A Journey to Teach about Brain Injuries; A Father and Son Walk and Pedal from Vilano Beach to North Carolina

Article excerpt

Byline: MAGGIE FITZROY

A 4 1/2-week, 460-mile walk from Vilano Beach to North Carolina would be a daunting challenge to most people.

But Harold Lawrence and his 28-year-old son, Joshua Brantner, aren't going to let that stop them. Even though Brantner can't walk, Lawrence is pushing him in a specially designed three-wheel bicycle, with Brantner pedaling as much as he can.

They left home Wednesday, Feb. 24, and plan to arrive at their destination in Huntersville, N.C., on Sunday, March 28.

"It's going great," Lawrence said Thursday on their way through Jacksonville Beach. "Even though it's a little brisk."

"We're doing well," he said Friday from his cell phone after they stopped to have lunch in Amelia Island. Later that day, they met with a Boy Scout troop in Fernandina Beach.

By Monday morning, despite three flat tires that they had to stop and fix, they were north of Kingsland, Ga. on U.S. 17 North, and doing "extremely well," Lawrence said. "It was chilly this morning, but we've got all kinds of gear to make sure we're warm. We're staying nice and warm."

The father and son are making their trek to raise awareness of brain injuries during March, which is Brain Injury Awareness Month. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that each year in the United States, about 1.4 million people sustain a traumatic brain injury from falls, traffic accidents and other causes.

Brantner is a traumatic brain injury survivor who throughout his trip plans to spread a message of hope, perseverance and the importance of making smart and healthy choices in life.

The duo spent their first night at Christ the Redeemer Church in Ponte Vedra Beach, and after traveling north on Florida A1A, traveled through the Beaches to Mayport to catch the ferry to Huguenot Park, where they stopped for the night.

"They're amazing," said friend Beth Harper, who came to see them at the Jacksonville Beach Fire Station, where they stopped to rest.

"These guys are supermen in my book."

Brantner was once a super athlete, an all-star basketball, baseball and soccer player who charmed the girls and had many friends.

His life changed in September 2001 when until he fell out of a 30-foot-high tree while high on drugs and alcohol at an all-night party.

He almost died, and after emergency surgery and intensive care treatment, remained in a coma for three months. Doctors predicted that if he lived, he'd remain in a vegetative condition.

But when he woke up and squeezed his mother's hand, his family began to plan his recovery. In the past 81/2 years, it's included many hospitalizations, a short stay in a nursing home, months of inpatient hospitalization rehabilitation and at-home physical strength training. Brantner is determined to one day walk again.

Lawrence, who adopted Brantner when he was a little boy, quit his job to help care for his son, who requires 24-hour, seven-day-a-week assistance.

Brantner can't speak, and has limited movement in his arms and legs, but he can understand what people are saying to him, and communicates using gestures and some American Sign Language. …