Mask making event to spotlight affects of traumatic brain injury

Jeremiah Medenwald is shown here with his two sons Noah and Uriah. This picture was taken last year.

Hoping that what happened to her son after his traumatic brain injury, Roxann Medenwald of Hankinson is a vocal proponent of a registry that will identify people affected by a brain injury.

His top advocate and mother, Roxann Medenwald of Hankinson, said they hit numerous blockades since no one really helped Jeremiah. She hopes that will change for others suffering from a traumatic brain injury now that a state registry is in place.

The Medenwalds didn’t know what resources were out there as doctors treated Jeremiah incorrectly for a mental illness, while his traumatic brain injury was ignored. He had difficulty getting out of bed and initiating his day, ran into addiction issues and was arrested for possession.

“Brain injury is often referred to as the invisible disability,” said Rebecca Quinn, the North Dakota Brain Injury Network program director.

Roxann and Jeremiah finally feel hope that others won’t struggle as they did now that North Dakota finally has reinstated its brain injury registry, which was first initiated in 1972, but phased out in 1996.

The registry will pinpoint everyone in North Dakota who has gone to a hospital or clinic with a brain injury, so “no one falls through the cracks like Jer,” Roxann said.

Part of the goal of the North Dakota Brain Injury Network is to draw awareness, so it is hosting a mask making event for those affected by brain injury from 2-3:30 p.m. Thursday, March 9 at Optimist Shelter, Chahinkapa Park in Wahpeton.

“Making the masks is a way to make visible the impact of the injury on survivors and our community,” Quinn said.

 Brain injury survivors, family members, friends and community members are invited to be part of this event. The purpose is to not only create awareness for brain injury, but to also give survivors a voice. The project allows individuals with a brain injury to create an art mask to tell their story as a means to educate others of what it is like to live with a brain injury.

Quinn will facilitate the group. The event is being hosted by the Wahpeton and Lisbon Freedom Resource Centers.

The North Dakota Brain Injury Network is funded by the North Dakota Department of Human Services, and is housed within the Center for Rural Health at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

One of Quinn’s success stories is Jeremiah, who suffered a traumatic brain injury nine years ago while working for a local farmer.

Since an article appeared in this newspaper two years ago, the Medenwalds received an outpouring of support and felt energized for the first time since Jeremiah was injured in a farming accident back in 2008. While working for Prochnow Farms during beet harvest, Jeremiah tried to pull a stuck truck out of the mud. The chain snapped, went through the front window and broke the bones in his forehead on contact.

First Jeremiah went to area doctors, who treated his symptoms and not the overlying issue of his traumatic brain injury. “That’s where we lost Jer,” she said last year. “The real help he needed wasn’t available.” Through it all, she fought beside her son to get him help, only to have promises dangled and then snatched away when the Medenwalds began to hope.

So much has continued to change for Jeremiah, much of it through the intervention of Quinn.

Just getting through the day had been a struggle, until Quinn helped turn Jeremiah’s isolation into a supportive team network. She pushed for him to become part of a traumatic brain injury program at the Neurologic Rehabilitation Institute at Brookehaven Hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he stayed for about a month. While there, Jeremiah received personalized care that taught him self-reliance, modified his medications and gave him emotional tools to regulate his life.

Jeremiah is now divorced and has joint custody of his sons, Uriah and Noah. He continues to attend support groups started by Progressive Therapy, recently underwent surgery to remove pins in his skull from the original accident, and will even have hip replacement to give him quality of life and make his days as pain free as possible.

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