Eleven years after a mysterious event nearly took his life, Kit Callahan is a living miracle.
"He's come back," said Kit Callahan's mom, Kim Callahan. "He was injured and left for dead. We thought we'd lost him."
While working in Chicago in 1993, Kit Callahan was attacked and suffered a severe brain injury, one that caused him to have to relearn how to walk and function on his own, Kim Callahan said.
Sunday, Oct. 3, will be the fourth annual Kit Callahan's Miracle Mile 8K Run/Walk and Brain Injury Awareness Fair at George Mason University, a fund-raiser started by Kit's family in his honor and to help the services that got their family through the tough times.
"Because of Brain Injury Services and other support groups, they helped us find the services we need," said Kim Callahan.
"Kit wanted to walk without using a walker or cane, and he's reached that goal, which inspired us to have this event to raise money for the groups that helped us," she said.
DURING KIT Callahan's rehabilitation, Kim Callahan kept hearing from the groups helping her family that they were in desperate need of more funding to keep the services running.
"Without those organizations, he wouldn't have gotten as far as we've come today," she said. "We want to reach out to those who are a little behind us, facing the same struggles we had to face. When someone in your family has a brain injury, your life is changed forever."
The two groups that will benefit from the Miracle Mile proceeds are Brain Injury Services Inc. and Northern Virginia Brain Injury Association, Kim Callahan said.
"Brain Injury Services have started a program teaching injury prevention that can be mimicked in other areas," she said. "They're now in Fredericksburg and Virginia Beach. They're the cutting edge of how to help people's lives get back on track after a brain injury."
Sunday's events will also feature a brain injury awareness fair. "People will be able to get information and education on how to prevent injuries," Callahan said. "There will also be a child safety seat check, a bike rodeo for kids. MADD will be there with their glasses so people can see what it's like" to drive under the influence of alcohol, she said. For children, a moon bounce and face painting will be among the other activities.
ABOUT 500 people are expected for the event, Kim Callahan said.
As for her son, "He's doing very well. He's looking for a job right now. He graduated with a finance degree from Virginia Tech before his injury, and he's looking for something to help him make ends meet," she said. "He's got a great attitude. He's an inspiration to people who have disabilities, and he keeps me going to help them."
Karen Brown, executive director of Brain Injury Services, calls brain injury a "silent epidemic."
"There are 5.3 million people in the United States living with an acquired brain injury," she said. "The more work I do with BIS over the years, the more I meet people who know someone with a brain injury.
"The annual number of new HIV/AIDS cases is somewhere around 100,000, but for traumatic brain injuries, that number is well over one million," she said.
Traumatic brain injury is the leading cause of death or disability among children, Brown said, and in some cases the injury won't show up in the child until later in life.
"A teenager [who] may develop a behavioral problem or suddenly has problems learning in school may be suffering from a brain injury that happened years before," Brown said. Brain injuries in children are usually caused by falls, "which is why wearing a helmet on a bike is so important," she said.
In addition to the emotional stress a family endures when a member has a brain injury, the financial costs can be devastating.
"The average life cost to take care of a person with a severe brain injury can range from $600,000 to $1.8 million, and that's not taking into account the individual lost earnings of the person and the caregiver," Brown said. In many cases, someone in the family will have to leave his job to care for the injured person, she added, which brings additional stress to the situation.
"There's a stigma associated with brain injuries. There's still a stigma associated with mental health in general," Brown said. "People don't want to admit to having a cognitive or memory loss problem, but once people start talking about it, it'll be easier to deal with. This is a new field. Brain injury is not out there as much as other illnesses, like depression," she said.
With the current war in Iraq, many soldiers are coming home with brain injuries because "their helmets are not properly protecting their heads, and Kevlar won't protect from a brain injury," Brown said. "The Department of Veteran Affairs in Bethesda will admit that they're treating a growing number of patients" with brain injuries, she said.
SOME PROGRESS is being made in getting organizations that deal with these patients the funding they need to continue their work, Brown said.
"In this year's budget, $750,000 in state funding has been allocated specifically for community-based programs like ours," she said. "We've developed a model-based pediatric program, and the additional funding will help to keep that going."
It's important to remember that people with brain injuries can live productive lives, Brown said.
"With the use of programs like this, people can and do have good lives. That's where we come in, helping them once they leave the hospital. We rejoice in all the things they do, and it's a gift to work in this field," she said. Families of people with brain injuries "have strength that people just can't understand."
"Kit has an amazing story to tell," said Robert White, press secretary for U.S. Rep. Tom Davis (R-11th), who will serve as honorary chairman for this year's event.
"[Davis is] really happy to play a small part in helping Kit," White said. "[Kit's] the very embodiment of never giving up."
Davis will run in the 8K race, which will be timed by the Reston Runners, White said. "He's so inspired by Kit's story. Brain injuries can be extremely serious, and any way we can get government money and public exposure is much needed."