Independence Day

Although over the years July 4th has come to be a day of cookouts capped off with a fireworks display here in America; the national holiday known as Independence Day commemorates the passage of the Declaration of Independence. Although Congress had voted in favor of independence two days prior (7/2/76), it wasn’t until the 4th that the Declaration was finalized and adopted. The Declaration of Independence itself is a list of grievances which prompted the launch of the American experiment, an exercise of self-governance guided by the ideal that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The celebratory mood and festivities of Independence Day also happen to mark the yearly anniversary of my acquiring a traumatic brain injury.

It was 18 years ago on 7/4/06 that I lost all semblance of independence when I made an awful choice that saw me go from an active 23-year-old recent college graduate beginning his post-collegiate life to 6 weeks in an ICU dependent on others for survival. My gratitude for the foundation that early care laid for my ongoing recovery from left-sided paralysis and the cognitive, emotional and communication challenges brought by a DAI (Diffuse Axonal Injury) cannot be put into words. Of course, as with many conditions or injuries, acute care and stabilization only begins the recovery process of intense rehabilitation after brain injury. What followed for me was a journey of building a new life after brain injury blessed by my connection with some amazing organizations, many of which are RAWZ Fund partners.  

One of the more difficult things to do is identify a tipping point in my recovery when I made “the turn” or when the triage (stabilization) and rehab phase of the process concluded. Was it when I was discharged from Spaulding, “graduated” after two years of day-rehab programming, began living independently, or joined the workforce that marked the shift from recovery to life post-brain injury? Thankfully, it was the confluence of many things that contributed to my living a full and rewarding life over the last 18 years. I can’t say exactly what, or even if there is a factor that made the difference, but I’m filled with gratitude for all of the pieces of my journey!

I remember describing the David Krempels Brain Injury Center (KBIC) to a friend who inquired why I still attend regularly by saying, “Because after the medical community saved my life, it was at Krempels where I began living it!” This transition doesn’t mean turning the page on recovery or that the disability chapter of my life is closed, but rather rejoining the human race where we all give our best effort to live productive and meaningful lives. Whether it’s the power of pets (service or otherwise), innovative therapeutic care, or life enriching recreation, the 13 non-profit organizations who RAWZ is proud to contribute to all improve lives. Just like we celebrate that 248 years ago when America declared Independence, the holiday also reminds us of the amazing work the RAWZ Fund partners contribute to those living with disability!

So nobody thinks I’m engaging in hyperbole, I’ll describe my first ever day at KBIC…

I had become quite depressed after discharging from nearly two years of intensive physical, occupational, and speech therapy. Despite my progress, I was still unable to drive and reduced stamina kept my working to 16 hours a week. I remember my dad, after I explained my frustration, suggesting I volunteer somewhere. I recalled hearing of KBIC (then called Stepping Stones run by the Krempels BI Foundation) and thought I’d see if they had anything for me to do. My dad handed me over to a program coordinator at the front door as I explained that I didn’t need help, but wanted to volunteer. She must have been holding back laughter at my total lack of awareness of my deficits. Following being led to and attending the program’s morning meeting to observe and see what I may want to do, I checked back in with the staff.

After being blown away by the congeniality and energy of the non-medical/treatment feeling, which had become the norm, and meeting the BI survivors discussing the day’s programming; they asked me, “What do you think you might like to do?” All I could say was, “You know, I think I just want to hang out.” The thought of joining the loving and supporting Krempels community where I could choose my own schedule was just what I needed. And what do you know, I’m still “hanging out” as often as I can make it after almost 16 years!

We wish you all a happy and healthy Independence Day. We would love to have you join us in improving the lives of people and pets through minimally processed nutrition. To locate your nearest Independent RAWZ retail partner visit our Where to Buy page and further explore the site to learn more about our full line of pet nutrition options for your four-legged companion!