Local members of a brain injury support group helped land the Brain Injury Association of North Carolina's first fundraising event in the area.
The BIANC has hosted dozens of similar fundraiser walks throughout the state for the last six years, but the March 19 event is a first for the Cabarrus and Charlotte areas. The Walk & Roll-athon will be 9:30 a.m. at Frank Liske Park in Concord.
The Concord Brain/Spinal Cord Injury Support Group will walk with a banner: "In memory of Hal Falls, and in honor of all Brain Injury Caregivers."
Hal died Jan. 17, 2006, due to complications from a malignant brain tumor. He was 44. His parents and caregivers, Harold and Betty Falls, have lived in Concord since 1955. The two still attend the monthly support group meetings because its members helped them throughout their son's injury. They also hope to help others.
"The purpose of the group is to offer support to each other," said Harold. "Even though each situation is different, you face a lot of the same problems, especially when someone is facing it for the first time. They gain a lot of knowledge from those who have been here throughout the years. I think Hal is the only one in our support group who we've lost since we formed."
The support group formed less than 10 years ago and meets at 7 p.m. the third Monday of each month at Forest Hill United Methodist Church near downtown Concord. About 20 people throughout Cabarrus County attend regularly, often with family members and/or caregivers.
March is Brain Injury Awareness Month. In honor of that, the BIANC is hosting several family awareness events in N.C. through April. The statewide fundraising events will focus on the prevention of brain injuries in children, on safety for athletes and support for veterans and active military living with brain injuries. There will be safety demonstrations, live entertainment, music and activities for all ages.
Homer the Dragon, the mascot for the Charlotte Knights and, Lug Nut, Charlotte Motor Speedway's mascot, will be at the Concord event, as will Larry Sprinkle, meteorologist for WCNC, and representatives from the N.C. Research Campus Murdock Study, an effort based in Kannapolis to gather data about major diseases and disorders.
Event coordinator Eve Roberts, attends support group meetings with Edwin Ramos, 47. The Concord friends met at a mutual friend's party in August 2010. Roberts was learning Spanish and approached Ramos to practice. Throughout their conversation in English and Spanish, Roberts never thought he had a brain injury.
Ramos, a native of Puerto Rico, grew up in Harrisburg, Pa. He eventually told Roberts that he had been living with a traumatic brain injury for more than 15 years. The two have developed a friendship since. Because Ramos has no family participating in meetings with him, Roberts attends to help him and others overcome obstacles stemming from brain injuries.
On July 25, 1985, Ramos was in a car accident. He was heading home from work around 5:30 p.m. It was raining heavily and he later learned that another driver crashed into the driver side of his car. He ruptured his diaphragm, broke his left femur and some ribs, and punctured a lung. He was in a coma for nearly a week and developed seizures. He hasn't had a seizure since 2000 but still has difficulty with "executive reasoning," setting priorities, planning ahead and some memory functions.
He moved to Concord in February 2006 and began attending the support group that November. He said it was one of the first times he felt like he could fit in since his injury.
"You're here and everyone else is out there," he said, describing his life with a brain injury. "It becomes a strange world unless you have people that care and trust and can help you build confidence and help you learn."
Ramos said confidence comes with practice and that he would like to see more opportunities that help people with brain injuries remain active, contributing citizens.
"Brain-injured people don't want pity, but support, understanding and respect," said Ramos. "If we have hope, if we have support, there's a light out there for us. It gives us a reason to fight. Eve is one of those people who cares and shows they care."
Ramos described his daily struggles as intense, but because of those like Roberts, he has gained confidence and helps show others they are not alone. He encourages others, especially younger people, not to be afraid to ask for help.
"When I had my injury, I was 21," he said. "If I had known then what I know now, I would have taken advantage of every door that opened up, so I could live a normal life faster. Find help as soon as you can get it."
Roberts took on the coordination efforts as a way to increase awareness, help prevent injuries and educate the public.
She has learned a lot about brain injuries since attending the support group with Ramos for the last six months.
"The thing that really got me involved was that they never had the walkathon in this region," said Roberts. "We want to talk about prevention for people of all ages. If there are ways people can help these people who have suffered these injuries, they can live a full life. I see the promise in these people and I would like to see more opportunities to help them re-engage.
"Brain injured people are still the intelligent people they were before the injury. They are still creative and can contribute a great deal. They're just as productive, in many ways, as anyone else."
Nadine Cherry, 56, of Landis, injured her brain in 1977, falling off her horse. She was in a coma for nearly a month. She has attended the Concord support group for about three years and is trying to create a Rowan County chapter. The monthly meetings she attends serve as a good reminder.
"It shows me that I am not in the fight alone," said Cherry.