'Hi I'm Blake': Local young man with TBI needs help spreading message of hope

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CHINA SPRING, Texas (KWTX) A local young man who survived a traumatic brain injury following a horrific gymnastics accident five years ago is asking for help in sharing his journey with others.

Blake Hyland's life was forever changed on Feb. 18, 2014.

"I remember nothing that happened," said Blake. "It has screwed up my memory a lot."

Age 14 at the time, Blake, a high-level floor gymnast, was attempting a front layout at a Waco area gymnastics facility when his head hit a piece of exposed concrete next to a foam pit.

"Our family is big jokesters, so I thought my husband was joking at the time," his mother Cindy remembers about getting the call Blake was hurt.

Cindy had just dropped Blake off and his dad Patrick was picking him up - his dad had come to inside to watch the practice when he saw a bunch of commotion.

"It had just happened when he (Pat) got there, Blake was still in the pit," she said. "It was a very emotional time."

An ambulance took her son to Baylor Scott & White Hospital for emergency surgery, luckily, Cindy says, the on-call neurosurgeon was ex-military.

"He had done lots of traumatic brain injuries which they don't normally do on children in Waco," she said. "We just put our faith in him and it was a miracle."

Blake was in a coma for six weeks and the outlook was grim.

"Doctors told us he had a 50-50 chance of surviving, and if he did, it would be in a nursing home on a ventilator," said Cindy. "We told the doctors 'we're walking out of here, Blake's walking out of here,' and they told us 'we hope you prove us wrong, but this is our diagnosis.'"

During the coma, the Hyland's made a point to say nothing negative in front of Blake, even putting a sign on his door that read "100% positivity."

"We thought we were going to lose him a couple of times," said Cindy.

Once out of the coma, Blake had to re-learn how to walk, talk, read, write...he'd essentially returned to infancy.

"After the accident I had to change him, I had to take him to the bathroom, I had to shower him," said Cindy. "All of that privacy of a 14-year-old-boy went away."

The Hylands relocated to Ronald McDonald House in Dallas so Blake could do round-the-clock therapy.

"He's lost his frontal lobe, so he didn't have that drive anymore, so therapists really had to push," said Cindy.

After about 16 months, the family returned to Waco for continued therapy.

They moved from McGregor to China Spring where they built a more disability-friendly home for Blake.

"The Waco community has really rallied around us since Blake's accident," said Cindy. "It's been great living here."

Now 20-years-old, Blake can walk with the help of a WalkAide due to his Dropped Foot, and although slower and different than before, he can read and write - in fact, Blake used to be right-handed but now he's ambidextrous.

"The stroke has affected his right side, so he had to learn how to use his left hand, but now he can write with both," said Cindy.

Although gymnastics is out and he still struggles with certain things, Blake continues to beat the odds: he even plays sports in a disability league.

"I can get around great and everything, I play football with the Challenger League and baseball, also, and soccer," said Blake.

The chance for an independent future for Blake also looks bright: he graduated from China Spring High School and is now enrolled as a communications student at McLennan Community College.

"I want to be a hospital chaplain, to just help people that are in the hospital know that God is looking out for them," said Blake.

Cindy says school is still a struggle because his short-term memory is bad, but they're in constant contact with his professors and refuse to quit fighting for Blake to have as normal a life as possible.

"When someone has a TBI, it doesn't just affect the person, it affects the whole family," said Cindy. "Our faith and Blake's faith I think got him through it, and we just didn't give up."

The family's determination has inspired a documentary about Blake's journey called 'Hi I'm Blake.'

"I just want to make sure people know how big of an epidemic traumatic brain injuries are having across America and even across the world," said Blake.

The Hylands have become champions for fighting for support for TBI legislation, therapies, and funding since Blake's accident.

"We want to bring awareness and help others know the challenges, what to expect, and what is available," said Cindy.

About four years in the making, the documentary has finished filming but is not yet complete: the production team has launched a campaign to help pay for the final edits and picture lock, motion graphics and titles, sound mix and design, color correction and online editing, insurance, music composition, festival fees, and more.

"Finishing a film with donated time and limited resources is challenging," says director and producer Jon Michael Simpson.

Simpson and his team have set a goal of $50,000 to help the documentary be distributed at a professional level so Blake's story can help touch as many lives as possible.

"Now that principal photography is complete we need to raise funds to finish this film to meet the technical standards required for distribution," said Simpson. "This will help make it possible for the Hyland's story to reach a wide audience."

Massage Envy, the massage chain Cindy brought to Waco three years ago, has pledged to match up to $25,000 in donations.

Blake says prayers are just as valuable as dollars.

"Thank you everybody for y'alls thoughts and prayers - they are working," said Blake.

One thing Blake has been praying for is to meet his idol: Ellen DeGeneres.

"He watches Ellen everyday!" said Cindy.

To help cope with his TBI, Blake often turns to humor and has started doing stand-up 'gigs' at various charity events and functions around the state.

"Where's the only place you cannot hide in a hospital? The ICU (eye-see-you)," Blake laughed.

Before his injury, Blake would/could do magic tricks and make balloon animals at parties (he even got a scholarship - which he had to give up because of his TBI - to a prestigious magic school on the East Coast).

While he's always been a 'people pleaser,' his mom says his post-TBI personality is bigger than before.

"Now it's non-stop, he can talk to anybody," Cindy says of his outgoingness. "He's also become obsessed with numbers."

The magic number they have for Blake? 25. That's their goal age for Blake to become independent.

"He wants to get married and have a family, live on his own," said Cindy.

To help make it happen, the Hylands continue to engage in various therapies: in two weeks, Cindy is taking Blake to do GyroStim therapy in Colorado Springs in hopes it will help improve his memory so he can continue to inspire others.

"I hope that people that have not even had a traumatic brain injury, that regular 'Joe from the street,' will have hope that he can get through something," said Blake.