“I couldn’t believe it – just couldn’t believe it,” says former Liberal MHA Tom Lush.
He recalls the plane crash on Dec. 9, 1997 that killed four people and left his son, Stephen, with a traumatic brain injury.
The twin-engine commuter plane Stephen was co-piloting crashed near Little Grand Rapids, Manitoba. He was 29 at the time of the crash.
Tom shakes his head as if he still can’t believe that his son, now 51, requires around-the-clock care because of what happened on that day 21 years ago.
“We’ve shed so many tears through all of this. He was in a coma, and I didn’t believe that happened. I was a politician at the time, and I didn’t want to make too much of it, you know, try to stay in the background.”
Stephen is non-verbal and he can’t walk, but “he reacts to certain things,” says Tom, as he tells a familiar joke to his son – one he knows will always make Stephen smile – and he does.
Throughout the family’s visit to Stephen’s home at Tiffany Village, he moves his arms or makes noises – these are all ways in which he communicates.
While Stephen was still in a coma in hospital in Manitoba, the Newfoundland and Labrador Brain Injury Association reached out to offer their help to the family.
Since then, Tom’s served as president of the association for ten years. This year, he’s tournament chair for the 11th Annual Stephen Lush Charity Golf Tournament, a fundraiser initiated by Stephen’s high school friends as part of their 20-year high school reunion.
The tournament has raised funds for the association over the years, but this year Tom hopes to raise a significant amount in order to implement a training program for health care workers, caregivers, and family members who work with people with brain injuries.
“I would only hope that we can get this program off the ground so that we can train the workers to better understand brain injury, and train all of the people involved, actually – from the professionals to the moms and dads and spouses, and everybody else associated with people who receive a brain injury.”
Brain injury is the number one cause of death and disability for Canadians under age 40.
Every three minutes, someone in Canada suffers a serious acquired brain injury (ABI).
Incidence and reporting rates of ABI are rising.
Source: Brain Injury Canada
Tom said he was given literature to read when his son was in hospital.
“As we advanced further into this terrible situation we were in, we saw the necessity of having a program where people like us involved in a brain injury were educated as to how to deal with and what to expect, and let me tell you, it was a rollercoaster for us.
“My wife and I, we’ve witnessed goodness knows how many of these situations, and people exactly the same as we were – absolutely frustrated, agonized, and learning as we went along.”
Tom said his son receives excellent care at Tiffany Village in St. John’s.
“But my concern is that all people with brain injury receive top-notch care, and in order to do that we need an education program, and we need to understand the complexity of brain injury.”
Tom learned about a training program in Ontario called Brain Basics, and it’s that program he’s hoping the fundraiser will help to bring to this province.
Tom said the initial fundraiser will likely be able to bring the Ontario Brain Injury Association to the province to do the training, but he’d like to see it eventually reach a point where this province follows the Ontario model and is able to offer the training on an ongoing basis, perhaps in conjunction with one of the post-secondary institutions.
The golf tournament will be held on September 13 at The Wilds, and will include 18 holes of golf, dinner, a 50-50 draw and gifts.
Individuals or groups interested in registering, or companies interested in sponsoring a hole, can contact Tom at 682-2613 or 753-1324.