Two stories of traumatic brain injury spark hope for new recovery center

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Two separate Texas foundations — sparked after two separate life-altering stories of traumatic brain injury — merged together this January in an effort to give Texas families more support.

In 2008, J.D. Hartman suffered an anoxic brain injury when he was 11 years old, nearly drowning in a family hot tub. The Austin non-profit Hope 4 Minds began to support his family and others with loved ones who have severe brain injuries. Since his injury, Hartman has begun talking and singing again. He’s made great strides but is still working to regain his mobility.

“His family quickly realized there was a lack of resources and support for families so they didn’t want any other family to go through what they had been through,” said Ronda Johnson.

A photo of J.D. Hartman. Courtesy Ronda Johnson.

This year, Ronda Johnson with Hope 4 Minds learned of a new foundation: the Team Luke Foundation started by Tim Siegel of Lubbock. Tim’s son, Luke, suffered a traumatic brain injury in July 2015. Luke was in a golf cart with another child when the cart they were riding in flipped.  Luke, who was athletic and loved sports before the accident, now communicates with his family through eye blinks and has limited mobility.

“We were told based on Luke’s MRI that he would never use his limbs, use his voice,” Tim Siegel explained.

Last week, the two groups merged to create Team Luke Hope 4 Minds, which aims to get families access to support groups and recovery centers, both in Texas and nationwide.

“Midway through the conversation we realized that together we could do better, we could do more,” Tim Siegel said.

The two groups are now looking to build support groups for families who’ve been impacted across Texas. They also want to use their foundation to help fund important treatments and therapies not covered by family’s insurance plans.

“Insurance doesn’t pay for a lot of the therapies and treatments that families really want to give their children or really aid in their recovery,” Johnson said. “They pay for the basic physical therapy, occupational (therapy), speech (therapy), possibly maybe 30 minutes a session, but the kids really need more than that.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control, traumatic brain injury is a major cause of death and disability in the United States. TBI’s contribute to about 30 percent of all injury deaths. TBI-related hospitalizations vary by age, falls were the leading cause of injury among children 0-14 years of age and adults age 45 and older. However, motor vehicle crashes were the leading cause in TBI-related hospitalizations in people 15-44 years of age. The CDC reports that every day in the U.S. 153 people die from injuries that include TBI. Those who survive can see impacts that last a few days or extend through their entire lives.

Tim Siegel said that more than anything, they want their foundation to offer hope to families going through the stress and heavy emotion that comes with a traumatic brain injury. What doctors told the Siegels initially about Luke’s prognosis didn’t offer them much hope for his recovery. But Tim explained that the therapy Luke has received since then — in particular from the Neurological Recovery Center in Fort Worth — has allowed Luke to make tremendous progress.

The recovery center has been so beneficial to Luke that he and Tim Siegel make the long drive from Lubbock to Fort Worth every week to get treatment there. Luke has learned to bend his knees, communicate in blinks, even hold his head up for 90 seconds at a time.

“That’s the place for me where I have hope where others have hope,” Tim Siegel said. “There’s no question it’s helping Luke — Luke is more alert, Luke is more aware, and I’ve also seen what it’s doing for other families as well.”

It’s why one of Team Luke Hope 4 Mind’s first goals is to fund the creation of another neurological recovery center in Austin by the end of the year.

For Luke’s family, their journey after Luke’s accident has been emotionally difficult. But Tim Siegel says that this foundation has given him a mission he wants to work toward for the rest of his life

“It’s really it’s given me my life back, it’s given me a reason to live and to fight hard,” he said.

Team Luke Hope 4 Minds will have a team running on Feb.18 at the Austin Marathon. Luke and his dad will run the 5K race. The foundation will also fundraise at Amplify Austin this year.

If you want to learn more about or get involved with Team Luke Hope 4 Minds, look here.

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