Son's brain injury forces family challenges
Area schools help raise funds to aid Reynebeau family
By Amanda Lauer
GREEN BAY -- It has been said that everything happens for a reason. But when tragedy comes into a child's life, that reason isn't always apparent, especially at first.
A father-son duck hunting weekend last fall for Jim Reynebeau and his two boys Nick, 15, and Ben, 12, went from idyllic to catastrophic when the three were involved in a single-vehicle accident on the way back to their home in Green Bay.
Kim Reynebeau recalls that fateful day, Sept. 23, 2007. "My daughter Kylie and I were hanging out when we got the phone call. Nick and Jim were slightly injured. Ben wasn't so lucky."
While all three occupants had been buckled in, Ben suffered a traumatic brain injury. He went from being a typical boy, playing sports and developing a passion for hunting, to the victim of a coma.
"When this accident first happened Fr. Jim (Dillenburg, pastor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish) would visit us and I kept asking 'Why did this happen?'" recalled Kim. "I look at it now and I think (of) the people in prayer and faith and hope that Ben has brought together through this. It's not just Green Bay but all the communities around us that have come together. One of Ben's teachers at Lombardi Middle School said, 'Leave it to Ben to bring prayer back in school.'"
The care and concern shown towards Ben from schools throughout the area, not just the public schools the Reynebeau children attend, has been amazing to Kim.
"Students from Notre Dame Academy made a prayer chain when Ben was in the hospital. They have been sending cards and letters and they're doing a can drive," noted Kim. "Ben loves to cook and Holy Family Elementary School in Green Bay made cookbooks in a fourth-grade class and part of the proceeds went toward Ben's recovery. De Pere High School's National Honor Society did a talent show and part of those proceeds went to Ben. The school that I taught at they're saving cans and they also did some baskets for his benefit."
Word of mouth and a special Web site, www.caringbridge.org/visit/benreynebeau, have spread the news of Ben's ordeal worldwide.
"I get so many letters from churches and nuns and from people that we don't even know who are praying for us," said Kim. "We got some mail from Iraq, there was a lady who went to Spain and put Ben's picture there next to churches. This kid has more prayers going for him than anybody I know."
After three months at St. Vincent Hospital in Green Bay, Kim was given three choices for her son: disconnecting him from life support, putting him into a nursing facility or bringing him home.
"I wasn't ready to let him go," she said.
Ben was released from the hospital and returned home on Dec. 17. Kim said it was a decision her family made together.
"It's been seven months and we are getting used to our new normal," she said. "Ben was getting therapy four to five times a week. The insurance company decided they were not going to support it anymore because he wasn't making enough progress to show that he could live independently. (However), in most of the brain injuries that we've looked at it says they need anywhere from 18 to 24 months to recover."
Medicaid presently covers two days of physical therapy each week at home for Ben and his family provides therapy for him the rest of the time. "Our two teenagers are awesome with him," said Kim. "We take him outside every day. We try to stimulate him with things from his past - pictures and lots of visitors."
A benefit was put together on Ben's behalf in November and an ongoing can recycling drive is raising funds for the family to help pay therapy and hospital bills. Jim went back to work in January but Kim hasn't returned to her teaching position at Kennedy Elementary School in Green Bay.
"I took off the rest of the school year so I could be home, learn Ben's therapies, work with nurses, and interview nurses to make sure that they were a good fit with our family and would work on therapy with him," she said.
Ben is still considered to be in a semi-conscious state Kim explained.
"He only communicates through facial expressions and some movement but we don't really know how much of it is on command. There is a large portion (of his brain) that is gone, whether or not it's going to come back, we have no idea, because the brain is such a mystery. He can't walk right now. His brain stem is actually really good but he is on a trach (tracheostomy tube) and he does have a feeding tube."
If the Reynebeau family had kept listening to all of the negative things they heard in the hospital they probably would have given up on Ben months ago.
"But there was something inside of us that kept saying, 'Something's going to come out of this,'" said Ben's mother. "We know we made the right decision because even though he's not communicating a lot with us, when we say 'Good morning Ben,' there are mornings he'll look at us and just smile. We know he's in there somewhere."
It's going to be a long road for Ben's recovery and no one knows at this point where it will lead. "We're not giving up," said Kim. "We take it day by day. Some days are really hard. Mostly it's the nights because we just look at him and we miss his voice and his hugs."
This ordeal has brought both the immediate and the extended Reynebeau family much closer together and has taught them a valuable lesson, said Kim.
"You have to cherish each day and spend as much time with your loved ones as you can. Sometimes we get so caught up in our own lives that we take for granted that everyone's going to be here tomorrow and you just never know."