‘We don’t let it stop us:’ Brain injury survivor wants story to bring awareness

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HOLLY SPRINGS, Miss. — Richard "Scooter" Birmingham Jr. was a senior at Independence High School when his Jeep flipped and hit a tree on a rainy evening.

He laid on the road for two hours and was run over by another car before that driver stopped and called for help.

He was near death. But he wasn't done with life just yet.

Now, his mother wants her son's story to start a conversation about brain injury. March is brain injury awareness month, and it's her goal to try to encourage people to take some time to learn just a little about the injury that dramatically changed their lives.

The Day Everything Changed

The life of Angela Birmingham and her family changed in one night in October of 2014 after police visited her to tell her her son was in the hospital after a bad auto accident.

"The doctor came and talked to me then, and he said, 'All I can tell you is we don't even know if he is going to make it but we are going to try to transfer him to the Med," Birmingham said, referring to the Regional Medical Center at Memphis.

"They said when they picked him up he was only breathing three breaths a minute. She said she had to breathe for him until they got to the hospital."

Birmingham was told that Scooter had received a severe traumatic brain injury.

"She said it's not just one section of the brain, his whole entire brain is damaged. Based on science, she said, he's not going to live. If he was going to live he would be a vegetable the rest of his life," Birmingham said.

Doctors said he had received a diffused axonal brain injury — Birmingham says it's the worst kind of brain injury — plus two hematomas, a broken right eye socket and cheekbone, broken right ribs and several other severe injuries.

After four months, 21 procedures, 21 days on life support and a year in a coma, Scooter woke up.

His family moved him to The Shepherd Center Brain Rehabilitation Center in Atlanta.

Making Progress

Three-and-a-half years after his accident, Scooter continues to prove doctors wrong, but not without a cost.

"People really don't understand what it entails. Mine and Scooter's life is so different," Birmingham said. "He wants to be typical, he wants to do the normal things that he always did. In his mind and memory, he's there, he is totally conscious and he understands, and that causes a lot of behavioral issues."

Despite all the training they had received from the Shepherd Center,  Birmingham and her family were not fully ready at home.

According to Birmingham, there are days that Scooter just wants to be normal and like any 21-year-old man.

"Our life is nothing but a schedule," Birmingham said.

Scooter's morning routine is waking up, having his mom prepare his medications, eating food, getting dressed and getting him ready for the day's events, which often consists of either going to the gym, doctor appointments, eating or doing tube feedings.

Birmingham says that if it wasn't for their faith in God, and Scooter's determination, everything they are doing would be much harder.

"He has a lot of determination. He wants to walk and talk again, and because when you have that in you and you want to do it you are going to do what it takes," Birmingham said.

One of the biggest struggles, she said, is finding someone who is trained to help. It doesn't help that Scooter is a 6 feet tall and 200 pounds.

"A lot of these therapists are itty-bitty ladies that don't feel comfortable transitioning him," Birmingham said.

Doctor's told the Birminghams that Scooter would never be able to open his eyes — but he does.

He had to learn everything all over again but he is doing it. He can now help lift his legs and lower body enough to help get dressed. He can hold his head up and even squeeze a modified trigger for his rifle to go hunting.

And though he can't speak yet, he can nod his head as his mother recites the alphabet to spell words. He said he wants to "W-A-L-K."

Do a Little Research

Birmingham wants people to know that brain injury is more common than people think. She tries to share a little of the information that she has learned on their journey on their Team Scooter Facebook page.

According to Birmingham, 143 brain injuries are registered in north Mississippi at the Department of Rehabilitation.

According to the Shepherd Center, the most common causes of brain injury is car accidents, falls, violence or gunshot wounds and military attack or bomb blasts.

"When we were at the Shepherd Center, there was one man there that was playing basketball with his boys that fell. It's so common and people don't understand," Birmingham said.

Birmingham says one of the hardest things people don't understand is that no two brain injuries are the same. She says some people could have a more mild brain injury than Scooter and not make it, but someone else with a worse case can live a manageable life.

Birmingham says for her it's not about getting extra help but know bring awareness to something that could change the rest of your life.

For more information about brain injuries you can follow Team Scooter or read about it on the Shepherd Center's website.