Roy Exum: Unmask Brain Injuries

Wednesday, April 18, 2018 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

I have a special friend, a real special guy who had a childhood others would envy. One night during a party at his University of Alabama fraternity, he and some other brothers threw a thug out who was trying to crash the party. Who would have ever guessed the jerk would come back with a butcher knife and slam the business end through the promising kid’s brain. After weeks of touch-and-go, he miraculously survived.

Another guy I love was driving his daughter home from tennis practice at Baylor and, as they were going south on the Olgiati Bridge, a car going in the opposite direction hit a piece of loose piece of metal in the roadway. The chunk of metal was launched like a missile into southbound traffic.

The piece of steel rocketed through the windshield, hit the pretty tennis player in the head with such force it shattered part of her skull, and she became one of 2.5 million Americans each year who suffer a traumatic brain injury. Of that number, 52,000 die and the CDC estimates there are 3.5 million in the United States who require long-term care.

The Alabama frat boy and the talented tennis player, who also survived, are not just statistics. They belong to wonderful Chattanooga families I adore. When something bad happens to anyone’s brain, the person you who knew is never the same person. It is absolutely devastating. That sounds horribly cruel but everything … I mean, everything … changes for entire families.

Next Friday a group you may have never heard of is having an “unmasking” at the Convention Center where many masks will tell a dazzling story about each survivor of a traumatic brain injury. The Chattanooga Area Brain Injury Association (CABIA) has quite a collection of hobby-type face masks that each survivor has painted and there is a story with each.

For example: Conner, a state wrestling champion at McCallie, had just finished college and was working on his Series 7 exam when a car sailed through a stop sign. He was not expected to live, then he was expected to never walk or talk. “Siskin saved my life,” he said after a round of golf. “I feel strongly that God saved me to make an impact on the world. My faith and my positive attitude are choices I appreciate.”

Thus, Conner’s mask reflects his faith, his attitude and his dreams and, if there is a common thread TBI patients share, it is a strong faith, choice in attitude and dreams for the future. Drew, shortly after he earned a degree in chemistry, says the bicycle helmet on his mask reminds him of the long ride back on a new path. He remembers absolutely nothing about the tragedy.

On the other hand, Ian is adored for his wit: “A little brain surgery gives you a headache,” he says, “but a stroke is a lot more complicated unless you go through it.” Ian delights in calling his mask, “Low Will Power.”

Others are deeply personal. One mask reflects “the loneliness that comes when you see your old friends leading different lives and you never get to see them again.” Another has lightning bolts painted over the eyes “to explain what the seizures are like."

Tina says the silver cross on her mask “represents my faith and reminds me that God loves handicapped people … God put regular-day people in special-needs people’s lives for His purpose,” she said and the man who knows that best is next week’s guest speaker – North Carolina’s Marty Foil. After his brother suffered a traumatic brain injury, Marty has thrown himself totally into the TBI arena.

He has started two centers for those with TBI issues, is an advocate for prevention, education and out-reach, and is behind what is now a global effort to “unmask brain injuries.” A certified brain injury specialist, Foil’s mission “is to show others that persons living with a disability due to their brain injury are like everyone else. They deserve dignity, respect, compassion and the opportunity to prove their worth.

The Brain Injury Association would like a big crowd for the luncheon and particularly urges anyone whose family or loved one have been touched by traumatic brain injuries. Some tables are still available and individual tickets are $75. The luncheon will begin next Friday (April 27) at the Convention Center, starting at 11:30 am. Those wishing to make reservations or desiring further information should contact Lisa Morgan at 423/634-1572. The CABTIA office is located in the Siskin Hospital building and an email address is

* * *

At the end of next week’s luncheon, try to say hello to some of the TBI survivors because their courage, their attitudes and each one’s ability to “persevere through any adversity" will make your heart soar.

One Goal For Education

As parents, community members, and teachers, I believe that we should have one goal: to provide for our students a higher quality education than the one we received. We desire for them to be able to compete in the workplace, to have the necessary skills to bring their dreams to life and possess a deep passion for giving back to their community. I’ve been monitoring the ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: The Same Family Tree

When it was learned the UnifiEd Foundation was a left-wing crowd of political organizers rather than a group with the sole intent of bettering public education in Hamilton County, several other liberal groups fell under scrutiny and it is uncanny how many of the same few people are intertwined in a county of 360,000 people. Or, as one critic succinctly said, “They are all from ... (click for more)

City Stormwater Board Approves Water Quality And Development Fee Increases

The city Stormwater Regulations Board on Monday recommended that the city approve water quality and land development increases sought by the Berke administration, though board members said there had not been enough time for the board and the public to study the fee hikes. Bill Payne, city engineer, said the water quality fee increase would amount to an average $11 per year per ... (click for more)

Blakemore Gets 23-Year Prison Term For Selling Heroin That Caused Death Of Red Bank Man

Federal Judge Sandy Mattice on Monday sentenced Darius Jermaine Blakemore to 23 years in federal prison for selling heroin to a Red Bank man who overdosed and died.   Blakemore, 29, had gone to trial on the case, but it was announced in the middle of the trial that both sides had agreed to the 23-year term. Blakemore had faced 30 years to life.   Blakemore ... (click for more)

Six Chattanooga Baseball, Softball Teams Open State Play This Week

The state tournament matchups in baseball and softball have been announced. Only thing left is for the fortunate teams that have reached the 2018 TSSAA Spring Fling in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, to make a final push toward possible championships, the most prized trophies in high school sports. While only two local baseball teams -- Baylor and McCallie -- are ... (click for more)

Lookouts Fall (3-2) In 10th Inning Walk-Offs By Biloxi Saturday & Sunday

The Biloxi Shuckers (26-17) grabbed their second walk-off victory of the season in extra innings on Saturday night against the Chattanooga Lookouts (28-15) with a 3-2 win. The Lookouts have a 3 1/2 game lead over second-place Jackson in the North Division, while Biloxi has a 3 1/2 game lead over Mobile in the South Divisioon The Shuckers scored two runs to counter Chattanooga's ... (click for more)