Posted 4/05/16 (Tue)
Editor’s Note: Three years ago, Asa Omlid’s life completely changed when he suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury following a motor vehicle accident on U.S Highway 85 west of Watford City. Since that accident, Omlid and his family have struggled to find resources and services to provide him with necessary care. This is their story.
By Amy Robinson
Farmer Staff Writer
It was during the early morning hours of March 14, 2013, when Asa Omlid was on his way home from an overnight shift as a roustabout foreman. He was exhausted and had just pulled out into a passing lane on U.S. Highway 85, in front of Patriot Fuels, when he dozed off and accelerated into the back of a semi truck. Omlid’s little, silver 2004 Honda Civic had crinkled right underneath the backside of the semi trailer like a juice box.
Omlid’s mother, Christine Medeiros, got every parent’s dreaded phone call at 7 a.m. that morning. Omlid had been involved in a horrible car accident and was on his way to the hospital in Williston. However, Omlid’s injuries were pretty severe and he was life-flighted by plane to Minot, where he would undergo surgery. Omlid had broken his right hip, knee, and ankle - all requiring multiple surgeries.
“It was a military doctor that was working that day,” remembered Omlid’s brother, Micheal Medeiros. “After his first surgery, the doctor was worried Asa would lose his foot so he called the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. At first, they weren’t going to take my brother, but that doctor made the call and said, ‘you’re taking him.’ And they took him.”
Once Omlid was moved to Mayo, it was on the third day following his accident that doctors found a blood clot in his lung. He was given blood thinners, which ultimately caused a massive bleed in Omlid’s head. He was rushed into emergency surgery on March 17, where doctors were able to stop the bleed, but because of the swelling, Omlid was left with a section of his skull missing and he was unable to move his left arm or leg, and was unable to speak.
“I remember when we were told about the blood clot in his lung,” stated Christine. “We had the choice to put Asa on a blood thinner or not. If we chose not to, he had the risk of dying, so we chose to put him on a blood thinner. I remember Asa saying, ‘Don’t worry mom, it’ll be okay. Don’t freak out.’ When he went in for a CT scan, it was then that they found the bleeding in his brain. Five minutes out of the CT Scan, the surgeons had him in surgery for his brain bleed.”
After Omlid’s first brain surgery, a portion of his skull was open for about a month. As it filled with cerebral fluid, nurses would have to drain the fluid. Omlid remembers feeling like he had an ‘alien’ head. He couldn’t talk and could only answer yes or no questions.
“I had an alien head,” laughed Omlid, in recalling his time in the Intensive Care Unit
(ICU) at the Mayo Clinic following his first surgery.
Omlid had to have two more brain surgeries. One to replace the plate in his head and another to place permanent shunts in his head, to drain the fluid. In total, Omlid had to have eight surgeries to try and put his 25-year-old body back together again - two on his ankle/foot, two on his knee, one on his hip, and three on his head.
Once the surgeries were completed and he was ready for rehabilitation, he was moved to St. Benedict’s Health Center Nursing Home in Dickinson, where he would remain for almost a year and a half, before being sent home.
“Medicaid had a standard in place,” said Christine. “Anything more than six months was considered long-term. Well, Asa owned a home at that time where his family was living. In order to keep Asa in the nursing home, receiving the rehab he desperately needed, Medicaid said he had to sell his home, or he couldn’t stay at the nursing home. So, we literally had one week to get Asa ready to bring home.”
In one week, Omlid’s family had to outfit his mobile home in Watford City with a wheelchair ramp, initial medical supplies, and purchase their own wheelchair. The family says they weren’t given any instruction on how to care for Omlid once he was home or even what exercises to do to maintain his rehabilitation.
“The nursing home staff basically said, ‘here you go, sign the papers, and good luck.’ If it wouldn’t have been for donations from our friends and family, I don’t know what we would have done,” remembers Omlid’s sister, Alesia Medeiros. “We had to buy our own wheelchair. It took $3,000 at first just from our family and friends to get Asa home. Once we got Asa home, we basically had to learn how to help him on our own.”
Omlid’s brother, Micheal, and Micheal’s girlfriend, Trystyn Wright, moved in to Omlid’s home full time to care for him 24 hours a day/seven days a week, and they remain his main caretakers today. Omlid’s sister, Alesia, and his mother, Christine, also help with Omlid’s care as well. It’s a responsibility the family took on, with no other options.
“Asa needed 24/7 care and so we decided we needed to take care of him,” stated Micheal. “We had to figure out the standing lift, the hoyer lift, what exercises to do with him, etc. Everything we’ve had to learn, we’ve looked up and researched ourselves. Right now the only thing Medicaid pays for is two full-time Qualified Service Providers and some housekeeping work. And Medicaid is reducing the housekeeping part by 40 percent.”
Because Omlid’s caretakers have to live with him, they are considered a shared household, even though they consider themselves two separate households, under the same roof. Omlid’s caretakers have separate rooms, separate refrigerators, and separate food cupboards. They pay rent and have separate bills. But because Medicaid considers it a ‘shared household,’ there are services provided by Micheal and Trystyn that don’t get paid for including laundry, meal prep, grocery shopping, and several household cleaning duties.
“If we were to hire an outside agency, Asa wouldn’t be able to afford it,” said Christine. “He only receives $1,400 a month in Social Security/disability. More than half of that goes to his lot rent, and he still has to pay for most of his medical bills. He’d be expected to pay $1,000 for Micheal and $600 for Trystyn if he paid an outside agency. There’s just no way Asa would be able to afford that. And because he’s considered a ‘shared household,’ Asa only receives $16 a month on his EBT card for food assistance from the state.”
Because Omlid wouldn’t be able to afford hiring an outside agency to care for him and Medicaid only pays a small portion of the services he needs, Omlid’s family has stepped up to the plate to provide that care and continue researching facilities that would be willing to take Omlid and give him the rehab services he really needs to get better and stronger.
Lack of Traumatic Brain Injury Resources, Services, and Awareness
But that is easier said than done. Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is really a hidden epidemic that people don’t want to talk about. It’s an epidemic that plagues thousands of people every year and one that is largely under-served.
“Micheal and Trystyn are tired,” says Christine, about the immense time spent care-taking for Omlid. “We are trying desperately to get Asa into an intense rehab facility for a maximum of 60 days, where he can get the services he so desperately needs. But every time we call a facility or a program, we get, ‘it’s not Medicare-approved, or it’s not Medicaid approved, or it’s been too long since his accident.’ It’s just been a constant battle. Insurance won’t take him or he doesn’t qualify for Medicare.”
Why is a condition that seriously affects the body’s most important control center - the brain - this prominent, yet hardly discussed? Why is it so hard to find and receive services? Many sources say that it is considered to be a rather taboo topic, even by those who are intimately affected. Brain damage is extremely scary, and most who have it feel misunderstood and alone. Unfortunately, many of these individuals, like Omlid, quietly slip away into the cracks, overwhelmed and ashamed of their symptoms. And so do their caretakers.
According to a 2015 report by the Centers for Disease and Control, a person in America sustains brain damage every 12 seconds. A traumatic brain injury occurs when an external force impacts the brain and impairs certain functions. The majority of reported TBIs are the results of motor vehicle accidents, with almost half of those hospitalized experiencing long-term disability. Accidental falls, rough play, and contact sports may also lead to a TBI, and research has shown that 50 percent of all injuries killing children in the U.S. and Canada include a brain injury.
This hidden underworld of brain injury is vast. Recent tallies show that there are one million more traumatic brain injuries annually than all combined cancer diagnoses and more yearly deaths than drug overdose, breast cancer, prostate cancer, or HIV.
“It’s like we’re going through a maze and every turn has been a dead end,” explains Alesia. “And when we think we’re doing good and getting somewhere, it’s another dead end. The lack of services and resources is huge. No one tells us what resources there are. And if we do find something, there is some reason it doesn’t apply to Asa. We’ve been desperately trying to get a hold of options and we just end up in this endless circle.”
Omlid’s family says they have hit dead end after dead end because of a flawed system. They say that people don’t understand TBIs and there is a huge lack of services and resources, leaving survivors, their families, and their caretakers on an emotional roller coaster that never seems to stop. They want their story shared. They want to help other survivors. They want to help other families.
“A ‘standard’ is not a law,” says Christine. “It can be changed. And a TBI should throw that all out the door. A TBI should be treated independently because it’s different for everyone. We’ve learned so much over the last three years about TBIs and what we know is that awareness is key. If we can help one family, then we are making progress. We want to try and get our word out there and try to offer encouragement for those going through what we’re going through.”
Omlid had a four-year-old daughter, Phoenix Rose Freya Omlid, whom he hasn’t seen in two years. His family said that while Omlid was in the nursing home, his estranged wife left one night with their daughter and he hasn’t heard from or seen them. The family is hoping that he can somehow get in contact with his daughter.
“Even being able to talk to his daughter every day could give Asa the motivation to keep going, especially on the days where he’s in a rut,” said Alesia. “It’s been really sad to know Asa not only has to go through what he currently is, but he’s also been denied his right for a divorce and visitation because he can’t afford an attorney, let alone an attorney who would want to take on a case with the unique circumstances Asa has.”
Omlid’s family says they know he can continue to improve and get better. They saw where he was three years ago, and where he is today, and despite all of the obstacles, they’re hopeful.
“We still have Asa here today and he’s still my brother and the person he is,” added Alesia. “But we kind of lost him that day in March 2013. Everything changed, not only for him, but for all of us. It’s just lucky for us that we’re a strong family and we’ve only become stronger. We just hope our word can get out there and something changes for the better.”