Brotherly Bonds Support Patient and Brain Injury Rehabilitation
Harrison Warren’s fraternity brothers raise funds and awareness for Shepherd Center after he is injured in a car accident.
When Philanthropy Week arrived on the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga campus in spring 2015, Tyler Wright, the president of Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity, knew immediately the money his fraternity would raise should go to Shepherd Center.
In November 2014, his fraternity brother, 19-year-old Harrison Warren of Chattanooga, sustained a traumatic brain injury and broke 13 bones in an automobile accident. He was given a 10 percent chance of surviving.
“His car was mangled,” Tyler says. “I was at the hospital that night. He didn’t look like the same person. They removed a piece of his skull to take pressure off the brain, and he had to have multiple surgeries. We didn’t ever expect him to be the same. If it wasn’t for Shepherd Center, Harrison wouldn’t be in the shape he’s in.”
Harrison and Tyler’s fraternity held a number of campus-wide events during Philanthropy Week to raise money, and a Facebook page called Team Harrison! attracted 6,000 followers. In October, Tyler and 15 other fraternity members traveled to Atlanta with Harrison, his mother and sister to formally present Shepherd Center with a check for $20,500.
“They showed up in coats and ties looking as sharp as can be,” says Ty Typpett, former senior director for planned gifts at the Shepherd Center Foundation. “It was very impressive to see how they had created awareness for Shepherd Center and what the hospital does.”
“They chose Shepherd Center because they say it gave Harrison his life back," says Angela Warren, Harrison's mother.
At Angela’s request, the money was earmarked for use at Shepherd Pathways, the hospital’s post-acute brain injury rehabilitation program in nearby Decatur, Ga., which is undergoing an $1.8 million renovation.
Harrison completed six weeks of inpatient rehabilitation at Shepherd Center and another five weeks of outpatient therapy at Pathways.
“From our very first day at Shepherd Center, it was amazing,” Angela says. “Every person that Harrison would be dealing with laid out how things would be, what to expect. The doctor, every nurse, everyone was amazing. And the therapists were incredible. I got to watch how they worked with him. They treated him as if he was their own.”
Tyler and other members of the fraternity visited often. “We saw a lot of hard work by the staff, and the technology they have is amazing,” Tyler says. “The staff was dedicated and hard-working, and they weren’t easy on him.”
Harrison’s recovery has been remarkable. Ten months after that horrific accident, he moved into an apartment with friends near campus, returned to school and switched majors.
“I am so blessed to have so much opportunity,” Harrison says. “I’m having to relearn everything, but it’s opened my eyes. It’s a second chance at life.”
Harrison has had to relearn how to walk, how to talk, how to process information, how to accomplish tasks – indeed, how to think.
“The therapists helped me in every aspect,” Harrison says. “They’ve taught me to be myself and accept myself again, and it’s the weirdest thing. I’m different every day. The way I think about things and the way I take in things is different every single day. You might look at me and think I know how to do something, but I have to relearn it. Everything is different.”
Harrison shared his story during another campus-wide event in October 2015 – Drunk Driving Awareness Week – that attracted 500 students. He told them he was drinking when he had his accident. His presentation included a six-minute video, a question-and-answer session and, parked outside on a trailer, the shattered remains of the car he’d been driving.
“A lot of terrible things have happened,” Harrison says. “But a lot of good things have come from this, as well. Being a kid, I didn’t think about my actions or the repercussions. Now, I break things down differently. I’m learning to accept life. Little things that didn’t make me happy before make me happy now. I’m learning that happiness starts and ends with you. No one else can do it. It starts and ends with you.”
When he returned to school, Harrison signed up for two classes that he had been taking before the accident. But he remembered nothing about taking the classes before his accident.
“It’s very tough with a brain injury,” he says. “I’ve lost all memory of my study habits. I’m having to reteach myself things I learned in elementary school. But my instructors are aware, and I have a disability counselor. They’ve all helped me so much.”
His experience has also inspired him to change his major from business and marketing to physical therapy.
“When I was at Shepherd Center, I saw how many people needed help, and I want to be able to do what I can,” he says. “Nothing would make me happier than to help people get back to being OK.”
Written by John Christensen
Photos by Gary Meek
Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain, and other neuromuscular conditions. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation. In its more than four decades, Shepherd Center has grown from a six-bed rehabilitation unit to a world-renowned, 152-bed hospital that treats more than 900 inpatients, 575 day program patients and more than 7,100 outpatients each year.