Every year, 1.7 million people suffer a traumatic brain injury. Of those, 52,000 die and 275,000 are hospitalized, according to statistics from the Texas Brain Injury Alliance. In Texas, that translates to roughly 144,000 Texans suffering a traumatic brain injury – one every four minutes. Another startling statistic is that fewer than 1 in 20 people get the help they need to rehabilitate.
A day camp to help adults dealing with traumatic brain injuries was held Saturday, July 24, at the Dayton Community Center. Hosted by Dayton resident Leah Hight, Wharton resident Krista Spano and Texas Pilot Clubs, the camp welcomed 13 people suffering from traumatic brain injury, including Hight’s daughter, Laura.
On a snowy day in 1994, Laura, a student at Dayton High School, was driving a friend home after tennis practice along FM 1409 when they hit a rough patch in the road, sending the vehicle into oncoming traffic. Laura’s friend was killed and she suffered critical injuries that kept her in the hospital for eight months, four and a half of which were in a coma.
Twenty-seven years later, Leah Hight still remembers the moment she learned of her daughter’s accident.
“My friend called me to ask if I had heard that Laura was in an accident. Her husband had seen Laura lying in the ditch face-down. Some people had pulled her from the vehicle,” Leah said.
Leah and her late husband, Rusty, jumped in their vehicle and rushed to the scene, only to be involved in another accident on the snowy roads.
“I got out of our car and started running. I remember it snowing and looking up to see the helicopter with my daughter taking off,” Leah said.
Leah kept a bedside vigil throughout the ordeal, frequently meeting with doctors in what she called “the death room” where they shared gloomy reports of Laura’s condition.
“They would take us in there and tell us all of this horrible stuff. I told them, ‘I will think about that tomorrow,'” Leah said. “It was out of my hands. It was in God’s hands and the doctors’ hands.”
Gradually, Laura began to recover, thanks in part to The Institute for Rehabilitation and Research (TIRR) in Houston. She returned to school and went on to graduate in the Top 10 percent, though her graduation came one year later than planned. Leah believes her daughter’s recovery was aided by prayers from the community.
As she still deals with physical challenges related to her injuries, Laura still relies on and lives with her mom.
“Laura has made a great recovery. She’s doing great. My family is fine and our lives are still pretty normal. If you look around this room at this camp, you will see people who are still recovering,” said Leah.
She believes the Dayton camp, and others like it, are important because they keep TBI survivors and their families connected. Campers enjoy meals, fellowship and play games.
“They all encourage each other. You don’t have to look far to find someone in worst shape than yourself. They are optimistic and supportive, and take such good care of each other,” Leah said. “If you think about it, all of their friends have gone on with life – had children and grandchildren. Most of the brain injury survivors live at home with their parents. It can be a lonesome life.”
Leah and two other TBI parents started an organization called Higher Ground, which hosts an annual camp each May at Camp for All in Burton, Texas, which offers a barrier-free environment for all special needs people. The Texas Pilot Clubs became involved after the initial camp.
“The Texas Pilot Clubs had already decided that traumatic brain injury was going to be a focus for the club. Now all of those wonderful ladies in the Pilot Clubs go to all of the camps. They have even started camps in Louisiana and Oklahoma, and several in Texas,” Leah said.
Liberty County once had a Pilot Club but it was dissolved. Leah said some local residents have an interest in reviving the Club. For anyone with an interest in joining the Pilot Club, there also are chapters in the neighboring communities of Baytown and the Lake Houston. For more information on the Pilot Club, go online to https://www.pilotinternational.org/