On August 7, 1978, two young men in a car careened around a curve and plunged into a 20-foot ditch, narrowly missing the Cass River. One of the young men was our son, Jamie, an athletic 20-year old nursing student who laid in intensive care, comatose, and hooked up to life-giving machines. Through our experiences, we have learned many invaluable lessons about the trauma of brain injury. The first lesson we learned we entitled, "The Grief of a Family." We have never, ever forgotten the feelings of devastation from that first fateful night. Understanding the reactions and feelings of other families experiencing similar trauma has made it easier because we have shared the same grief and pain.
"Love is the most important cornerstone of our facility and all those who enter the Lighthouse receive it." Dorothea Wilson-Lighthouse Founder
The second lesson we learned was "personal care." As the days of Jamie's hospitalization and rehabilitation turned into weeks, and then into months, our concern for good personal care deepened. Jamie laid there with hair unwashed, face unshaven, and restrained at times without our knowledge. We began to realize how important these things were. We still do.
The third lesson we learned was the true meaning of "How to Love." We brought Jamie home, comatose and with high hopes, doubled all of the hospital's instructions. We placed Jamie's bed in our dining room, and he became the center of our world. We touched him, we talked to him, and we loved him.
Lesson four dealt with "How to Deal with Aggression." As Jamie became more responsive a new issue surfaced -anger. He began to bite, kick, hit, and yell. We searched for the right solution through many rehabilitation programs. At this time, traumatic brain injury was a fairly new field and professionals just shook their heads and offered no solutions. As a family, we prayed and asked, "Wasn't the brain injury bad enough?"
Burnout became increasingly evident in our family. Finally, we met a psychiatrist and psychologist who taught us the behavioral approach to dealing with the "new" Jamie.
In the years that followed, we learned that this approach has been used successfully many, many times. We now view this program with confidence instead of fear. We are always excited to see the behavioral approach work when nothing else seemed to.
The last, and possibly the hardest lesson we learned was, "How to Deal with Reality." We had therapists in and out of our home with exercise programs. We were reading and going to conferences to gain knowledge on how to get Jamie back. I am sure you have all seen those old movies where the comatose person wakes up one day and is the same as they were before the injury. I just knew that Jamie would be back one day and life would get "back to normal." Then, the doctor broke the news that Jamie would always require 24-hour care. This news devastated our family, and caused us to face the cold, hard reality of our predicament, pushing us into seeking a solution.
As our family quickly wore out and worry increased about what would happen to our Jamie, we examined the available solutions. Nursing homes and state institutions were the only options at the time. Both were unacceptable to us. Finally, after much worry and prayer, my husband said, "We will build our own." We both knew this was the answer.
That day the Lighthouse was born in our hearts and minds, but it took several years to become a reality. On January 18, 1987, the Lighthouse opened its doors filled with hope and all the experiences of many lessons learned from Jamie. Many, many more lessons were to follow. Those lessons are the foundation of the Lighthouse and its program.
Understanding for grief –stricken families, comprehensive staff training in personal care, experience in handling behavioral problems, and helping families accept and live with reality are among our cornerstones. Love is the most important cornerstone, and all those who enter the Lighthouse receive it.
Each day, I ask the Lord to continue to teach us the lessons that are so important so that each day we may serve others better.