RIVERDALE — Braydon Thompson was picked up by a tornado in September and thrown to the pavement, striking his head. His life has been in a tailspin ever since.
For the better part of the last eight months, the Riverdale 18-year-old has exhibited symptoms of PTSD, anxiety, memory loss, nightmares and a host of other mental health issues. Whenever the wind blows hard, it rains or dark clouds gather on the horizon, his family says, Thompson becomes anxious.
Each time the PTSD symptoms come on, Thompson usually begins stuttering, or stops talking altogether. He often repeatedly counts up and down from three (“Three, two, one; one, two, three …”).
He’ll sometimes crawl into the bathtub, pulling a blanket over him.
On the afternoon of Sept. 22, 2016, Thompson and some of his Army Ranger classmates from the Utah Military Academy went out for a run through Riverdale. On their way back, it began to get windy, debris started pelting them and dust started to swirl.
“I was at the back helping some of the slower runners and the wind picked me up 10 to 15 feet and knocked me to the pavement,” Thompson recalls. He landed on his head and back.
A buddy pulled him to a nearby tree, where the group took shelter. When the tree started to come up by the roots, they all made a dash for a nearby fabric store and sheltered there until the storm passed.
Within a couple of days Thompson started experiencing memory loss, according to his mother, Brandy Mata. Thompson doesn’t remember people, places, dates — even his own birthday escapes him. He’s 18, and yet Mata is afraid to leave him home alone in their Riverdale trailer.
“Basically put, he is severely mentally impaired,” Mata explains, adding that his neuropsychologist says it’s shocking he’s actually walking.
Mata became so worried her son might wander off that she installed security cameras inside their home and alarms on the doors — not to keep intruders out, but to keep Thompson in.
“It’s hard to watch him go through his PTSD episodes,” Mata said. “It’s hard to have him look at me and not know me.”
Thompson has been to all sorts of doctors for neuropsychological examinations and brain scans.
He was initially diagnosed with a concussion, a form of traumatic brain injury. A neuropsychological evaluation conducted in December found he meets the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders diagnoses for major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Mata just wants her son back. She says he used to be a focused young man, attending the nearby Utah Military Academy and hoping to eventually become a Navy SEAL.
These days, when he’s not in classes at Bonneville High School — where he transferred after his head injury — Thompson sits at home playing video games and watching the dogs. He laments the fact he can’t do what normal teenagers do, and fears he won’t graduate from high school or be able to pursue a military career.
Thompson says he even has difficulty playing his favorite video games. He says he loves the Halo series because the games have the most intricate storyline, but he has a hard time remembering the narrative.
“I forget, and have to write things down in ‘Halo,’” he says.
Thompson also has to take extensive notes at school, as he says he doesn’t remember most things for very long. Mata says the high school has been wonderful to work with; they’ve tailored a lesson plan to her son’s disabilities.
“The counselor and principal there have been amazing,” Mata said. “They’ve been really helpful. We know he’s not going to graduate, so this is just to socialize him. Graduation is off the table right now.”
But Larry Hadley, the principal at Bonneville, said he’s not willing to concede that point just yet. The school’s mission is to see every student graduate, and counselors are working on an academic plan for Thompson. While there may be some limitations in this case, Hadley hasn’t ruled out a cap and gown in Thompson’s future.
“We don’t want to put that roadblock up for him at this point,” he said.
Tiffany Nelson, Mata’s sister, says her nephew’s injury is heartbreaking.
“He’s 18, and when it’s storming he sleeps in his mom’s bed,” the Washington Terrace woman said.
Nelson says Thompson can’t even go on walks by himself anymore. She says he used to spend a lot of time walking the Weber River Parkway alone, but now he has to have someone with him or he gets lost.
Nelson also says Thompson’s accident has taken a toll on the family. Mata has separated from her husband since the accident, and she admits her son’s injury played a part in that.
“He (Mata’s husband) actually has made comments that Braydon is faking it, and that he’s not really sick,” Nelson said. “But the thing is, he hasn’t been there when Braydon’s had an attack.”
Indeed, Nelson says more than one person has approached the family and made the claim that Thompson isn’t really injured. Mata invites these disbelievers: “Come and spend the day with us. You will change your opinion.”
Like any mother, Mata says she only wants what’s best for her son.
“I just want him to be a normal 18-year-old kid, but he’s not going to be able to do that,” Mata said. “But I do want him to have some kind of life.”
To that end, Mata has started a GoFundMe page for her son to get him a service dog. The dog would be able to keep Thompson from getting lost, offer comfort during PTSD episides, and remind him to take his medications. Thompson is currently on three prescription medicines — one for depression, one for anxiety, and one to help him sleep.
The family believes a service dog will give the 18-year-old some freedom and purpose.
“His whole life has been taken from him,” said his grandmother, Talea Shadowind, of Washington Terrace. “That’s why we started the GoFundMe page.”
Shadowind says her grandson feels like he’s a burden. But if he had a service dog, she believes he could have more freedom and independence. He wouldn’t have to be watched “every minute of every day.”
Also, the dog could carry Thompson’s medicine and a medical alert in a pouch, according to Mata.
Thus far, the “Braydon Needs a Service Dog” GoFundMe page has raised $2,875 toward its $5,000 goal.
On a recent stormy night, Thompson had a difficult time sleeping. Which means Mata couldn’t sleep. Eventually, Thompson ended up sleeping in the bathtub, covered in blankets.
“It’s just exhausting,” Mata said of this new life that’s going on eight months now. “It’s a ponytail day today. I haven’t bought makeup in six months. It’s just my life now. I don’t sleep at all.”