Student Recovering From Brain Injury Goes Back to Class

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WEST DES MOINES, Iowa –Many high school students can’t wait for the day when they are done with class. For one young man in West Des Moines, he is excited to be back to school after being away for more than two years.

It’s a big day in the Denham house.

“This is the first day of senior year. We’ve been praying for two and a half years that he would be able to return to school,” said Kelly Denham.

Kelly’s son TJ hasn’t been to class at Valley High School since April 2013.

“He was junior in high school and we found out he had a heart murmur. He had a brain injury from his heart surgery,” Kelly said.

It’s been a long road, and Kelly even called it brutal.

“It’s very difficult. It still is, but we’re making progress and he continues to improve very slowly,” she said.

That makes the first day back all the more exciting. Asked how he felt about going back to school, TJ used a communication device to say, “I’m excited overall, but I am not excited about having to do homework. Also, I’m very blessed to go back to school.”

Kelly has been working with Valley High School and the Heartland AEA since August to make it possible for TJ to go back to school.

For now, TJ will only go to class ninety minutes a day. He’ll do everything along with his peers, just modified.

“Cognitively he’s got all the skills he’s always had. So, physically we know he’s really dealing with some limitation skills, but I know we can work with him on how to communicate that,” said Valley High School guidance counselor Eric Traynor.

TJ taps his feet up and down to say yes and taps them together to say no. He also uses a device to communicate. Teachers can load his books and assignments on it so TJ can do homework.

“I think he’s in good hands here. He’s excited about learning again, using his brain,” Kelly said.

His mom will join him at school the next few weeks until the district hires an aid. TJ has a message for his classmates.

Through his device, he said, “I want to say to everyone, if you see me out in public with my mom, sadly, don’t stare. Just come over and say hi, and ask my mom anything you want.”

“I’m so proud, so proud of him. It’s been a long road, and he’s been a trooper. He keeps going, so as long as he keeps going, we’ll keep going,” Kelly said.

TJ is set to graduate this spring, but he’ll stay at Valley until he’s 21 to work on job and independent living skills. TJ says his favorite class is science and he would like to be a neurologist.

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