Fay teacher, parent advocates for helmet safety
By Sue Wambolt, Contributing Writer
Southborough – For Fay School physical education teacher Heidi Qua, life took a dramatic turn on Sept. 8, 2004 when her 2-1/2 year old son, Jacob, in a horrific freak accident, fell from a third-story screened dormitory window onto a concrete courtyard below. (Heidi and her husband, David were dorm parents at the school at the time.)
Jacob was rushed to UMass Memorial Center where he spent 27 days in a drug-induced coma, 17 of them on a ventilator. After 19 days in the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU), Jacob was moved to Franciscan Children's Hospital and Rehabilitation Center in Brighton where he spent three months doing in-patient rehabilitation. At the time, Jacob was functioning at the level of a seven-month old. While Qua watched her son struggle with simple tasks, she found reasons to feel blessed.
“When we first toured the hospital I wanted to fall on the floor, thinking that this is my reality now,” she said. “But, as I looked around at the other children fighting for their lives, I felt blessed. Seeing everyone else's reality was really sobering.”
Now, almost nine years later, the residual effects of Jacob's brain injury can be seen in his “funny walk,” academic retention and recall issues, and impulsivity. Additionally, he tires easily and is quick to anger.
Qua says that her faith has been the main-stay of her family's brain injury journey. As a Christian, she holds fast to the belief that “If God brings you to it; He will bring you through it.”
“We have not reached the finish line yet, I don’t think we ever will,” she said. “You are pretty helpless when your child is in PICU with a brain injury. There isn’t much you can do for them at all, and you certainly can’t hold them – there were times we weren’t allowed to even touch Jacob. Doctors were afraid we would overstimulate his brain, and we were trying to keep his brain from working too much. Our faith is what kept us afloat during that time. We turned to each other, but even that wasn's enough at times. For us, knowing that we didn’t have to carry this burden ourselves, that someone bigger than all of us was helping Jacob, healing Jacob, helped tremendously.”
The Qua family lives with the effects of Jacob's brain injury every day, visible reminders of the horrific day that redefined their “normal” life.
As a result of her experience, a journey she travels every day, Qua has become an advocate for helmet use. If she had it her way, she said, she would keep a stock of helmets in her car to hand out to any child (or parent) who is horseback riding, biking, roller skating or skate boarding without one.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Head injury is the most common cause of death and serious disability in bicycle-related crashes; head injuries are involved in about 60 percent of the deaths, and 30 percent of the bicycle-related ED visits. Many ?of these nonfatal head injuries produce lifelong disability from irreversible brain damage.”
“The message is simple,” Qua said. “Helmets save lives.”
Visit the CDC website for information on head injuries and bike safety at http://www.cdc.gov/healthcommunication/ToolsTemplates/EntertainmentEd/Tips/HeadInjuries.html
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