Mother of brain-injury victim takes message to Capitol Hill



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Posted on March 29, 2013 at 10:36 PM

Updated Friday, Mar 29 at 10:36 PM

Michael Black’s life changed in an instant.

One moment, he’s driving down Florida roads, and the next, he’s sitting in a hospital bed with family by the bed side.

“It happens every 16 seconds,” said Black, referring to how often someone suffers a traumatic brain injury.

Michael knows the road to cognitive recovery will be a long one. He was in a car accident -- thrown 40 feet and landed on his head. He remembers very little about the accident, but his mom, Bernadette Coleman, remembers the call.

“It was 6:30 in the morning when we got our 16th second,” Coleman said. “At first, we were told he’d never wake up. Then we were told if he woke up, he’d be a vegetable. Then we were told he’d never walk again.”

But with aggressive rehab, Michael is slowly walking. Five months ago, he graduated from using a walker.

“Rehab is actually kind of fun,” he said.

But Michael's recovery comes at a steep price. Coleman said they’ve spent thousands upon thousands of dollars already, and some of it is out-of-pocket.

“Michael had 32 days of insurance -- 32 days!” Coleman said.

And that barely covered his hospital stay. It didn’t include the physical therapists, the trainers, and the hyperbaric therapy.

So Coleman started up a social site, called TryMunity, to share her concerns with people facing the same issues. It is here she’s connected with many brain injury survivors and their families, who echo her concerns.

Dr. Alfred Johnson saw Michael’s story and wanted to help. But he knows his therapy isn’t covered by most insurance carriers. It’s a fight he keeps fighting.

“We’ve been trying for three years to get government funding and approval for a study on veterans with percussive brain injury,” Dr. Johnson said.

Johnson is with the Hyperbaric Centers Of Texas. He said while his therapy is FDA approved, it’s not patentable. His claim is that hyperbaric therapy is not lucrative business, and so he has not received the attention of “big medical money-makers.”

The Colemans say most insurance carriers do not have extensive rehab coverage. So Bernadette Coleman is now on a mission to create awareness about expanding coverage for patients like her son. In mid-March she took her message to Capitol Hill, to lawmakers.

“It’s a life-long recovery process, and needs to be covered for the life of the patient,” Coleman said.

Michael’s goal is to someday get rid of the cane and walk on his own. And maybe one day, even drive again.