BJ and Kim Lanclos Smith of BrainArt Alliance – Advocacy for Art as Therapy for Traumatic Brain Injury
BJ Smith and his mother, Kim Lanclos-Smith, joined Discover Lafayette to discuss how their world was forever changed when BJ suffered a traumatic brain injury following an ATV accident at the age of 15. years.
BJ is now an artist and has found joy in painting with acrylics for the past five years. He took his trauma and converted it into the beauty and sanctity of life through his art. He likes to share his art. Her mother, Kim, has become an advocate for the many financial challenges and needs a family faces when caring for a loved one with traumatic brain injury, also known as TBI.
BJ was an adventurous teenager with dreams of playing professional football who was cut short by a tragic mountain biking accident on August 8, 2005. A young teenager staying in Houston with parents one summer to improve his football skills, BJ was on a run at four-wheeler going 60 mph when a dog ran past him and he swerved to miss it. He was thrown 25 feet without a helmet, breaking his bones and suffering internal injuries and road burns from the fall.
BJ’s brain damage was so horrific that he was DOA when he arrived at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center. He remained in intensive care with a 10% chance of survival, in a coma for three weeks, as his head had taken the brunt of the accident. His surgeon said he had no idea how BJ survived. His recovery was miraculous and we didn’t even expect him to be able to walk, but he survived whole. However, BJ has lost her ability to be independent, to plan for the future, or to focus on goals in life.
“A brain injury is a lot like a hurricane. It devastates everything it touches. After so many years, I am learning to find my center. The stronger the storm, this is the best place to be. We were given life to live the experience. At this point in my spiritual journey, I embrace it in my solid form, every day. There is so much more to the spectrum of life than meets the eye.
His mother, Kim Lanclos-Smith, has dedicated her life to caring for BJ and is his primary caretaker, with the help of financial aid provided over the past ten years through the New Opportunities Waiver (“NOW”) program. ) administered by the Louisiana State Department of Health, Office for Citizens with Developmental Disabilities. People with BJ disease must have suffered from this disability before the age of 21 to qualify for the exemption. Each year, BJ and Kim must reapply for the NOW waiver to continue receiving much-needed help to ensure BJ is adequately cared for. For Acadiana residents who need more information, visit the Acadiana Region Social Services District.
As BJ progressed through his recovery, his love of art grew and grew. He likes to paint in a free form, sometimes throwing acrylic paint all over the room. Even though he has lost 60% of his vision and is legally blind, he feels the color as he feels it in his heart. He says it’s “where he lives”.
“If you open your eyes, color is everywhere. Embrace this feeling of the color that has been given to us. The energy of the color is incredible, the spectrum to follow. You are colored, your eyes are colored, we are colored,” says BJ Smith.
BJ had a near death experience and with it came a spiritual awakening. “Heaven was full of love.” He gives advice to people such as “Never talk to anyone.” He is not afraid to die because he knows that “God owns me”.
Every nine seconds someone experiences a head injury, which is about 3 million people a year. It often goes undiagnosed and it is very difficult to get paid care for TBI victims. Kim shared that 25-80% of the prison population has TBI before the crime, with more than 60% reporting head injuries. Well-known professional football players such as Aaron Hernandez and others suffered serious head injuries and ended up in prison for their acts of violence. The Brain Injury Association of America provides a wealth of information on the subject.
Kim was aware of the challenges of a TBI when BJ was injured. Her brother, Brett, was born with an anoxic brain injury at birth when he was deprived of oxygen. The family was unaware of the injury until Brett failed to meet the developmental milestones expected as one grows and matures. Brett stayed at home until he was nine years old, and when his parents divorced, he was placed in a care facility. After about 20 years, as Louisiana deinstitutionalized its long-term care patients, Brett was released and given a NOW waiver to receive care. Sadly, he suffered a tragic death as a result of horrific abuse and neglect by his caretakers.
Kim now testifies regularly on behalf of TBI victims and as an advocate for the need for adequate and safe care. She shared that there is a huge crisis in the goalkeeping industry as they are underpaid and overworked. Lifelong care for a TBI victim is estimated to cost $4 million to cover rehabilitation and care, as well as living expenses. She also thinks law enforcement professionals need training on the effects of TBI, as the brain damage sustained can mimic the effects of intoxication.
Kim tried to start a movement in Louisiana for families concerned about ATV safety, but was unsuccessful. “Everyone loves mountain biking in Louisiana. Parents, be careful. Don’t put your five-year-old on an ATV. It’s very dangerous.”
We thank BJ and Kim Lanclos Smith for their love of others and their determination to ensure that every life, no matter the circumstance, is lived to its fullest!