Ponoka helped injured driver to get his life back on track

Through word of mouth, the family heard about the Halvar Johnson Centre for Brain Injury in Ponoka.

Travis Rutz

Travis Rutz

Story courtesy The Langley (BC) Times

Never give up, always keep hope, help is out there.

That is what the past two years have taught Langley’s Rutz family.

Two years ago on Sept. 27, while competing in a sprint car race at the Terra Haute Action Track in Indiana, a racer had engine problems and his car stopped in the middle of the track.

It happened so quickly Travis Rutz and another driver were unable to manoeuvre out of the way and they both hit the vehicle.

The collision left Travis with serious head injuries, including a ruptured artery behind his eye.

His father Doug, who was sitting in the stands, had seen Travis in crashes before, and this one didn’t look as bad as some of the others.

Travis had raced since age seven, starting with the Langley Quarter Midget Association and worked his way up to sprint cars. All indications were that he had a bright future in the sport.

But this accident proved to be catastrophic.

Travis spent a month in a medically-induced coma at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis. And while the initial prognosis looked grim — doctors told the family Travis would never recognize them or know who they were — he has shown marked improvement.

“It is very clear Travis is cognitively sharper than us sometimes,” said his mom, Kathy.

“The words are in his head, it’s just trying to get them out of his mouth.

“But they are coming.”

After a month, Travis was airlifted from Indianapolis to Langley Memorial Hospital.

He would have to be stronger before he could enter the GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre in Vancouver.

But through word of mouth, the family heard about the Halvar Johnson Centre for Brain Injury in Ponoka.

Mr. Rutz took the family’s trailer and lived in Ponoka for the next 13 months. He was searching for a warehouse nearby where he could park and make a home, and by chance, he found one with a Langley connection. The warehouse was owned by Rick Bath, the owner of Surrey Cedar Ltd., and he generously donated its use.

“The community has just been amazing,” Mr. Rutz said. “Without them it would have been so much harder.”

While it was hard to be separated as a family — younger brother, Kenny, 19, also ended up going to also ended up going to Ponoka, while Kathy kept her job at Langley Memorial Hospital — it was well worth the sacrifice.

Last month, the family brought Travis back home to Langley.

They spent $100,000 on renovations, making their house wheelchair accessible, widening doorways, and adding lifts and rehabilitation equipment to aid Travis’ recovery.

They also have a specially designed van that allows them to take Travis out of the house. He is in a wheelchair, doesn’t have full use of his arms, and uses a spelling board to communicate with family.

His memory is sharp and his sense of humour has returned.

But the most important thing is that he continues to defy the odds and show improvement.

And while the family would love for a hospital such as the Halvar Johnson Centre to exist in B.C. — they call brain injuries the “new kid on the block” compared to cancer and spinal injury research — they want others to know that help is out there, but also that they must be willing to put in the work.

“We want people to know this place is there, there is a place for them to go,” Mr. Rutz said.

“It is not like some magical place where they rub you on the head and you get better.”

“It is all about going there and working hard.”

Now that he is back home — they decided against putting Travis in a residential care home — the family continues to help him in his rehab.

Friends and family are always stopping by to visit, and many of them have tattooed ‘BTP’, short for Bring the Pain, Travis’ racing motto.

Mr. Rutz quit his job and is his primary caregiver.

Twice a week they do acupuncture, and once a week they attend a private swimming pool on the Fraser Highway.

The swimming, which costs $100 per session, is now being paid for by the B.C. Ministry of Health.

Travis also had 40 sessions in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber, something the family says they will likely do again.

“The problem with our situation is if you think anything will work, you will try it,” admitted Mr. Rutz, warning that this can quickly lead to a family burning through all their funds.

“The first year, if they had told us to stand on our heads, we would have, we were at that point,” Mrs. Rutz added.

And the parents know Travis is on the road to recovery.

“We are blessed, we were able to bring him home,” she said.

“The best part of my day is coming home from work and he is here.”

But through it all, Travis continues on his road to recovery.

Mrs. Rutz said he spelled out to one of his doctors that she was going to help him walk and talk again.

For more on Travis, visit www.travisrutz.com.