Hedding recovering from brain injury

Parents raise awareness about dangers of rooftop hangouts, friends set up fund to help with medical costs

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  • Brenden Hedding (Photo provided)

Brenden Hedding Fund Accepting Donations

To lessen the family’s burden of ongoing hospital bills, Satin Fine Foods of Chester, the employer of Walter Hedding, Brenden’s father, has created a fund in his name. Lend a helping hand to the Hedding family by stopping by or mailing your donation to:
TD Bank
78 Brookside Ave.
Chester, NY 10918
(Write "Brenden Hedding Fund" on memo line)

— At the end his junior year at SUNY Potsdam, Brenden Joseph Hedding closed up his books and looked forward to a relaxing summer with this family in Chester. He stayed on campus a bit after finals to see his friends graduate. The ceremony was set for Sunday, May 18. Brenden never made it.

The night before, Hedding hung out with friends at his house on campus. After his housemates turned in for the night, he went to visit friends next door.

At 10 a.m. the next day, his friends found him lying on the ground next to his house. He was semi-conscious and mumbling. He seemed to have been badly beaten.

His friends brought him to the hospital in Potsdam, where he was stabilized. Later that day he was transferred to the trauma center at Fletcher Allen Hospital in Burlington, Vermont.

The police officers who investigated believe Brenden was on the roof of his house when he lost his footing and fell 20 feet. A door awning broke his fall halfway. No one knows why Brenden was on the roof, but his housemates said it was common practice to climb up there to watch the sunrise or just hang out.

Brenden, 21, is the youngest of Walter and Theresa Hedding's three children. He had sustained severe trauma to his brain and fractures to his sacrum, four ribs, cheek and nose.

After two days in an induced coma, Brenden spent the next 10 days on the brain recovery trauma floor. He was transferred next to Helen Hayes Hospital in West Haverstraw. Last week he returned home to Chester, where he will continue outpatient rehabilitation three times a week at Orange Regional Medical Center.

“He’s progressed so far in the weeks since the accident,” said Theresa Hedding, Brenden’s mother. “He had to learn how to walk and talk and eat all over again. He’s talking pretty good, and walking is good, but he’s off balance a little sometimes.”

Brenden has a long road of recuperation ahead of him. He needs speech, occupational and physical therapy. But his doctors are confident that, in time, he'll make a full recovery. In the meantime, he'll need round-the-clock care.

Both Theresa and Walter Hedding are on family leave to take care of Brenden, who needs 24-hour care. Satin Fine Foods, Walter's employer, is paying Walter’s salary. The company Theresa works for, however, changed its policy a week before the accident so she will not get paid while on leave. She is, however, grateful that the company has provided her with a caseworker to help obtain services for Brenden.

Satin Fine Foods has also set up a fund for donations that will help defray the cost of Brenden's care (see sidebar).

Devoted friends keep watch

Brenden is an easy-going guy liked by all who meet him. He played football and ran track at Warwick Valley High School and for seven years he was also part of the Wolverines, a Warwick travel soccer team. At SUNY Potsdam, he is studying business and computer science. He enjoys working out, spending time with his twin sisters, Alysha and Christina, 22, and hanging out with friends.

The family is grateful to Brenden's college friends Taylor Vander Platt and Ryan Leoniak, who found him, brought him to the hospital, then later visited him at the Vermont Trauma Center and Helen Hayes Hospital.

“They were holding his hands and kissing his forehead," Theresa said. "That’s a sight I’ll never forget — especially for boys to show that kind of affection.”

Brenden’s best friend Jeff Harrison was on the Wolverines team with him. He works full time but has been a constant visitor at all the hospitals where Brenden stayed. Theresa said he was there almost every other night after work. She believes all three friends contributed to Brenden’s progress.

“Brenden doesn’t show signs of depression," Theresa said. "He seems pretty mellow, more philosophical. Maybe there was a reason this happened to slow his life down. Just this morning, I told him his hair’s getting long and maybe we should get it cut. He said, ‘Why bother?’ He’s not yet jumping back into his life.”

The family wrestled with making Brenden’s story public. “Do I really want this out there?” Theresa asked herself. “It was an accident from the stupid things kids do, like hanging out on a roof. But if it stops one kid from doing this, it’s worth it."

By sharing their misfortune, the Heddings hope to raise awareness of the dangers of popular “roof top hangouts." In January 2008, a 16-year-old girl fell to her death through the skylight in a Port Jervis elementary school that was unable to sustain the weight of the girl and a friend who had climbed up with her.

Theresa said Brenden is "just a really good son. I couldn’t want more. And I’ve always been proud of him."

Two of Brenden’s former coaches spoke highly of him.

“Brenden was a great kid," said Dan Rappaport, former coach of the Wolverines travel soccer club, who knew Brenden since he was 11 until the team broke up, when all the members graduated. “He started as a terrific kid then grew into a really special young man. He was very respectful to myself, other coaches and teammates. He was very friendly and got along well with everybody. Brenden was always at practice and always gave 100 percent. He was always a happy kid and a pleasure to be around. Obviously, I’m very sorry to hear all this happened.”

Gregory Sirico, Director of Athletics when Brenden was at Warwick Valley High School, said Brenden was "an outstanding student-athlete at Warwick Valley and respected by his peers, teachers and coaches. We all wish him a quick and full recovery.”

Editor's note: Ginny Privitar contributed to this story.

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