Saturday, April 17, 2021

2020 In Review

Hello Friends!  When we started this blog over 10 years ago, Forrest was lying in a hospital bed, fighting for his life.  Through the years, we have used this as a place to share his highlights and lowlights, medical setbacks and inspiring miracles.  Much of his journey has been chronicled here, sometimes with multiple posts a day as his condition changed rapidly each day.  As he grew stronger, the frequency of our posts lessened.  As Forrest thrives in his life and has become more active on his own social media, we recently realized we haven't posted a blog update in over a year!  Our apologies to those who have hoped for more frequent updates and we invite you to follow Forrest on Facebook, Instagram at forrest.s.allen or on his new website  Please read on to see what Forrest has been up to over the last year.

2020 was a challenging year for many and we want to take a moment to send our love and thoughts to the millions affected by Covid-19 and express our deepest gratitude to the doctors, nurses and others on the front lines that have worked so tirelessly across the world.  

When 2020 started, Forrest was busy attending classes on campus at George Mason University.  As Covid spread, GMU switched to virtual learning and Forrest finished the school year from home.  Daily online learning was challenging at times without the in-person support that has been a big part of the Mason Life program, but Forrest successfully completed the year.  In fact, with the help of GMU Life's support staff Forrest received an A in Biology! With social distancing and quarantines in place, like many others, Forrest often found himself a bit lonely and looking for things to do to pass the time.

He began helping out more around the family farm, BrightWood, spending time with his horse, O'Riley,  and taking on a large portion of the mowing and weed-wacking throughout the summer.  Forrest also became the primary caretaker for 3 sheep who temporarily moved to the farm to helped with some of the grass and brush eating during the summer months.

Forrest began photography lessons with Sharon Hallman, who has been a huge part of photo-documenting his story and the amazing A Place To Be community. Sharon has helped Forrest look at the world around him with an artist's appreciation for color, light composition and beauty.

Weekly guitar lessons also helped Forrest connect to others and stretch his creativity through exercises, jam sessions and song writing with his teacher, Brandon.

Despite the limitations of Covid, Forrest was able to reach a huge milestone during the summer.  He passed his drivers test and received his drivers license - and a new car that he named "Sweetness"!  He has enjoyed the new freedom that this has brought and has also enjoyed being able to help run errands for the family. 

 In July, Forrest and Rae traveled to Cleveland for another successful surgery on Forrest's Noggin' with Dr. Kumar, who wanted to revise the surgical scar and add some additional bone graft to strengthen the site. This was the first time in over 30 surgical procedures, Forrest had surgery on an Out Patient basis. He was only in the hospital a matter of hours!

With Covid numbers still high as fall rolled in, Forrest decided to take a gap year from school. This did allow him to spend time reconnecting with his brother fishing in NC.


And to travel to Hawaii in November to help Mum out at Dolphin Quest which was understaffed due to Covid.  They had to take many precautions before, during and after travel and were thankful for a safe and healthy trip.  

When Forrest was in a coma, Rae spent many hours recounting stories of their ocean dives.  So it was a magical afternoon for them to relive a dive adventure again together.


One of the biggest highlights of the year came on Forrest's birthday in December, when "Music Got Me Here", the documentary that chronicles Forrest and Tom's story was released on Apple, iTunes and Amazon!  

A mini surprise virtual launch party helped ring in his birthday and celebrate the momentous occasion of being able to share the film across the US! 

In 2020 Forrest was able to donate the tilt in space wheelchair that he had depended on for years.  He drove it himself to Joni and Friends, a non profit that refurbishes wheelchairs and provides them to disabled individuals in need all over the world.

While anxiously awaiting his hopeful return to GMU in the fall, Forrest recently started working not one, but two jobs!  He sorts the Dolphin Quest mail that comes to the local post office and then delivers the mail to the necessary people and places.  And, after years of golfing at Bull Run Golf Course with his physical therapist Del, Forrest got a job there!  They have been following his progress through Del and awaiting the day that Forrest was ready for a job.  He enjoys his days at the club, helping clean and prep the golf carts, prep the course and pick up golf balls.  

Our holiday photograph courtesy of the very talented Tami Erickson!

Forrest and Toliver wishing you all a blessed, healthy and joyful 2021.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

2019 - A Year Without Surgery

Hello friends,

9 years ago on January 14, 2011 I was air evac'd to the trauma center at UVA hospital after suffering a Traumatic Brain Injury... I was in a coma and not expected to wake up. These situations in life make you realize how important the good times are, to never take them for granted. I am happy to be with my family and attending college at GMU which would not have occurred if i had not received the aid that was given to me.  Thank you all who have supported me, I hope to repay you in the future.  

I am lucky now to have a LOT of good times.  We've been reflecting on the good times from 2019.  Here are the highlights:

First I am ALWAYS grateful for a whole year without Surgery and a Full Head of Hair!! Thanks Doctor Kumar for fixing my Noggin!  I am still Kicking!!!
Being unable to get on horseback for so long was difficult, as my family is oriented around horses and having grown up riding. I am finally able to get on horseback with the time that has gone by following my injury. Of course I’m going to wear a helmet and make sure it fits perfectly well enough and I am on a good horse.

The Dolphin Quest Bermuda Internship was a great experience to be able to go out of country and live more on my own. Helping with my mother’s business is something that I have longed to do for a large period of time. I was able to fly Internationally by myself, which may seem like an intimidating experience but it brought back memories of all the traveling I had done before my injury. Looking forward to the next time that I am able to go to one of our Dolphin Quest sites is a thought that has been lingering on my mind since arriving back home.  

There was a screening of our documentary film, "Music Got Me Here", at the University of the Pacific.  I had the opportunity to travel to California with Tom, Mom and Toliver for the screening at the first music therapy program in the United States. 
The film also screened at the Bryn Mawr film institute in Pennsylvania!
It is a big step in the right direction to get my learners permit but the journey has not been completed yet. I am still working toward my full drivers license so I can chauffeur Toliver around.
Summer at Brightwood included zip lining with Austin and Jeanne, raising pumpkins and time with my Bro in the pool.
Austin, finally proposed and … Jeanne said, “YES!” I am interested in what it will be like to have a sister but as I have heard from friends, all things come in good time. I am looking forward to it.
The Family's trip away to Scotland was wonderfully planned and executed to give us a relaxing time away from the hustle and bustle of home. Mum and I got to mountain bike in the Scottish Highlands and we all spent a lot of fun time with my soon to be new sister, Jeanne, including looking for Nessie on Loch Ness!
The Forrest Allen Financial Aid Fund helped raise $217,000 for A Place To Be participants that are unable to provide music therapy entirely for themselves. This makes me feel as though my story and example can lead to better things in the future for others if people can learn from my mistakes without having them occur to themselves.
In the Fall, "Music Got Me Here" screened at GMU. It was good to be able to share some of my life story with the students at GMU Life program who have all had to face their own challenges in life.
My George Mason Soccer Special Olympics team worked hard together and won the Gold medal for our division at Virginia Beach. Since he has attended every game Toliver got a gold medal too. I love being able to play a team sport again!
The Canine Companions for Independence magazine, The Companion, shared my brother’s and my story in the holiday issue this year and put our photo on the cover. CCI is the organization that gave me my dependable, wingman service dog, Toliver, after sustaining the Injury. Toliver has been a key player in my recovery!  Austin and Jeanne are co-raising Dune for CCI with Aunt Tricia.  To help more people have the chance to receive a CCi service dog, Austin and I participated in CCI's gala fundraising event in Orlando Florida. 
December brought my friend Willow to Middleburg for the Community Center Christmas Ball (great music & dancing!) and the awesome APTB Holiday Recital on my 27th Birthday!
Having spent Christmas in the hospital and even in surgery previous years, it was sweet to spend this Christmas at home with my family.  I know for sure now, the best place in the world is wherever your family and friends are. 
Wishing everyone a safe, happy and fun 2020!  Remember, No matter what... Don't look down. Never give up. Never Surrender!  When you get knocked down, reach out for a hand to help you up.  And then be sure to reach out and lend a hand to someone else.
With Love,

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

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