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#WHYIEXTRALIFE: For the LifeSaving Care my Brother Received at Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare.

This is my brother. His name is David. He may get on my nerves, I may want to smack him upside the head, but, he is family. He’s family and I love him, faults and all. You may have seen my charity drives for #ExtraLife, donations to Child’s Play, and stuff like that. I do this fundraising because of him.

Back in 2008, David was in a nasty car crash. He swerved to avoid a deer, hit a tree, whacked his head on the steering wheel. It was one of those nights no parent ever wants to experience. My mom still gets flashbacks whenever NBC reruns that night’s SNL episode. She called my brother, who was on his way home from a party with some friends.

He was supposed to be home by 10:30, but he never showed. My mom called him at 10:45, no answer. She called again at 11:00, no answer. Finally, she gets a call on her cell phone at 11:45 from the Minnesota Highway Patrol, telling her that her son is in the hospital and in a medically induced coma to keep him stabilized and reduce the swelling.

David suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) caused by the whiplash of hitting his head on the steering wheel and then on the back of the headrest. He missed his Junior Prom, spending it instead in the hospital. Some of his classmates came to visit, taking time from their night to come see him.

You know those Subaru commercials with the wrecked car? The ones where everyone looks at the wreck, someone says, “he lived,” and they all look on in surprise and amaze? Yeah, it turns out there’s an ounce of truth to those stories. This was his car after the crash. My mom still has trouble looking at this picture. So does David, for that matter.

After he was brought out from his coma, he had to re-learn EVERYTHING. He had to learn how to walk, talk, eat, get dressed, everything. My mom, bless her soul, was by his side the entire time. She also finished the canine good citizen exam with Jack, pictured above and on the right in the first picture, and was able to register him as a therapy dog so he could come to visit David. Actually, this was instrumental in his recovery. You see, Jack has always had the nickname, “puppy.” Even now, he’s 11 years old and we still call him that. David eventually distorted it into “poopy” for reasons that we will never know.

When David first saw Jack, he moved his mouth into a round shape and tried to force some sound out. Mom looked at him and asked, “are you trying to say ‘poopy?'” And David grinned from ear to ear. That moment, that moment right there? That’s when we knew he was going to be alright. He recognized Jack and knew who he was. Which is a lot more than most people with a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) can boast.

Remember what I said about having to relearn everything? I meant it. Things we take for granted, like opening a jug of milk or holding a hand of cards were difficult if not impossible for him after his injury. He spent, oh, something like two or three months at Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare that same year. It was tough, but he persevered.

As time progressed, his dexterity improved. He was able to do more on his own. I brought one of my spare PS2s (what can I say? I’m a collector) and Guitar Hero 2 so he’d have something to do in his spare time. Turns out this was also really good for the Occupational Therapy (OT) that he was doing, so we were able to double-dip a bit!

This story has a happy ending. Even with his TBI, David still managed to graduate high school with a 4.0 GPA. He then went on to college, earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Teaching English as a Foreign Language. He traveled to Thailand, twice, with his church to teach English over there. He might not fully realize his dreams now, but you know what? He’s overcome a lot to get where he is. He is the definition of a miracle if there ever was one. I owe a significant debt to Hennepin County Medical Center and Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare. They literally saved his life.

I try and raise money as often as I can, in as many ways as I can. And this, my fellow Extra Lifers, is why I do what I do. I encourage you to share this story with the people around you. And if you can donate, even if it’s $5, you can help save a kid’s life. Every little bit helps. Know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and that yes, it does get better. David overcame the challenges, you can too.

This post was written by fourth-year Extra Lifer Ryan Juel playing for Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare. You can learn more about Extra Life at