LONG JOURNEY: Teen Recovering From Brain Injury

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A 17 year-old recovering from a brain injury is training for an important race.

T.J. Denham was sailing through life like any teen. Mom Kelly Denham says, “He was a student at Valley High School. He loved paint balling and playing drums and hanging out with friends.”

Sister Whitney Misja says, “I always remember him playing on his X-Box with a hamster on his shoulder.”

Last spring, the high school student went to the doctor for a pain in his tailbone and the doctor found something else instead. Denham says, “He heard a heart murmur, so we found out he had a heart defect.” She goes on to say, “He went in for heart surgery in April of 2013 and we’ve had these complications since that surgery.”

The complication was a brain injury, which devastated his body. He’s been recovering at On With Life Brain Rehabilitation Center in Ankeny since December.

Before that he spent months at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Denham says, “He’s improving slowly, but he’s improving.”

He’s relearning to eat, swallow, walk and talk. He may not be able to speak, but he has plenty to say. T.J. played a message with a speech generating device that he just started using. This is what he had to say, “Wow, it has been a crazy year, 9 months at Mayo, 1 month at home and almost 5 months at On With Life. I am thankful for the support from my family, friends, church and school.”

T.J. uses it by pressing a button to type out letters or search for the words he wants to say. Speech Language Pathologist Megan Ihrke says, “T.J. on his own found something I didn’t even know was there: some pre-programed jokes, some knock-knock jokes.”

He’s also working on getting around. He’s using a recumbent bike to help him train for a 5k. He’ll pedal and steer while his sister gives him a push every now-and-then. Sister Whitney says, “I think he will have a lot of fun too, a good experience for him.”

T.J.’s friends from Valley High School are putting on the 5k. It’s Saturday, May 17th at Valley Stadium. His mom says, “He’s had a lot of support from the community. I think they were just thinking about him. And, it was his Senior year, and I think they just wanted to do something to show him support.”

The 5k run/walk to benefit T.J. Denham is Saturday, May 17 at Valley Stadium. The student government is organizing it. Registration is at 8 a.m. with the race starting at 9 a.m. The entry fee is $20.


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