Every year at this time, I try featuring a person who shows the spirit of the season in walking the extra mile to help people with disabilities.
On December 1, 1995, Sharon Gieseke was crossing a New Ulm, Minnesota, street and was only a step from being safely on the other side. In a telephone interview, Gieseke, now 57, said, “Then a van hit me. He did not yield to the person in the crosswalk and I was in the crosswalk. I remember seeing a bright light above me before he hit. I knew something was coming and knew I was going to get hit, so I began moving straight ahead and a little faster.”
She said she didn’t know what the bright light above her was, but a sense of joy right before impact came over her, like she was “going home with Jesus,” she said. Remembering that moment before impact would help her get through all the ensuing pain and frustration.
The blow was traumatic. She had a closed head injury, a cervical cord contusion, broken ribs, and a leg injury causing severe swelling. Her brain hemorrhaged and “liquid was coming out of my ears and nose,” she said.
Her husband believed she was kept alive for a greater purpose. So with her husband’s help, Gieseke in 2010 founded Minnesota Brain Injury Force. She provides knowledge and support to brain injury survivors and their family members. She serves hundreds of people in the southern part of her state. And she does it all as a volunteer, with all the donations she receives helping in some way the people she serves.
She says, “I don’t take any money out of this, but would love to get bigger donations in order to get my car fixed (which she uses for her organization). It needs a new engine. I’m happy with my 1995 Crown Victoria. It gets better gas mileage than many smaller cars.”
To raise the donations that help so many others, she has fundraisers and asks restaurants to have “tip” nights, in which donations go to Minnesota Brain Injury Force. She had more than 30 fundraisers this year. With the donations, she leads three support groups, brings in speakers for workshops, helps people one-on-one when dealing with government agencies or other concerns, and more.
To people with a traumatic brain injury, she said, “Never give up hope.”