By James Mount
Aug. 15, 2014, was just another evening for Paul Gerardot, property manager of St. Henry Parish Community Center in Fort Wayne. That evening, however, would end in a catastrophe. Riding his motorcycle, a car pulled out in front of him. Gerardot swerved to avoid the hit, lost control of the bike and dropped it, falling off and hitting his head. He never hit the car, but wasn’t wearing a helmet.
Rushed to the hospital, he had no heart rate and no blood pressure. Doctors fought for his life and with his vital signs restored, Gerardot drifted in and out of consciousness for 65 days. Suffering a traumatic brain injury, he was lucky to be alive — but today you wouldn’t think anything had ever happened to him.
Coming back wasn’t easy. It required months of rehab and retraining his brain. During the process he came to know Kristin Smith, the leader of Parkview Hospital’s brain injury support group and a specialist in brain injuries. Their acquaintance would bring Smith and Parkview to a place special that was very special to Gerardot: the church’s community gardens.
People who suffer TBIs have unique challenges in their rehabilitation efforts. Smith’s efforts center on not only helping these people regain full function of their motor and cognitive abilities but also helping friends and family form a support group for TBI patients.
According to her, the TBI support group has a three-fold focus. First, it offers group sessions to discuss problems, questions or concerns and helps group members through varied expertise and personal experience. Second, it offers educational groups — bringing speakers into the group to further educate about brain trauma. The third focus is social, bringing patients, family, friends and community members together in a relaxed and fun environment. The third focus brought Smith and Parkview to St. Henry.
Smith was impressed with a visit to a community garden picnic sponsored by St. Henry over the summer. “We loved our visit to St. Henry,” she said. “The people were generous hosts in sharing their support and resources to provide a welcoming environment with food and friendship.”
Smith became aware of St. Henry Parish, and its annually planted community gardens, through Gerardot’s treatment and rehabilitation. She also appreciated his attitude during the process, which helped other group members with their own recovery. “Paul always brings a message of hope and the importance of functional activity, as well as ongoing purpose for our survivors and their families. He’s always able to drive home the point that no matter their impairments their lives still have purpose and meaning. He also expresses how helping others can help them.”
She came away impressed by the efforts put forth by the parish and the hospitality presented to the TBI group. “I was so appreciative to Paul and his board and contacts for all the hard work they did in getting food arranged and prepared — all the people who supported, set up, cleaned up and provide entertainment.” TBI group members came away aware of a special place they can utilize in their rehabilitative efforts.
“I feel that many of our group members were made aware of another place they could go to be functional, to obtain some activity and work toward their return to independent living following their brain injuries.”
Smith sees a value in the existence of a place like the community gardens, and shared her hope for future collaborative efforts with St. Henry to provide TBI patients a haven to regain their life functions. “I would love to see some of our group members regularly participate in gardening at St. Henry and sharing their experiences and possibly fresh food with the group. The success of group members in these types of activities and programs helps them recover and regain a sense of purpose back to their life. This, in turn, brings examples of success and hope back to our group to share with others who are struggling.” Smith also sees a growing and able pool of volunteers for St. Henry to come from this collaboration.
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