Tracy Porter looks back on her life by dates. One date is 9/11, after which her husband and she decided to leave Washington, D.C.
"My husband and our two younger sons wanted to leave Washington after that. We looked at few places, then decided to move to Jacksonville. Our younger sons were in high school and middle school. We had a nice life! We went camping a lot, and our sons were into sports, which consumed a lot of our time. Both my husband and I were working. He was, and still is an electrician, and I worked for a construction company."
But the most significant date was exactly 11 years ago.
"April 3, 2004, 5:10 p.m… and I say it that way, because that's how it was embedded in our family's life. It was the first day of spring break, and my younger son, Justin, had gone to the beach with a friend. My husband and I were watching television when the phone call came. A boy on the line said, 'I don't know if you know this, but Justin was in a car crash and they took him by helicopter to Shands Hospital."
Tracy called 911, the first thing she could think of in an emergency. After talking to several people, she was routed to the hospital.
"A trauma surgeon at Shands said, 'your son is in critical condition, you need to get here immediately.'"
Justin had been in a car that hit was traveling at 90 miles per hour when the driver lost control. Justin suffered severe traumatic brain injury, 4 on a scale of 1 to 5. He has recovered — 99 percent, Tracy says. But she recalls how she felt when she arrived at the hospital.
"I was helpless. I didn't understand what they were telling, the words they used. 'Hemorrhaging of the subdermal fisture' — words that didn't make sense to me. I didn't know what questions to ask because I didn't understand what was happening. But the fear started when they said they said, 'severe brain trauma, we don't know how he's going to do,' and to me that meant, he could live or die."
Tracy Porter overcame the helplessness by learning all she could about what had happened to her son, and would happen going forward.
"I'd met so many others families that have been in this situation. There was nobody in the hospital that came to me, that said, 'I know what you've been through, I can help you through this.' There was nothing."
Mothers for TBI Hope started with a bag that Tracy assembled for others in that situation.
"We put together a bag of the things I didn't have when Justin was injured — a notebook, a journal, a pen."
In the years since, Tracy Porter's group has handed out more than 11,000 bags, and has grown statewide. It's changed her as much as her son's accident did.
"Giving hope to other people helped me have hope for my future and myself. I had no idea that giving could feel so good."
The letters she's received have themselves become a resource to share via the baskets with other families. One reads:
"I had no idea that someone else had been this, and you gave me a blanket when I was cold, and toothbrush when I hadn't brushed my teeth in a week. And letters from other people who had been through this, and I had hope that my son was going to survive."