What a difference a year can make. One year ago, Brian Anderson was lying in a hospital bed, unable to breathe on his own, and unable to move from the neck down. Today, he is off of his ventilator and has some use of his right arm.
“It’s such a difference one year later,” said his father, Mike Anderson. “He can feed himself because he can use his right arm, and you know things like that, that you and I take for granted are huge. The fact that someone doesn’t have to spoon feed him gives him a level of independence that he didn’t have a few months ago — he wheels up to the aisle in the kitchen, straps on the utility cuff that goes around his hand and he eats entirely by himself.”
On the night of July 27, 2006, McLean High School graduate Brian Anderson – then 23 – dove into the waters of Lake Gaston, N.C., unaware of just how shallow they were. He hit the bottom of the lake with such force that the impact fractured his C-6 vertebra, damaged his respiratory system and caused permanent nerve damage throughout his body. Fortunately, Anderson’s friends were able to keep him above water and call an ambulance. He was rushed to Pitt Memorial Hospital in Greensboro, N.C., where he remained for 10 weeks in the Intensive Care Unit. In October of 2006, Anderson was moved to Good Samaritan Hospital in Baltimore, Md., where he was told that he would never walk again, and would most likely have to spend the rest of his life in a nursing home.
“This time last year he was really having difficulty, and we were trying to find a place that we could take him to help him, and that place turned out to be the Shepherd Center in Atlanta,” said Mike Anderson.
Shepherd Center is a non-profit “catastrophic care” hospital that specializes in the treatment of people with spinal cord injuries, acquired brain injuries, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain and other neurological conditions. Brian Anderson moved to the Shepherd Center on Nov. 30, 2006 and remained there for seven months. While there, Anderson was weaned off his respirator and began speaking for the first time since the accident. Mike Anderson said he visited his son once a month and his wife Vicki would fly to Atlanta every Friday evening and return to McLean every Sunday night. On July 3, 2007, Brian Anderson came home for the first time.
“Getting him home in July was just terrific,” said Mike Anderson. “And one month later, my other son came home from Iraq. He’s a captain in the Army, and he’d been in Iraq for a year and a half but just got reassigned to Washington D.C. So it’s just been great having our family back together again. My oldest son Mike comes over at least a couple times a week, and he and Brian watch football games together on Saturday, and since Brian’s been home the state of his health has improved.”
Anderson is now an outpatient at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, Md.
ON SATURDAY, Nov. 10, at 9 a.m., the second annual “Brian’s 5K” walk/run will be held at McLean High School. This time last year, the McLean community rallied together to organize the first “Brian’s 5K” fund-raiser. The event drew over 1,200 participants from the Northern Virginia region and helped to raise $100,000 for Brian Anderson’s medical expenses.
“I was totally blown away,” said Mike Anderson.
The money raised was also used to purchase a van for Anderson’s transportation, and to install ramps in his McLean home and move his bedroom to the first floor of the house. Proceeds from this year’s event will go toward Anderson’s medical expenses, and any remaining funds will be donated to the American Spinal Injury Association (ASIA).
This year, the children of the organizers of “Brian’s 5K” took over the management and implementation of the event.
“We just thought that it was for our friend, and now that more of us are finished with school and back in town, we thought we should be the ones to carry on tradition,” said Dan Russo, a friend of Anderson’s who graduated with him in the McLean High School class of 2002.
According to Russo, there are approximately eight friends in total organizing this year’s 5K, and they are hoping to draw a crowd of about 600. Russo, who has known Anderson since their freshman year of high school, said he visits his friend whenever he can.
“He’s still working on rehabbing, but he’s getting stronger and better everyday,” said Russo.