, VA 24143

* Phone (540) 633-2225

* FAX (540) 633-2258

* e-mail -

* Web site


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