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Jason & Mo: The Story Behind BIAWA’s Brain Ride

Jason Donaldson lost his mom, Mo, to a traumatic brain injury ten years ago. Before Mo passed, Jason experienced what something many families go through: he felt like there was no information at a time when he desperately needed answers. In this episode of Brain Injury Today, Jason speaks with Deborah Crawley about how he got connected to the Brain Injury Alliance of Washington and used his passion for bike riding to raise awareness about brain injury around the state and keep Mo’s memory alive.
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Jason Donaldson lost his mom, Mo, to a traumatic brain injury ten years ago. Before Mo passed, Jason experienced what something many families go through: he felt like there was no information at a time when he desperately needed answers. In this episode of Brain Injury Today, Jason speaks with Deborah Crawley about how he got connected to the Brain Injury Alliance of Washington and used his passion for bike riding to raise awareness about brain injury around the state and keep Mo’s memory alive.

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This episode of Brain Injury Today is sponsored by Brothers & Henderson Law, was produced and edited by Goal17Media.com and is available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

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If you want to get in touch with Jason, reach out at ottostm@protonmail.com

For more resources related to traumatic brain injury visit:

Brain Injury Today Podcast

Brain Injury Alliance of Washington

The Pooled Alliance Community Trusts

Brain Injury Art Show

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Deborah Crawley: Brain injury today is sponsored by Brothers & Henderson Law and produced by Goal17 Media, storytellers for the common good.

Jason Donaldson: I probably was hesitant the first six months after my mom’s passing. Cause I wanted the world to go away, but then I, I started realizing if some, one person heard that story, then they would know about the Brain Injury Alliance.

 

Deborah Crawley: Hello everyone, and welcome to another episode of Brain Injury Today, your connection to the brain injury community. I’m your host, Deborah Crawley Executive Director of the Brain Injury Alliance of Washington. Today, I’m excited to start another conversation with a core member of our community. He’s a former healthcare worker. He’s a stay at home dad, and he’s just a really great advocate for individuals with brain injury, their family members, and ensuring that stories of brain injury continued to be told. Jason Donaldson, welcome.

Jason Donaldson: Thank you, I’m happy to be here…

 

Deborah Crawley: Good! It’s great to be able to chat with you, Jason. I’ve known you for quite a while, and I remember the first time we met. It was a very impactful moment for me when I really had just started work as the executive director here. Um, you became involved, uh, your mother had suffered a brain injury and passed away due to that injury, I believe back in 2010. And we met shortly thereafter that, but tell us some of your story and your background and, and what led you to the Brain Injury Alliance.

 

Jason Donaldson: Um, my background at the time was I was a radiologic technologist, uh, I took x-rays at Harborview Medical Center. I think it’s a level one trauma for five states. Um, and my mom suffered, uh, an injury. Uh, she was hit in the crosswalk, uh, crossing the street, uh, by a car and really the only injury she suffered was a scratch on her elbow and a TBI. And so I found out about my mom, uh, later, uh, on the day of the accident later that evening, I found out about my mom and, uh, she was admitted to Harborview Medical Center. Uh, she was on the second floor of the ICU. She was in a bad shape, uh, and there’s good and bad at the time. Uh, the bad was I got to see the images and, and my professional background. I knew, uh, what I was seeing was not, uh, good. So that was, that was a hard, hard pill to swallow.

And, uh, it, you know, to this day, I, every day is, uh… December 21st is10 years. So I, you know, I still think about it every day. Uh, I’ll do something silly. I’ll do, I’ll say something to the boys that I’ve probably heard a thousand times that my mom said to me or something like that. And, uh, the hard part was all the years I worked in the ER, right. And, and years I’ve worked…I seen these images…I knew what a traumatic brain injury was on, on a, on a film or on a screen. The hard thing was, is, especially when you’re in the ER is you take the pictures and you pray for these people’s lives, that they’re going to get better. They’re going to go up to the, the best people in the world upstairs, but then you’re done, you know, you don’t, you don’t have a follow-up conversation with them. You don’t find out about what happened to them.

And then I didn’t know what was going on. And, um, right…even me, the guy that worked in the ER…I didn’t know what was happening. And at that time, what was scary is, was what am I going to do after the ICU? Well, what are we going to do is better way to put it. Uh, what was I, 30, late thirties at the time with a two year old son, a wife that was working full time plus getting a master’s degree. And we lived in a 700-square-foot house in Maple Leaf, which we thought was cute, rght? And I’m trying to picture, where am I going to put my mom? Like, where am I? Because I knew she was gonna get the best care, but it was what was going to happen afterwards. And there was no answers that no one, no one can tell me, you know? I’m so used to you break a leg, we’ll put a rod in it and you put in a cast and then you only do some therapy and you’ll walk again, you know, right there, there was no answer of what was going to happen in six months or eight months or a year. And no one could tell me, and then, you know, there was no information… This was 2010. So the, the little bit of information I could find on the internet was just minuscule really, probably did more harm to my mental state than it did help.

Um, so there was a lot of confusion, a lot of I don’t know what to do. And to this day, I still don’t know how you and I got connected. But, uh, when I found, uh, The Brain Injury…At the time, I think it was, um, Association.

 

Deborah Crawley: We were. Uh huh.

 

Jason Donaldson: That was the first place that finally told me that this wasn’t unusual, that I wasn’t alone. And I wasn’t, uh, I had somebody to give me some kind of answers, you know, we just didn’t know what to do. And I still don’t know how we got connected, but it was, I remember the day vividly because it was finally, I got to finally like, kind of complain to somebodyand I got someone who kind of agreed with me. And, uh, it was such a, a huge morale booster for myself.

Deborah Crawley:

You’re kind, Jason. I remember that day too. We met over at the coffee shop right across the way. Um, I remember I remember where you sat and I remember where I sat and it was a really…Well, let’s, let’s go back a bit because I think folks need to understand… Your mother was in ICU for five days, did you say?

Jason Donaldson: Yes.

Deborah Crawley: And she did pass away.

Jason Donaldson: Yes.

 

Deborah Crawley: Yeah. So I know how you, you got ahold of us. You were working with, uh, the firm of Adler Giersch and I do believe that, uh, your attorney recommend you, you chat with us. And I, I believe that’s how we got connected.

 

Jason Donaldson: Yeah, that does sound right.

Deborah Crawley: Which is…you know, folks learn about as many different ways. But you talked to me about being there, being part of the medical system and still not being able to get all the information that you really needed at that time. And yes, 10 years ago, I mean, when I first started, it was totally not only a different world for the internet. But let’s face it, 10 years ago this country did not care about brain injuries at the level that they do today. I like to say a lot of things happened right around that time that really was critical for this issue, having a voice because today people care a whole lot more about prevention, diagnose and treatment of brain injuries, but not, not so much in 2010.

Jason Donaldson: No, no, no. Uh, I remember one patient received a TBI and, uh, and it wasn’t, I wouldn’t say it wasn’t a big deal, but it was just, wasn’t comparable to some other stuff that would come through the doors. And, uh, I agree with you nowI think it’s definitely drastically different. They look at a TBI just as it’s the same level is another traumatic experience. Cause we, we do definitely know more…

Deborah Crawley: Right, yeah. You were… Mo is your mom. Maureen, you call her Mo… You were Mo’s advocate. You were the only family member here, your wife, Sarah and Colin, you know, but really didn’t have any other siblings or any of her siblings around at that time. And, um, the help wasn’t there. So you were the one advocating, you were the one asking questions and even at a great facility, like Harborview, you were getting some answers. I mean, they started to see what was occurring with your mom, but it was still, you know, it was still that time period of, you know, figuring it all out. And, um, when you’re in the cocoon of the hospital, we find this with, with families all the time…Those who survive the injury say the same: We were in the cocoon of the hospital, and then…and then what?

 

Jason Donaldson: Yeah, you, you have all this support in the hospital, right? Someone’s you know, taking care of food and so forth. And so there’s, there’s so many aspects of it that are overwhelming once, once you really, once you, I don’t want to say get comfortable, but once you get to that point, where, all right, there’s three nurses here with this, with my, you know, my significant person they’re taking care of her, blah, blah, blah. Then that’s the problem is you start sitting there and you start, you start thinking. You’re thinking, all right, what am I going to do? Am I going to keep working? You know, all these things. And then it just comes and it gets heavier and heavier. And then all you want to do. All I wanted to do was go take her out to a bar and get a white Russian, right? And so you’re… It’s been 10 years and it’s, and I can still remember.

Deborah Crawley: I can see it, yeah. And your voice. And I’m on a video call with Jason, for our listeners, and I hear it in your voice. And I see it. And yet, and this compassion that comes through, and also when you were saying reliving this piece and telling the story, and I’ve asked you to tell the story for many different reasons, along the way, sharing your journey. I want to say, Jason has always come to the table to share his journey. And I think that’s so important because it’s helped so many other people, but yes, whenever I have heard you share your story as now, and as when you were saying, you know, how do you remember this, the trauma that’s involved with that. And I, you know, I, I feel badly for that piece of sharing your story, because I have asked you to do it many times and you’re always so gracious about it, and you really do want others to hear and learn. Um, but I hear that in your voice, you know, talking to you today…

Jason Donaldson:

Thank you. I probably was hesitant the first six months after my mom’s passing. Cause I wanted the world to go away. And, uh, but then I started realizing, you know, I don’t want anybody else to go through this. Even if I got, if some, one person heard that story, then they would know about the Brain Injury Alliance and they wouldn’t have to go through that kind of wandering, lost, looking for answers. And it’s also a way I don’t forget about Mo.

 

Deborah Crawley:

So Jason’s a bike rider. And the first thing Jason decided, he said, I want to do a little fundraiser. And he started riding his bike for the Brain Injury Alliance of Washington. And the first one was the Capitol 50 or something?

Jason Donaldson: Uh, it was Capitol Forest, uh, 50 miles. So, uh, right around January, uh, of that have been 2011. I needed something because, uh, not to deviate from the biking, but Mo was, uh, there was not a morning or afternoon that her and I didn’t talk or do something. She was a huge rock in my life. And, uh, when she passed it was devastating. That was probably my really, you know, besides grandparents or something like that it was one of my first major losses in life. So the only thing that really got me away from thinking about it and just taking a break from morning, uh, was literally a bike ride. So I used to call them therapy sessions. And so I’d go do an hour bike ride out in the woods and, um, usually pull over and have some kind of mental breakdown and I start crying and I would have to, uh, like pull over to the side of the trail and just gather myself because it would just come crashing down. It was like a big wave, and I’d have these other bike riders that’d be on the trail and they would see me and make sure I was all right. And, uh, and then that’s when I started, you know, I want people to know about the Brain Injury Alliance. And I’m just one person. Like, how can I do this? I started thinking and my wife, Sarah, and I would come up with ideas, and I’d go out for a bike ride…And then finally I was like why don’t I just do like a bike race and maybe get some people to, um, donate money?

And, um, I came up with I’ll do the Capitol Forest. And I reached out to you and I said, Hey, I’d like to do this…I don’t really need you to do anything. I just want to have your permission. And you were 100% for it and excited about it. And, uh, I think we raised, I was able to raise, uh, 2,500the first year. And, uh, I had a blast doing it and, and I said, well… I’ll just keep doing it. And we did second time, I think we raised, uh, if not the same or a little bit more, and that’s how the ball started getting rolling and then, you know, came up with other ideas. One other idea was, well, if I can raise this much money in one day for a one day bike ride, what if I did like eight days?

Deborah Crawley: Oh, if people could see me now [laughter] So yes, this evolved… I just…Jason, you’re so wonderful. Uh, I’m going to tell you from my perspective, and as you know, because I’ve told you this many times, but so Jason kind of thought bigger is better…So he did ride across the state of Washington. And, and then the year after that, we did something called Seattle over Sumit, where Jason also with, we got, uh, one other person willing to do this, rode their bikes. And if you’re not familiar with Washington state territory, they rode it over the summit between Seattle and across the Cascade Mountains in one day. And then the next day they wrote over another mountain called Blewett pass, which is in the North Cascades from central Washington up to a smaller town, Leavenworth. For both of those rides, either the one across the state, which thank goodness I could not see you riding every day, because I was so nervous every day. You’d have to check in…and say you were okay. Um, you were in some very rural areas riding across the state of Washington and this was summer…

Jason Donaldson: …summer, which I found out is, uh, harvest time on the east side, which means large, fast moving trucks.

Deborah Crawley: Well, large, fast moving trucks and some of the hottest weather the state sees.

 

Jason Donaldson: …There was one day I was, yeah [laughter] this is not a good idea. Cause it was hot, harvest time. And, uh, I remember on the, on the ride across the state, I was sitting on a corner. It sounds like some song. I was looking at my map, and here comes this, I mean, you know, decked out to the nines, diesel Ford truck… And it was a farmer’s truck and he rolls up, he stops in front of me. He goes, “What are you, what are you doing?” I’m on my bike. I got a map. I said, “Well, I’m out for a bike ride.” So we ended up having a 10, 15 minute conversation. He gained knowledge about the Brain Injury Alliance and gaine knowledge about what a TBI was…and we had a great conversation. He, of course, he’s got a GPS internet, uh, laptop in his truck and he goes on to the website and he donates right there.

Deborah Crawley: Wow. Jason, that’s so great!

Jason Donaldson: …I’m sure the news is a little slow out in the farmland, so he probably went and talked to, you know, five, five other people plus people and told them that he met this biker out in the middle of nowhere. And so it was, um, just like that. And that’s always been my kind of desire is just, I just don’t want someone to go… It’s better now, obviously, but I just don’t want somebody to go through that darkness. It was almost darkness, because we didn’t know what was going to go happen, or what was happening or how to, how to help or what to do, or, you know…

Uh, I actually got to meet a support group in the Moses Lake area.

 

Deborah Crawley: They’re awesome.

Jason Donaldson: … I think I had, uh, 10 hours in the saddle. And then, uh, I got a hotel room, uh, cause I wanted a shower and cold beer. That’s all I was asking for. And I actually got to have dinner with the support group. And it was just amazing, just the people, uh, their outlook on life, regardless of how rough the road ahead was going to be. It changed, uh, me, uh, looking at the injury a little bit different and it was just amazing, some of the stories…

 

Deborah Crawley:

…And I also remember as Jason was making his way and…this story made me laugh…Cause like I picture this in my mind. Eastern Washington, for those listening…Long distances between cities. It’s very rural. There’s a lot of farm land. It’s very dry. It’sonly farmland because of the Columbia. So much of it…It’s almost like high desert if you ask me. So Jason’s almost to Spokane is how you told me. And… your wife and the two kids were going to be driving over to meet you and you had a tire blow out or something happened.

 

Jason Donaldson:

Yeah…Probably the worst mechanical failure you could have as a bike rider, which was, uh, the rear derailer, like exploded. Thankfully I wasn’t being chased by a dog at the time because, uh, in Eastern Washington I think the unwritten policy of farmers is you don’t need to lease up your dogs. I had a lot of dogs angry.

Deborah Crawley: … It kept you riding faster! …But you said, yeah, you had this derailing and you had finally somehow got a hold of Sarah, your wife, nd she was going to…you were at somewhere, you know, off the freeway…And you said it was so hot and you found a telephone pole and you said you were standing up and moving with the sun, trying to stay in the shade of the telephone pole, as you were waiting for Sarah to come and rescue, because it was probably, it was over a hundred…

Jason Donaldson: Yeah…I forgot about that. Yeah, you’re right [laughter] And thankfully I wasn’t as big as I am now, but I was a little bit thinner there and I could get in that shadow…

Deborah Crawley: Well that all worked out because you were doing the good deed. You were doing the good mitzvah for the Brain Injury Alliance and all those survivors. And I love that you talked about the support group out of Moses Lake. Um, Jennifer McCarthy, herself, a survivor leads that group. She’s amazing. She’s an artist. I just, she’s one of my favorite, you know, people I’ve met in the role of executive director. I will never forget for the rest of my life, both you and Jen McCarthy.I forgot that you two had gotten a chance to meet. So I do like that.

And I guess, you know… hundreds and thousands of people get to meet Jason Donaldson and hear your story. And so it’s gone on. So now, you know, we have the Brain Ride, which, uh, we continue to have as an annual event for the Brain Injury Alliance of Washington hosted in the summer. Um, we’ve been in a number of different locations, but it’s been this great event of bringing together riders. This year we added a barbecue and it is a way to remember Mo, because Mo’s story is always part of the Brain Ride. You were a son who is committed to that memory and committed to making a change, and I feel like you have. You’ve done it.

Jason Donaldson: Thank you. No, I’m super excited about how this idea has over almost what eight, nine years has evolved. Um, what’s great about it… getting away from the solo person, the solo idea, you know..I think, uh, not the virtual one, but the year before that there was close to a hundred riders, right? If you look at that, like in a restaurant review kind of capacity…You have one person have an experience at your restaurant, they’ll tell four other people, right? …So, you know, we got a hundred riders, hopefully those hundred riders tell four other people…You know, I can’t do the simple math… [laughter]

Deborah Crawley: …They’ll tell four. They’re telling 400, plus my original a hundred. I’m back to 500. [laughter]

Jason Donaldson: …See, I failed math. [laughter] Uh, but you know, that’s what’s the great thing…Like I wanted to get up on top of Harborview and start yelling, “Why don’t you know anything?” You know? And… And now that we have an opportunity to, uh, continue to grow, because that awareness helps grow your support, grows the support that families are gonna need…

Deborah Crawley: … In a kinder, gentler way, I guess, than screaming off the top of Harborview. We found a kinder and gentler way to… and more athletic and better for people because we’ve had over a hundred riders this year… We had almost 70 riders even in the virtual world all across the state. Many of them, you know, folks across the state who may have participated in the Brain Ride will now get to hear a little more from the inspiration, Mr. Jason Donaldson.

Jason Donaldson: Yeah. Well, thank you. It’s been a great experience. I’m super happy. I wish I could donate 24 hours a day, make it bigger.

Deborah Crawley: You donate your time. You’ve shown a light on it Jason. You’ve done so much. It’s always… Any of us who’ve lost a family membe or parents, it’s so difficult to go through it. And, you know, as you expressed in this conversation, how difficult it was and how the memory of how difficult it was still inspires you to inform others and to change lives and to ensure as we always say on our podcasts… And this is something I said to you that day, Jason, now that I’m saying it, that you are not alone, and I’m thankful for you sharing your story.

 

Jason Donaldson: Thanks very much for having me.

Deborah Crawley: Thanks for joining us for another episode of Brain Injury Today. If you want to get in touch with Jason, you can find his information in the show notes for this episode, subscribe to our show on Apple podcasts, Google or Spotify, be sure to give us a rating and share it with your family and friends. And as always, you can find support by calling our resource line at 877-824-1766 or visiting our website at biawa.org.

Remember you’re never alone, and take care.
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