In 1979, Emmie Burke, a Vermont mother untrained in medical science, used her son’s smelly sneakers, the sound of jingling car keys and iconic memories to reach her 17-year-old son Lenny, suspended somewhere between life and death in a deep coma after a competing student athlete had sent him hurtling headfirst to the ground during a high school basketball game. Doctors held out little hope for Lenny, an all-A student destined for college and professional basketball. But, as the community rallied around the Burke family, raising thousands in a record-breaking effort to support Lenny’s care, the boy awoke to ask for ice cream and confound the doctors with what he had experienced during his 45-day coma.
While that is a remarkable enough tale, in the intervening years, another significant story has unfolded as the Burke family and others rallied together to respond to the lack of support services for Vermonters who sustain head injuries. In the intervening years, through the founding of Lenny Burke’s Farm, the first rehabilitation center in Vermont dedicated to the care of people with traumatic brain injuries, hundreds of lives have improved. Simultaneously, those who worked first with Lenny, like Dr. Ron Savage of Rutland, have gone on to become leaders in the evolving science and treatment of these conditions, commonly referred to as TBIs.
The Bend in the Road tells this story and also those of a dozen or more individuals once given little hope of living independently or of progressing beyond a vegetative state, all of whom have been helped through the residential and support programs offered through Lenny Burke’s Farm. The Bend in the Road is an important story, one that affects all of us as we realize as a society that TBI is the leading cause of death and disability in children and adults ages 1 to 44.