Dave Sawczuk recalls the story of Uncle Joey reading to Bennie, their youngest son, when he was in the hospital.
Bennie wasn t awake, he said, but Joey is reading the paper with this thick New York accent, look at this Bennie, can you believe this , he reenacts. It was a memorable moment for the Sawczuk family during a time filled with uncertainty.
Ben Sawczuk, Bennie, as his family calls him, wasn t awake because he was in a coma. What started out as a beautiful day at the beach ended in tragedy when Ben was struck by a car while riding his bicycle alongside the road.
It was August 15 and he was immediately medevac d to Johns Hopkins Hospital where he was in a coma for a number of weeks, Dave Sawczuk said, glancing at his wife Joanne, who is sitting next to him on the couch. She confirms the date with a nod of her head.
That summer in 2007 altered the Sawczuk family norm for the better part of a year. Ben suffered a traumatic brain injury and was in a coma for 23 days, when he woke up he faced extensive rehab therapy.
For the next seven months we were in Baltimore at Kennedy Krieger where the rehab center is attached to Johns Hopkins day after day there, almost around the clock with Ben, while Lindsey and Ryan, Ben s brother and sister were here, Dave said.
Ben doesn t remember the accident but he remembers rehab.
It definitely changed my life, he said. I had therapy every day and most of it was learning how to do everything again, like walking, talking, breathing, swallowing all the stuff you have to learn right when you're born basically.
The staff at Kennedy Krieger tailored Ben s rehab program directly to his personality.
He was eight years old, so they made the therapy fun and playful, Joanne, Ben s mom said. He loved sports, they had like an early morning VIP pass to go play video games, and I thought he d never play video games in his lifetime, they made it fun they really understood who he was.
Ben still loves sports, now a sophomore at West Potomac high school; he s a manager for the basketball team. His brother Ryan coaches the neighborhood club team that he plays on.
I go to school every day, we do different stuff but similar to the day before, Ben said, sounding like any other teenager.
Stay positive and have courage, he said were the keys to getting through the process he and his family went through, this time with wisdom and experience that most his age can t fathom.
Way to go Big Dawg, his older brother Ryan says and the three siblings joke in the kitchen as their parents and uncle look on. Ben performs a card trick; his sister, Lindsey, chooses the cards that he ll identify at the end of the trick.
Someone asks Uncle Joey if he s golfing on Monday. That s why I m in town, he responds.
It s also why Ben s story is at the forefront of the conversation. The Northern Virginia Security Forum, where Dave works, hosts a golf tournament annually but this year it has a twist.
They asked if anyone had a cause or something we could rally behind and I basically raised my hand and told Ben's story in a few words and they said wow that's really intriguing .
The company decided that this year s event would be a fundraiser for the Kennedy Krieger Institute and specifically brain injury programs for children just like Ben.
Going through that experience and having people do as much for your child, and then your family, because really between the two institutions they saved us all, not just Ben. You feel this incredible; it s not debt, its gratitude and wanting to say thanks .
Dave s colleagues, friends of the Sawczuk family and even doctors from Kennedy Krieger converged on the Mt. Vernon Country Club with the goal of raising ,000 to benefit patients with traumatic brain injuries. The event would go on to exceed expectations and raise ,000.
The Sawczuk family and their community at the Northern Virginia Security Forum are truly inspirational they have not only rallied around Ben but now have joined together to help other children and families as well. These funds will have a tremendous impact on our Brain Injury programs, said Dr. Stacy Suskauer, Director of Brain Injury Rehabilitation Programs at Kennedy Krieger Institute.
It feels amazing to give back to something that gave so much to me, Ben Sawczuk said, with a smile.
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