Help from someone who knows
EAGLE COUNTY – Debbie Stansell and husband, Tim, made a pact three years ago. When their own son, Travis Harnsbarger, began his lengthy recovery from a traumatic brain injury suffered in a car accident, the Eagle couple vowed they would do whatever they could to help other victims.Their chance came all too soon and hit far too close to home. Eagle Valley High School grad Patrick Kohl’s fall down a flight of stairs in Boulder last month, and his subsequent brain injury, were frightening enough. But recovering from such a devastating injury can prove daunting and more than a little overwhelming. The Stansells, like others from around Eagle County, have been there to lend support.Stansell has been handing out flyers these past couple of weeks to inform people about the Patrick Kohl fundraiser at the Eagle County Fairgrounds Saturday. The event will help pay for some of the medical expenses that have been rapidly mounting during Kohl’s hospitalization and rehabilitation. Additionally, Stansell has been maintaining a Web site to inform well-wishers about Kohl’s progress. The Status – TheStatus.com – is a Web site where families can create a web page and links about a loved one who is fighting a long-term illness or injury. Although Kohl’s parents say they are touched by all the concern for their son, answering dozens of phone calls daily can take away from where the attention needs to be – on Patrick.
In fact, Kohl has been receiving so many concerned calls, Boulder Community Hospital, where he has been recuperating, pulled the plug on his telephone last week. “He was getting too many calls and it was exhausting him,” reads the update on the Web site.’Bad memories’The Status Web site can be updated daily. By typing in a patient’s last name and entering a password, the site will link the viewer to background information, a message board, a guest book and even information on an upcoming fundraiser.”It’s very nice to put something like that together for the family,” Stansell says. She adds it would have been nice to have something similar when son, Travis, was recovering from the homecoming night crash that nearly took his life three years ago.Harnsbarger, now well on the mend from his own struggle with a traumatic brain injury, is also working the fundraising effort, handing out flyers and making plans to pitch in on the day of the event.He has known Kohl since they were in elementary school, and has been helping out where he can. They have been in touch by telephone. But Harnsbarger says he’s been hesitant about visiting Kohl.
“I don’t know if I want to handle it,” he said, “I didn’t want to see how his family is suffering. There are too many bad memories.” At this point, he is offering only a modest amount of advice to Kohl.”It’s so early that anything anybody says to him he’s not going to remember,” Harnsbarger says. “I know how hard it was for my family and I. Any way I can ease the pain or help, I will.”Harnsbarger’s own recovery has been lengthy, Stansell says. “Travis is doing really well – much better than anybody expected he would do,” Stansell says. “He’s far exceeded our expectations.” Currently, he’s taking classes at Colorado Mountain College, working at a ski shop in Vail and skiing and biking again.
‘Just helping’Stansell visited Kohl in the hospital right after the accident, trying to lend a positive outlook to the situation, and offer what information her family has have gleaned, she says. But, she admits, no two brain injuries are alike. “I often say that I lost my parent handbook once Travis came home,” she says. Harnsbarger says he can be more helpful to the Kohl family once Patrick returns home. He knows the speech and physical therapy Patrick will be undergoing is “very draining.” Having visitors is exhausting for someone recovering from a brain injury. Harnsbarger says he slept during the day even a year after his accident. One of the symptoms of severe brain injury is chronic fatigue, he says.Stansell says recovery can seem hardest once the patient returns home, and when life just doesn’t seem quite the same. She notes her own 20-year-old son looks 100 percent normal on the outside. For one thing, Harnsbarger still struggles with his long- and short-term memory, she says. “There’s still a lot of things going on inside,” she says. “I think Travis will be a big help with Patrick. Trav knows what it’s like to have something like that and come home.”
Toward the end of last week, Kohl was transferred to the Mapleton Rehabilitation Center to begin more extensive therapy. His long-term memory is “very keen,” reports the Web site, although he is having some difficulty with his short-term memory. This week, doctors replaced a bone in his skull. The hope is he will return home by Feb. 1.”He is talking up a storm, walking, and he had his first meal of turkey and mashed potatoes today, along with milk,” reads the Web site.But for now, Kohl’s doctors would still prefer The Status.com Web site do most of Kohl’s talking for him. “Just helping people through probably one of the most traumatic experiences in their lives is what really matters,” says Harnsbarger.This article first appeared in the Eagle Valley Enterprise. Vail, Colorado