What once was a single wilted brown leaf is now a lush green plant sitting on the floor of the greenhouse next to NeuroRestorative Georgia. Todd Beckman resurrected the plant once written off as dead but he can’t remember what it is called.
The center and the brain-injured patients recovering there like Beckman are a lot like the plant, he said.
“We know how to do the work,” he said. “We just need a little help.”
Beckman and others will gather Saturday for a walk to raise awareness about brain injury and raise money for some programs. Brain injuries are surprisingly common – there are about 1.7 million a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 75 percent are concussions or milder injuries but brain injuries account for nearly a third of injury-related deaths every year, according to the CDC.
That was nearly the case with Beckman, who was hit by a pickup while crossing Wrightsboro Road in November 2009. He spent nearly five months at Georgia Regents Medical Center and endured 17 surgeries, which he says saved his life and slowly rebuilt his right side.
Except for a slight limp, there is little visible evidence he endured so much. That can be part of the problem when people like Beckman recover enough to go out and seek a job, said program director Patty Goolsby.
“It’s hidden,” she said, and the deficits may not be obvious. “It’s all cognitive.”
Brain-injured applicants might have trouble with details or follow-up and may not want to say they are having problems.
“You may never know all of his struggles,” Goolsby said.
Beckman is employed by NeuroRestorative to manage the greenhouse and he works the 90 hours he is allowed to each month to keep his benefits. He lives a block away from the center so he can walk to work because he doesn’t drive. Transportation is often an issue other patients will run up against when trying to find employment, Goolsby said.
Beckman once helped build interstates and worked for years with traffic flying by at highway speeds, only to be struck down while he was off work, returning home after dinner.
“That’s what a lot of people say, it’s ironic that it would happen to someone like you,” he said. As he recovered at the center, he found he had a knack for growing plants and rescuing those others had given up on.
“I never grew a thing in my life before this,” Beckman said. Now he can show off tables full of lush ferns, pink azaleas and others whose names might escape him for a moment. The answer will be there if he just takes a moment to think about it.
“It just takes me a little bit longer to process it,” Beckman said. The greenhouse is more than a hobby – he sells the plants through a cart at Walton Rehabilitation Health System and his business, Progress Through Plants, does centerpieces and arrangements.
Many of the patients find their way out to the greenhouse and Beckman works well with them, Goolsby said.
“It’s really cool to have someone who has been through this, who has walked the journey, reaching out to folks,” she said.
Beckman thinks he can spot abilities the new patients have that they might not realize they still possess. They have to accept that they may not be what they once were, he tells them, and he realizes he won’t be building interstates again. But Beckman is always encouraging them to do more, as he has done more.
“I’ve worked very hard to make that happen,” he said. “If you want it bad enough, there’s a way to get there,” he said. “There’s no doubt about it.”