ASHTON — A lot of caring, a little luck and advances in technology are combining to provide possibly life-changing help for a young patient at the Ashton Living Center.
Jeanette Thompson Johnson sustained severe head injuries from a traffic accident in January 2011 in Rexburg, injuries that left her as a paraplegic with “very limited ability to communicate her needs and her wants to staff and her family or her two little children.”
Jonathon Chidister, an occupational therapist for the center, happened to see a story about “EagleEyes” while watching a segment on the BYU-TV network. Created by Boston College researchers, the system uses a person’s eye movements to control the cursor on a computer screen, enabling communication.
“We wanted to try this on our patient,” said Ashton Living Center administrator Shon Shuldberg.
Earlier this month, Ron Williams from Opportunity Foundation of America in Salt Lake City, a nonprofit that distributes the EagleEyes system, evaluated Jeanette as a candidate.
s“She was able to play simple video games with her eyes,” Shuldberg said. “For her to have the ability to communicate anything through this system will be a life changing for her and her family.”
There is a cost involved – about $3,000.
But more caring has entered the picture. Shuldberg said the Ashton Red Hats, a group known for its generosity and service, caught wind of the situation and have helped raise the money the family needs to purchase the system.
In fact, Shuldberg said, “Several organizations are getting on board,” and the center administration has decided to get the system for the patient in hopes she will be able to learn how to use it in an effort to improve her quality of life.
“The ability to speak and communicate – something most of us take for granted – would be life changing for her and her two children,” he said.
So Williams will be coming back to Ashton next week to bring Jeanette the system and teach the center staff how to teach her how to use it.
Jeannette’s life until Jan. 11, 2011, seemed pretty normal for a young mother in the upper valley. She was a waitress at Applebee’s in Rexburg, a divorced mom working to have a home and make a life for her children. The accident that day on icy roads left her with anything but normal circumstances. She suffered severe head trauma and was in a coma for several weeks.
“At the time they did not give us much hope that she would survive,” her mother Faye Thompson said. She spent time in two nursing homes before the family moved her into the Ashton Living Center.
“They are very kind and loving and take a personal interest in her,” Thompson said.
Her daughter is unable to move or speak or take care of her basic needs, she said.
“She does smile and moan and through the expressions in her eyes and face you can somewhat communicate with her.”
She often goes home with her family and seems to love it, as well as being read to, looking at pictures and going outside. Formerly a pianist, music is very soothing to her, her mother said.
“We so appreciate all the kindness that is done for our daughter Jeannette,” her mother said. “We truly are grateful for the offer of the Red Hats to fund this new project ‘EagleEyes’ for her. It hopefully will give her an opportunity to be able to communicate and have a better quality of life.
“We fell like this is an answer to many prayers that have been offered.”