The Fritz Stickland & Family Brain Injury Journey
“July 28, 1997 was the date that changed Fritz, Jane, Alex and Allison Stickland’s lives forever. One single moment in time and place that would alter the course of a marriage, a successful career and a family structure.”
That’s what I remember in the beginning…wishing that there had been just 2 minutes difference that would have changed that near fatal experience where I almost lost my entire family in one horrible car accident. I can still remember arriving home to a dark house after a long day of work and riding my horse. I had an ominous feeling as I entered our home which should have been a flurry of activity with two young children ages 2 and 7 and their father cooking dinner. I still can hear the kids crying in the background on the answering machine as a man at the accident scene was trying to contact me two hours prior. The panic I felt not knowing the condition of my husband and having enough information to know they had been in a very bad accident with a semitrailer. The mental control that was necessary to drive to the hospital safely. Arriving to find my kids with a social worker who desperately needed their Mommy.
I think most people who have experienced the effects of traumatic brain injury to a family member or loved one will always hold those memories of before, during and the new normal after. It is a life changing moment that begins with fear and prayers for survival, wishing it had never happened and then acceptance and hope for the future.
Brain injury is very unique to each survivor as the trauma that occurs is caused by a specific accident and no two events are exactly alike. In Fritz’s case, he and the kids were sitting on a bridge stopped in traffic when a semi traveling too fast in the opposite direction neglected to brake soon enough and jackknifed directly into our Camry at the driver’s side. The truck hit Fritz with such force that he experienced brain sheer and a subdural hematoma. After emergency brain surgery which included removal of dead brain tissue due to the hematoma, it took two weeks before Fritz was stable enough to be sent to Marianjoy for rehabilitation. He had to relearn to sit up, eat, talk, walk and regain the most basic physical and mental capabilities that were second nature in his prior life.
Acute rehabilitation lasted four weeks and he was able to come home while continuing outpatient rehab for another six months. Due to the care and support required to manage Fritz’s recovery, attending to the emotional scars that my young children experienced and managing our home and finances without a partner, I lost my job. Brain injury has many victims. At 39 years of age, Fritz had been a very successful sales professional who sold very technical Cisco networking solutions to CFO’s and CIO’s of various companies. Since that time, he was never able to maintain a job of any kind due to the deficits from his injury. He has to be on several medications to manage his behavior and treat epilepsy caused by scar tissue in his brain. He has been back to Marianjoy for rehabilitation twice due to falls that resulted in additional brain damage.
The family held together through all of this change and created a new life by pursuing a dream that Jane and Fritz had always wanted. They purchased property in Hampshire, IL in 2001 and built their equestrian business called Serosun Farms. Working outside doing farm work and taking care of horses was very therapeutic for all. Giving Fritz a safe place where he could still work in a supportive environment. A happy place for the kids to grow up and thrive.
It has been a long 20 years, but we keep moving forward. Fritz has still maintained a positive attitude despite the limitations he endures. His outgoing personality that made him the life of the party and always the top salesman wherever he worked still remains. His love and knowledge of the NFL has kept him competitive in his Fantasy League as his friends can attest! His children have grown to be compassionate adults who understand the challenges life can bring as they’ve seen their father live with disability.
The reality and challenge for most TBI survivors is financial difficulty. The costs associated with ongoing care, physical rehabilitation, medications, psychiatrists, neurologists, hospitalization, etc. is great and can be overwhelming. Everyone deserves a quality life and we support fund raising for organizations devoted to helping TBI survivors and their families. The more help and rehabilitative support as well as social programs for this population can restore hope, capabilities and happiness. We want to help others to thrive as this has been our life’s work for Fritz.
Thanks for reading our story.
Jane Stickland (Fritz’s wife)