Saturday, November 17, 2018

College Update

Dear Friends,
Where has time gone?!?  It has been a while since we updated you on Forrest's latest adventures and achievements!  Earlier this year, Forrest was accepted into the Mason LIFE program at George Mason University.  This program provides a supported residential university experience for young adults with special challenges or disabilities.  They only accept 15 applicants each year.  In late August, after a seven year detour, with Toliver at his side, Forrest moved to campus to begin their college journey!  Read on for an update and some photos!

Hey Forrest,

It’s been way too long since I have written to you on the blog.  Having just had your first PCP meeting at George Mason University this week, I guess it truly has hit me that You Are a Successful College Student!!! The acknowledgements from all of the GMU Life department heads were so affirming. You are applying yourself in all aspects of this new and exciting chapter of your journey. The only area that was mentioned for improvement was the cleanliness of the kitchen and shared refrigerator in your dorm suite! This just proves you really are a college freshman...In fact, you are asking for more academic opportunities and challenges. Your self awareness, optimism and determination are some of your most compelling super powers!  

People often ask us how you are doing at school. It’s exciting to share your progress with those who have prayed and cheered for you throughout your long and sometimes arduous journey. Going off to college is such an amazing milestone for you and one that required herculean efforts by you and your entire team to accomplish.  People often remark, "With all of the setbacks and complications, did you EVER imagine that Forrest would be able to go to college?"  My honest response is "Absolutely!" I imagined it, dreamed it and envisioned it, especially when the outlook was bleak.  The vision of you confidently striding up the sidewalk on a college campus with Toliver trotting happily by your side kept me from collapsing in a heap.  I couldn't afford that so I remained focused on what was possible.  This vision made it possible for me to keep my head up and and my gaze looking to a brighter future for you.  

Their next more cautious question is often directed at how your Pops and I are handling “the adjustment”.  In many ways that is the more difficult question. Of course we are thrilled and grateful that you are able to realize your dream of attending college. You have maintained such ferocious determination to get yourself there and we are incredibly proud of you!  Honestly though, the first month was surreal.  You and your survival have been the daily, if not hourly, primary focus of our world for almost eight years. The truth is you are such a large joyful presence, that your absence has left a palpable void. Your dad and I are filling our days with each other, our work, horses, Sundance, the farm, and our amazing friends, while trying to pay our good fortune forward through helping others where we can. 

Next week our family will give thanks together for our many blessings.  When we have you, Austin and Granma Norma home for Thanksgiving,  BrightWood will be filled again with abundant joy, laughter & love! 

Until then Forrest, be safe, study hard, have fun and live each day as the gift it truly is! 

With love and gratitude for your life and your light in this world,

First picture in Forrest's dorm room!
Nothing beats having your big brother home for college move-in day
Moving in!
Forrest won a Halloween costume party
Forrest and Toliver enjoying college life

These are intended t

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Trip to Hawaii

             Hi, it's Forrest.  Recently I was able to go to Hawaii with my family on a working vacation. I went along with my family, Mum, Pops, Austin and his girlfriend Jeanne.  We were on the Big Island at Dolphin Quest (DQ) and we spent time there with the crew. I also hiked the Volcano of which I had fallen down the slope of on our previous trip sustaining minor injuries.  It felt great to conquer it this time without the tumble down towards the lava rocks.
            One of the dolphins at DQ is named Nahele, which means “forest” in Hawaiian - after me. I thought this was an amazing thing to do, for someone to give me such a large shout out in the islands language.  I first met him two years ago in person and it was wonderful to see him again on this trip.  One of my favorite activities was spending time on the docks with the dolphins and helping with Dolphin Quest group activities. I held dolphins during group programs, I also was a photographer for some of the dolphin encounters, and I helped behind the desk.
 My service dog Toliver and I got to do a recreation of one of the Baywatch scenes where they run down the beach, but we had a Dolphin, Pele, following along with us, making it even better than Baywatch.
One of the most special parts of this trip is that I was finally able to go under the water and scuba dive again – twice! We got to go in with the dolphins in the lagoon.  It was cool to see what they do while under water and I got to send them some signals, which made me feel like I was a dolphin myself, communicating among them. We also went diving in the open water off of a boat.  When I was first injured, my mum used to sit beside my bed for hours and talk about scuba diving, breathing, the fish and other ocean life that you see when diving.  She would promise me over and over that I would get to do it again someday.  And, on this trip she was finally able to fulfill that promise to me.  I had dreamt about getting back under the water for so long and it felt phenomenal to be able to do it.  Now I have to decide what dream I’m looking forward to after this experience.

I want to give a special shout out to all of the individuals that helped me along the way during my Hawaii trip, especially Blue Wilderness Adventures Diving and the owner/master diver Denise.  Also, thank you to Dave Prutow for the underwater photographs!
Please enjoy the below photos and video of Toliver, myself and the dolphins!

Mum and Pops doing dolphin ultrasound exam
First snorkeling adventure
Off to hike volcano Puu Huluhulu
At the summit of the volcano
Coming down from the peak - we did not take the easy path!

Two tank dive with Blue Wilderness Adventures
Mum and Pops
White tip reef shark in a cavern
Scuba diving again - finally!  With a spotted eagle ray.
Green sea turtle cleaning station - with yellow and black Tangs
Mum, Austin, Me, Jeanne and Pops 
Shadowing the photographer during a dolphin encounter at DQ
Dive, dive, dive!!!

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

A note from.Tami

Six years ago on May 14th, I started my job as Forrest’s caregiver.  As I headed into work that first day, a bundle of nerves and excitement, I never anticipated the journey I was about to embark on.  Although I was full of hopes and dreams for Forrest’s recovery, there were so many things I never could have imagined.  I never imagined hearing his first words after over a year of silence.  I never imagined seeing his first unassisted steps.  I never imagined seeing him graduate high school with a standard diploma.  I never imagined having my heart stolen by a service dog, the brother I would find in Austin, the deep connection that would grow with the family, falling in love with a community, and the bond I would form with Forrest.  I have always told Forrest that I would know I did my job when he didn’t need me anymore.  Well, 44, as we prepare for you to head off to college this fall, we are almost to that point.  You have soared beyond my wildest hopes and expectations.  So today, on what is most likely my last anniversary of this amazing job, I say to Forrest, Kent, Rae and Austin (and Tom, who led me here), thank you.  Thank you for changing my life.

- Tami


Thursday, April 19, 2018

Forrest's April Surgery

Hello friends.  Earlier this week, Team Forrest made the journey to Cleveland to see Dr. Kumar for another surgery.  We believe this was surgery #31 overall and the 7th with Dr. Kumar.  The goal of this one was to revise the previous surgical incisions, cover some areas of the graft where there wasn't hair and add dermal matrix and bone allograft to reinforce some areas of Forrest's noggin.  Surgery was yesterday and Dr. Kumar was extremely pleased with how everything came together.  Forrest has already been discharged from the hospital, but the team is staying one more night so that Dr. Kumar can check everything over tomorrow.  Thank you all for the continued support and prayers!

Here are a couple of pics and videos from the week!  

Pre-surgery with Dr. Kumar -

You will notice that some exciting news was revealed!  Forrest was accepted into the George Mason University Mason Life program for the coming fall!  We will share more about this soon!  

Post-op with Toliver -

Mum and Forrest took a hot yoga class in Cleveland!

Fun with Toliver

Pre-Op with Dr. Kumar

Reunited with Toliver and Mum after surgery

Leaving the hospital!

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Middleburg Healthy Eating Active Living Expo

Hey guys, it's Forrest. I just wanted everyone to know about this talk I'm giving Saturday, March 24th at 12:30 at the Middleburg Community Center. I am going to be speaking with my Physical Therapist Del, about how we stay pumped up as he helps me with my recovery. This is part of an event called the Middleburg Healthy Eating Active Living Expo.
Heres the link if you would like to know more.

Hope to see you all there,

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

"Music Got Me Here" at the Kennedy Center

Reflections from Forrest’s Aunt Lynn: 

I am honored to share my perspective on the recent Kennedy Center premiere of Music Got Me Here.  This documentary film is a beautiful compilation of how two people crossed paths and because of it, so many lives have been touched. 

There are times in life when difficult things happen. Sometimes these challenges cause a ripple of determination, goodness, heartache and tears, as well as joy and hope, to circle a family, a community – even a world – and make it better and stronger, filled with the best that the human spirit has to offer. We can see God’s love in action, working its way into hearts and providing comfort and strength. 

The screening of Music Got Me Here at the Kennedy Center on January 10th brought seven challenging years to light. It showed the power of music as an instrument to connect two lives—Tom Sweitzer, who turned to music to heal his childhood, and Forrest, whose family sought help in the power of music therapy to bring back Forrest’s voice after his traumatic brain injury. The film powerfully documents how both people’s lives were changed by this connection. 

In attendance that evening were so many of Forrest’s doctors. I am in awe of their talents to help heal people. Additionally, I was blessed to be a part of the journey and watch the village it took to bring about this miracle... so many contributors, so much love. The aides, the nurses, the amazing family support (Kent, Rae, and Austin, aunts, uncles, cousins), the therapists, the friends, the faithful groups of prayer partners all over the world, along with Tom’s talents and Forrest’s determination, were all key in piecing a beautiful puzzle back together. The movie is a inspiration that will keep bringing hope to others as it is shared. 

And yet, the most inspiring part to me is the desire to give back and pay it forwardForrest knows that his role in life now is to keep on helping others, and Tom continues to change lives as he works with more people facing struggles and guides others entering the field of music therapy. I can only hope that many more will be able to experience the power of hope in a world that often doesn’t feel hopeful. It’s a beautiful message.

I remember the standing ovations seemingly went on forever. People were moved by seeing this journey, a long one, a roller coaster ride filled with ups and downs. We walked in worn down by a world, and walked out inspired to live with hope and help be a part of making good happen. It was incredible to share in the joy of this moment of celebration.

There was an energy in the room that night that was powerful, like an electric current. Love is powerful. Hope is powerful. Music is powerful. Each of us has a chance to be a part of a “pay it forward” story every day in some big or small way.  I know TomKent, Rae, and Austin will be doing that. And especially Forrest, with his gratitude for what was done for him, his big heart and with Toliver by his side, always looking for ways to make the world around them betterMay that be a message that resonates with all of us.  

           Aunt Lynn spent many months helping all of us us when I was hospitalized.                               

                      On stage at the Kennedy Center with Dr Francis Collins,
                       Renee Flemming, Susan Koch and Tom was Awesome!

Dr Kumar was on a mission in Peru, but it was great that Dr Armonda, one of the neurosurgeons who believed in me when I needed it most, was there!

It was really special having Granma Norma, Aunt Lynn and Aunt in Law Amy there!

               Some of Austin's and my friends.  Couldn't have made it without them.

                      Doesn't Granma Norma look wonderful. She just turned 90!!!

Amy Stone is one of my great friends and a Co-Star in the film.

Renee Flemming graciously welcomed us all to the Kennedy Center.