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TBI Affected Man Helps Kids

"Johnny" is lucky being alive. For this column, he preferred using a pseudonym.

In 1997, he was motorcycling Highway 101 in Los Angeles from one job to another when traffic suddenly stopped in front of him. Said 61-year-old Johnny, "The vehicle ahead was a pickup truck. I hit his tailgate, and then I bounced off into the medium strip."

He usually didn't wear a motorcycle helmet, but was wearing one this day. Amazingly, the first person on the scene was a friend of his daughter. Ambulance workers only a few cars back kept him alive and transported him within minutes to a hospital less than a mile away.

He said, "If that ambulance hadn't been behind me, and if a hospital hadn't been there, and if I'd not been wearing a helmet, I'd be dead today."

He was in a coma three days with a moderate to severe traumatic brain injury (TBI). About 80,000 Americans this year will incur substantial, long-term functioning losses from a TBI. It's the leading cause of long-term disability in children and young adults.

Johnny said, "Nowadays, my balance is off and my gait deteriorating. At first, I'd fall down only once in a while, but now I fall every day. I also have short-term memory and speech problems. I use a cane."

Johnny's wife runs a daycare business and sometimes he helps. One child in their care has fetal alcohol syndrome and another was born with Down syndrome. Said Johnny, "The child with Down syndrome is receptive to touch, loves to be held, and smiles big time. You can't resist being around this kid because she smiles so much. The child with fetal alcohol syndrome does things spur of the moment and has no fear or knowledge of consequences. People think he doesn't listen well, but the truth is he isn't able to listen well. But he has ways of communicating with me that he doesn't seem to have with other people."

Johnny enjoys helping his wife. He said, "Because I have a disability, I believe there are times when I'm more in tune with the needs of children with disabilities and more patient than most people. The biggest thing is I often can get through to the two kids (in terms of communication) when others can't. In working with children with disabilities, you have to be patient and show respect."

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