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Crumley House works to improve quality of life for brain injury patients

Debra McCown • Feb 22, 2013 at 4:17 AM

Rich Jordan, a former University of Tennessee engineering student, looks organized as he sits down at the table. He lines up his pencils and opens his binder, ready to work on one of his favorite things: math.

He’s neatly dressed in a green plaid shirt, the glint of a bright red earring hinting at the well-spoken 52-year-old’s less serious side.

But since suffering a traumatic brain injury in a car accident in 1981, Jordan’s curriculum has changed: The math he uses to exercise his mind now is more likely to be found in an elementary school classroom than a college lecture hall.

"It’s been a long road to getting to where I am," he said.

More than 30 years after his injury, Jordan’s goal is to become independent enough to live on his own.

"I would like to be more independent and be able to get a job somewhere and be able to get on a bus and ride across town," he said, "but right now the medical situation wouldn’t allow that."

Jordan said The Crumley House Brain Injury Rehabilitation Center, where he now lives, is helping him progress.

"I’ve been to a lot of other rehab situations similar to this one," he said. "This one is about as good as it gets."

Sitting across the table from him is another man who enjoys math, 43-old Micheal Osborne, whose eyes glimmer with eagerness over his Dora the Explorer kindergarten workbook.

A fisherman on weekends with his family in Butler, Osborne shows off pictures of the monster fish he’s caught in Watauga Lake with his brother-in-law and nephew.

He was hit by a dump truck when he was 7. After weeks in a coma, he woke up with a permanent brain injury. He later attended vocational training and worked as a fast-food janitor, but found the job too much to handle. He said he likes life at Crumley House better, where he’s just as eager to help out with cooking and cleaning tasks as he is to practice math.

"It’s a good place to be," he said. "You learn things."

A visitor to Crumley House can’t help but feel the tragedy of lost potential - the once-bright engineers, promising students, brave combat veterans - folks from all walks of life who, as the result of an accident, crime or act of terrorism, now struggle with the thinking required for daily tasks.

At the same time, this place - with its structured schedule, cognitive and physical therapy, outdoor pool, greenhouse, technology and physical activities - offers hope for people who’ve experienced these drastic setbacks to work toward improving their lives from their new starting point.

A nonprofit facility whose residential rates start at $1,500 a month, Crumley House is one of only three such facilities of its kind in Tennessee and a handful on the East Coast. Executive Director Guynn Edwards says the need for such places has grown as medical advances have made it possible for more people to survive serious injuries.

Crumley House has 22 residents, 15-20 day program participants, and 158 people on a waiting list.

"Each person has a wonderful, wonderful story, and some of them are just flat-out amazing," said Edwards, who has worked there since Crumley House opened 20 years ago. "When they look at you and they say, ‘God gave us a second chance,’ it really makes it worth coming to work the next day."

June Barrett founded Crumley House after her daughter, a skilled dancer and well-rounded A-student, suffered a brain injury in a car wreck at age 14. Finding few facilities available for people with her daughter’s condition, Barrett started Crumley House.

"We just wanted to start a place so everybody could have a better way of life," said Barrett. "We’re just here for the members and trying to take a common-sense approach to loving them, giving them some structure, and we’ve seen some great success stories."

Situated amid pastures and four-board fences on an idyllic spot overlooking East Tennessee’s scenic mountains, Crumley House is formally celebrating its 20th anniversary on Feb. 28. The facility is hosting the Intermountain Brain Injury Conference with East Tennessee State University on April 5.

Crumley House is also in the midst of a capital campaign and is seeking to raise $800,000 to build an addition to house 14 more residents.

Annually, Crumley House holds two big fundraisers. Registration is currently underway for its "Joggin for the Noggin" 5K in early March; the other event is a Polynesian beach party in August. The organization can be reached online at www.crumleyhouse.com or by phone at 423-257-3644.

"It’s been a lot of hard work," said Barrett of keeping the facility going all these years, "but it’s been so worth it."

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