“I am coming back and I will need your help.”
By Sarah Johnson
For most fourteen year old kids, going back to school is time to reunite with friends, try out for sports, and gear up for early mornings. For Pete Benda, returning to Juan Diego this school year represents a triumph in overcoming the most devastating of challenges.
In a freak accident at school on October 26, 2012, Pete was managing the backstage lighting, as a drama department tech. At 30 feet up in the cherry picker, the unthinkable happened. The machine malfunctioned and toppled over. Besides breaking his femur, he sustained a severe traumatic brain injury.
Pete spent 2 1/2 weeks in the ICU. After being told they would then need to find alternate care, his parents, Chris and Rob Benda collaborated fearlessly with nurses and their case worker to place him at Primary Children’s Medical Center. Medical professionals prepared the family for the worst, stating that 90% of those who sustained a brain injury like Pete stayed in a vegetative state, permanently. He was in a coma; eyes opened, and not speaking. Throughout November, December, and into January the progress was as cold and dreary as the darkest winter on record in Utah. However, January 6, 2013 marked a day of new beginnings for the Benda family. Not only did he begin speaking, he started by using full sentences. His mother describes the experiences, “Everything started to unlock. He was truly a miracle!” By February 13, 2013 he walked out of the hospital on his own. Since then, his recovery has been his full time job. Rehabilitation has included physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, music therapy, acupuncture, and massage therapy.
With the help of his village, including his family, friends, doctors, nurses, and therapists, he proudly joined the Brain Injury Alliance for our 5K run in May! “We never thought we would be at the race. For Pete to look around and see people there, from PCMC, and his therapists, was remarkable! There was huge support! I let him go and do his thing, to prove to himself that he could do it. He was so excited.” Along with funds which were donated by his school, his tribe raised over $1500 to support BIAU in his honor!
Last spring Pete ran for student class officer for this coming school year. His election speech included all of two lines, “I will win this thing no matter how hard or how crazy, I swear.” “I am coming back and I will need your help, vote for Pete.” He won the election, and will enjoy the support of his class mates during his continued recovery at school this fall.
While Pete’s story isn’t finished, his mother Chris, and he, have some life lessons to share, both for families who are dealing with TBI, and for those of us who are experiencing the challenges of every day life.
Slow and steady wins the race.
While in the hospital, another mom who had a child with TBI, told Chris, “Don’t look to the future, take one day at a time. Don’t look far ahead, celebrate one day at a time. Look at the positives of each day.” It’s impossible to wrap your mind around overcoming every challenge that comes with a brain injury, so don’t. Take recovery, coping and dealing with the details one day at a time, and celebrate the victories, no matter how small.
Be a fighter for your loved one’s cause.
Don’t accept status quo. Ask questions, ask for referrals, don’t settle for what the first option is. Research for the best for your family and for your kid. If you don’t, no one else will.
Having a great attitude can help you deal with the toughest of challenges!
Keep two feet on the ground.
Staying grounded is sometimes the best ticket to ongoing head safety.
You can accomplish anything.
When asked, Pete will tell you that he believes that he can accomplish anything that he sets his mind to. He says, “I honestly do.”
Be patient, be kind.
Pete has always been known to be a nice kid. That kindness has influenced countless nurses, staff and medical team members. A peer recently told him, “Thanks for being the first one to talk to me at school.” He is still the kid to talk to anyone, ask questions, and give a compliment. That part has come back.