Reagan Bishchoff, teenager with brain injury, is honored in Virginia

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For 13-year-old Reagan Bischoff, who lives in Potomac Falls, the simple tasks that others do easily were often the most difficult and frustrating for her: buttoning up her jeans or brushing her hair.

Since early childhood, she had to deal with the mental and physical challenges of cerebral palsy and partial paralysis on the left side of her body after brain surgery. But her determination, drive and willingness to learn and teach other children ways to overcome these challenges recently won her an award from Brain Injury Services, a non-profit organization that provides services to people with brain damage in Northern Virginia.

Sarah Pickford, manager of ComPASS – Community Participation and Skill-building Services, a brain injury treatment services program that works with Reagan – praised her for put as much energy and attention into living life to the fullest while positioning yourself to help others.

“It’s not just about her. It’s exceptional for someone who is just a young teenager. Her openness to others is a wonderful inspiration,” Pickford said.

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Based in Springfield, Virginia, Brain Injury Services helps approximately 1,000 people with brain injuries each year. Founded in 1989, the nonprofit has treated approximately 20,000 children, adults and veterans. They offer a range of services from advising and helping people to better use technology to job training and job placement. Plus, they offer speech improvement techniques and teach kids skills to learn better in school.

Since 2016, Brain Injury Services has awarded the “Bryant Cohen Empowerment Award” – named after one of the nonprofit organization’s clientsrecognize people who “commit to their recovery process while leading and empowering others and maintaining a positive attitude,” officials said.

Reagan said she was honored and thrilled “to have people recognize me for my work.”

Reagan was born after her mother, Danielle, had a normal pregnancy. But when she was around 6 weeks old, her mother said she started having seizures. Sometimes she had up to 60 a day, her mother said, even with medication and hospital care.

At 3 months, she underwent brain surgery, which stopped the seizures but left her with cerebral palsy and left-sided paralysis. Reagan also suffers from attention deficit disorder, dyslexia and organizational problems – which his mother says are linked to his brain damage, as part of his frontal lobe which controls executive functioning has been removed .

Over the years, Reagan’s parents said she pushed herself to participate in swimming, horseback riding and lacrosse. She is a black belt in taekwondo and also plays the trumpet, using a special stand to maneuver the instrument with one hand.

Few classmates or friends know about what she and her family call her “invisible disability” because at first glance she doesn’t appear to have any physical problems.

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“When you see her walking down the street, you’d never know there’s something wrong with her,” her mother said. But in middle school, some kids started asking him, “Is your hand dead?” Others mocked his inability to move his left side.

Although she had gone through many therapies, as she got older she still had trouble mastering some basic skills such as typing, washing or brushing her hair, opening a bag of chips, putting on a bra or close a pair of jeans on its own. She started working with experts at Brain Injury Services two years ago to find ways to overcome her challenges.

She came up with the idea of ​​using a smaller keyboard so she could type with one hand to complete her online homework during the coronavirus pandemic. Reagan, who will start eighth grade at Riverbend Middle School this fall, and his therapists also decided she should get a special hook that looks like a Swiss army knife and allows her to hang buttons on pants herself. She learned to use a cutting board with spokes to hold an apple steady so she could cut it with one hand.

“We wanted her to find a creative way of doing things,” her mother said. “Not just say, ‘I can’t wear jeans.’ It’s about finding a way where she can do it herself and how it works in real life.

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Reagan’s parents, who also have a legally blind son, encourage their children to look for ways to overcome the obstacles. Their family motto: “I’ll try, but I may need help.”

As she developed the skills and confidence to cope with her disability, Reagan also started a YouTube channel called “Throw Leftie” to “help kids with disabilities like me, so they can learn things that I was not able to do and had to figure out.”

“People feel uncomfortable talking about loss, and disabilities are exactly the same,” her mother said. “We don’t talk about it, so kids don’t have role models.”

In one of Reagan’s recent YouTube videos, she uses a pair of jeans on a counter to demonstrate how to use the special tool called a “pocket dresser” to hook the button on the pants. She flips through each part of the tool with her right hand.

“This one’s for the little buttons. … This one helps untie the laces and stuff like that,” she says. After successfully buttoning the jeans, she shows a little black case that holds the tool and explains how she asks someone to help her hang it on her pants, “so it’s still with me”.

Closing the video, she said, “I hope these videos help someone you know or for you.”

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