Fallbrook resident turns tragedy into opportunity

Kathleen Newhouse, survivor of a severe traumatic brain injury and Fallbrook resident, works on one of her paintings, with a completed one hanging behind her. Courtesy photo

FALLBROOK – Longtime Fallbrook resident Kathleen Newhouse is being hailed as a miracle survivor. She is known locally as Mrs. Newhouse and as the former owner of Fallbrook Martial Arts. She experienced a ruptured brain abscess while with her family in Mexico in 2006. The incident ravaged her brain and nearly cost her life.

Despite being given a less than five percent chance of survival and the likelihood of living in a vegetative state, Newhouse endured a decade-long journey and recovered.

Now considered a severe traumatic brain injury survivor, Newhouse has spent the past 11 years trying to regain much of what she had lost. A wife and mother of four, before her injury Newhouse was also an accomplished musician, athlete and local business owner. Unfortunately, the extensive damage to her brain left her unable to perform musically, compete in the world championships for Taekwondo or even master everyday tasks.

Since her injury, Newhouse has relearned to walk, talk, read and socialize all over again. She has discovered a talent for painting.

Although her interest in art started as therapy, Newhouse has since produced hundreds of oil on canvas pieces and has garnered much attention for her eclectic and somewhat ethereal style. Her work is now on display at the Brandon Gallery in Fallbrook.

While going through rehabilitation following her injury, Newhouse made a promise to herself to help others in her situation should she survive. After discovering her talent for painting, she decided to sell her artwork and use the funds to aid other brain injury survivors who may not have the same support system that she did.

“I knew that I would be okay because my husband and I were prepared for something like what happened to me,” Newhouse said. “We had good insurance and are financially set, but for those who aren’t, it is my greatest desire to help them. When in the rehabilitation hospital, I saw a lot of military STBI survivors and in many cases these people who fought for our country who had no support system. They are the most devastated by their injuries and in the most need of help. They will be in debt for a very long time because of it, which can be devastating for them and their families. It’s a tough road and it’s not just what happens to the patient, the survivor, if they can’t get help it doesn’t just stop when they get home from the hospital. It’s extended for the rest of their lives, which can be financially strapping.”

In June 2017, Newhouse and her husband Galen launched the Just A Breath Away Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization to increase awareness of severe traumatic brain injury and to raise funds to help survivors in need.

“I hope to bring awareness to STBI and to touch the lives of the individuals who are most affected by it,” Newhouse said. “The effects of STBI come in many forms, and I see it as my mission to help and enlighten others, not just the injured but their families, their support systems, and even the general public.

The name of the new nonprofit hits close to home for Newhouse.

“At one point, one of my doctors told me that I was just a breath away from death, and that statement really hit me,” Newhouse said. “In fact, it stayed with me throughout my recovery. I didn’t realize I was that close, and it took a while for the notion to sink in. I soon realized that it would make a great name for a foundation to help others who have been there themselves.”

Dedicated to raising awareness and leading fundraising efforts to benefit the STBI community, the foundation currently relies on the generosity of their Circle of Hope community and through the sale of Newhouse’s artwork. Newhouse is also in the process of documenting her journey by penning a book, “Streams of Thought from a Severe Traumatic Brain Injury Survivor,” which will be available in early 2018. All proceeds from the sale of the book will be donated to the STBI community.

“Through the sale of my paintings, plus other fundraising efforts, all funds are donated to help other STBI survivors in some way,” Newhouse said. “Perhaps we can help offset the cost of a new wheelchair or a feeding system or a procedure that needs to happen. There are a lot of things that are necessary to survive a STBI, but not everybody has a support system in place. That’s where we hope to step in and to make a big difference in many small ways.”

According to the Brain Injury Association of America, brain injury strikes 2.5 million people per year. That’s one injury every 12.6 seconds. Approximately 500,000 of those injuries require hospitalization, and close to 75,000 result in death. Between 70,000 and 90,000 survivors sustain injuries that are long-term or permanent. There are currently at least five million Americans living with disabilities resulting from brain injury.

Kathleen Newhouse, founder of a nonprofit to support severe traumatic brain injury survivors like herself, spends time with her dog Jackamo. Courtesy photo

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