The 32-year-old uses a wheelchair. He is deaf. He communicates with his family through sign language and a dry-erase white board.
His parents, now in their 70s and the only caretakers he’s ever known, are trying to find a residential care community that can meet his needs. And they say that’s hard to find in Georgia.
Wesley Larson’s disability stems from a life-altering traumatic brain injury caused by a blow to the head during a car accident.
“There is a lot going for people born with disabilities, but there’s very few (places) for people who acquire disabilities,” said Betty Larson, his mother.
His brother, Michael, says Wesley’s disability doesn’t prevent him from having an outgoing personality and he hopes finding a community that can accommodate his needs will help him meet more people.
“He’s just always trying to meet new people, and I’m hoping that (finding long-term care) will help him with that,” Michael Larson said.
The accident and aftermath
The moment that would change Wesley Larson’s life happened 15 years ago on Nov. 13, 1997. A student at Marietta High School and employee at a movie theater on Barrett Parkway, he drove to the theater to pick up his paycheck and went to his girlfriend’s house.
It was a rainy night and, hours later, he still hadn’t made it home. That night, his worried parents received a heartbreaking phone call.
“When the telephone rang, it was Kennestone Hospital,” Betty Larson said. “They don’t tell you anything. They just said, ‘Your son has been in an accident.’”
Wesley Larson had been in a single-car wreck in Powder Springs. Sober and not under the influence of any drugs, he lost control of the car on the slippery pavement and slammed into a telephone pole.
He spent a month in a coma and when he emerged, his mother says he was angry he could not express himself.
Returning to school at McEachern High School was difficult. He was placed in a classroom for students with severe disabilities and little intellectual capacity.
“The high school did not realize he had any intellect,” Betty Larson said. “They thought he was a vegetable.”
He was frustrated. Able to understand his surroundings, he was rendered unable to communicate. That frustration led to behavioral problems.
Soon, he found an outlet at Wheeler High School in east Cobb. The school hired a teacher to aide Wesley Larson and he attended classes with his peers.
“That was the best thing to ever happen to Wesley,” Betty Larson said.
The support Wesley Larson found at Wheeler ended when he finished high school, and it’s been tough since then.
“It’s so hard,” Betty Larson said.
The family finds its support in a Bible-study group she has termed “Wesley’s Angels.”
“I’m a professional mother. I worry. I worry a lot,” Betty Larson said.
She wants to find a long-term care community that can meet her son’s needs but she hasn’t been successful and says most people don’t understand why it’s so difficult. Many ask why she can’t simply find a caregiver on the Internet.
“I tell them, ‘You don’t understand. You’re not listening,’” Betty Larson said.
To allow Wesley Larson to become comfortable with the idea of not living with his parents, they are taking things slowly and plan to send him to a camp in September for traumatic brain injury survivors, Camp Hardgrove, in Winder sponsored by the Brain Injury Association of America.
The trip will be his first experience away from home.
Fundraiser set for Aug. 25
The Larsons will have a fundraiser Sunday, Aug. 25, to cover the camp’s expenses at Stars and Strikes, 2400 Hiram Acworth Highway in Dallas, coinciding with Wesley Larson’s 33rd birthday. Twelve volunteer bowlers are making monetary pledges for the number of pins they knock down. The event will take place from 3 to 5 p.m.
Brain injuries have made headlines recently, particularly with the injury of 2-year-old Tripp Halstead of Winder, but Betty Larson maintains most of the attention is given to the cases of young, cute children.
“As people get older, it’s like you don’t get that attention,” Betty Larson said.
The family will travel to Arizona later this month to research a community that specializes in caring for patients with traumatic brain injuries and will also travel to Our Neighbor Inc., a community that tries to help individuals with disabilities live independently, in Gainesville to explore options.
“He’s been with us for the past 15 years, 24/7,” Betty Larson said.