As some of you may or may not know March is Brain Injury Awareness Month and this past week it was Brain Injury Awareness Day on Capitol Hill. Congressman Bill Pascrell of the great state of New Jersey founded The Brain Injury Task Force in 2000 and he continues to co-chair it along with Congressman Thomas Rooney of Florida. The Brain Injury Association of America sponsors this event with a vendor fair in the morning, a panel of speakers in the afternoon, and a reception in the early evening. The staff is also on hand to coordinate lobbying efforts by attendees and they can help coordinate these visits.
I joined the Brain Injury Council six months ago just as the planning for this got underway. It had already been decided that the theme would be Pediatric Brain Injury which seemed to be a perfect “fit” for my interests. I have only attended the event once which was last year since it takes a lot of coordination with my family and it is a VERY LONG day traveling to the Capitol and meeting with representatives and there is A LOT of walking.
Middle Miss was asked if she would like to speak on the panel since the organizers were trying to find someone who had a brain injury during their childhood and was in the process of transitioning from high school to adulthood. Her name came to the attention of the organizers through the Executive Director of the Brain Injury Association of Virginia. I sit on the board and she was aware that Middle Miss had attended the Youth Leadership Forum this past summer.
Middle Miss was asked to speak about her journey as well as touch on the services she had received over the years including what supports she will continue to need as she move on from public school. We kept reminding her of the date and as each week went by I would ask her if the speech was written. Imagine our surprise when the Saturday prior to the event the speech hadn’t been started. She worked on it all weekend and as you can imagine this involved a lot of grumbling, feet stomping, huffy breaths, and breaks. Finally, the evening before the event we had a speech! Nothing like waiting until the ninth hour.
The morning of the event we were all racing around since we had to leave the house right after little Miss got on the bus at 7:20 a.m. As anyone with a teenage girl knows they are rarely on time to leave the house and Middle Miss is notorious for changing her outfit as we are about to leave. So it shouldn’t have been much of a surprise when she had to change.
The weather was quite brisk this morning and as we walked up to the Capitol and entered the Rayburn House Office Building we were quite wind blown. Middle Miss chose to attend the first Congressional visit of the day along with some Virginia state employees and the Government Affairs Director of the Brain Injury Association. Following this visit, her anxiety began to increase. We walked around the very crowded and loud vendor fair and attempted to speak with a few people but she had to leave the area as it was too overwhelming and stimulating of an environment with the lighting, noise, high ceilings and wall to wall people. Anyone requiring the use of a wheelchair or cane would never have been able to navigate this area.
Finally, the time to head to the room for the panel arrived and we attempted to get her acclimated to the environment nice and early, however, our attempts were thwarted when we all had to exit the room so staff could take away the tables and set the room up for the panel. Once this all had been completed we entered the room along with the audience members therefore not giving Middle Miss time to acclimate her herself. What do they say about the best-laid plans?
The moderator who I described to her as a teddy bear proved me right; he really took care of her by making sure she was comfortable and rearranging the speakers so Middle Miss would go second in the lineup of five. He later explained that he did this on purpose knowing that her story would prove to be the most impactful since she was the only survivor speaking. She was also seated next to the kindest gentleman anyone would ever meet. A psychiatrist with the Department of Defense and a career military man he made our girl feel so comfortable which we were forever grateful.
I am not speaking as a proud mama, which of course I was, but she totally ROCKED that room. She spoke so clearly and eloquently and with so much heart and authenticity. Her talk was at times sad, devastating, raw, and always truthful. As she finished we were shocked and awed to see that the audience, us included, gave her a standing ovation. I could not believe the overwhelming surge of pride, elation, sadness, and awe that came over me all at once. Here was this beautiful girl of mine, once clinging to the threads of life, speaking in front of one hundred plus people in the Rayburn House Building. Validation does not come any better than that. As we all returned to our seats the moderator mentioned that her two proud parents were sitting in the front and the woman next to me turned and said, “that is your daughter, oh my gosh, she made me cry, what a beautiful young lady she is and so brave to share her story here.”
Like I said, validation and the feeling that all of our hard work was beginning to pay off was overwhelming.