Mom creates foundation in son’s honor to spread awareness, research traumatic brain injuries

ROWAN COUNTY, N.C. — “Mother’s Day morning he texted me ‘Happy Mother’s Day’ and he told me he loved me. So I’m glad I got that text.”

They’re the words every parent wants to hear, words Nichole Steadman holds tight -- along with memories of happier days with her son, Jace.

In December 2020, the West Rowan High School graduate was in a terrible car crash with friends. One of them died. Jace suffered a traumatic brain injury.

“They told me he had so many brain bleeds they didn’t even bother trying to count them,” Steadman said.

Steadman told Channel 9′s Elsa Gillis that Jace was put in a medically induced coma, then spent days in the ICU, two weeks in a rehabilitation center, and had three months of recovery at home.

“It progressively got better as far as how he was able to function,” Steadman said. “They made sure he knew how to wash and dry a dish, they made sure he knew how to throw a ball, but there was never any mental health aspect through any of that.”

She said he was never the same.

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“He was very short-tempered. It seems like his lust for life, the light went out a little bit -- actually, a lot,” Steadman said. “And it just kind of seemed to get darker and darker as time went on.”

About three months before he passed away, she said he started expressing that he was having suicidal thoughts. That was more than a year after his accident. She said she had urged Jace to seek help and he eventually obliged.

But then, the unimaginable happened on Mother’s Day 2022 -- Jace took his own life.

Now, Steadman is on a mission -- through the Jace Landon TBI Aftercare Awareness Foundation -- to fund research and support families suffering from traumatic brain injuries.

“I didn’t have the answers and as his mom, I wanted to have the answers. I wanted to sit him down and fix it,” she said. “And I didn’t have those means to fix him, or eventually save him. But somebody out there did, somebody out there does. And I want to make sure of that before this happens to somebody else.”

Aftercare can be challenging for patients and their family members, according to psychiatrist Dr. Kris Ruangchotvit with Novant Health. He works with some TBI patients but has no connection to Jace’s case.

“The challenge is, you know, yes, we could do everything now just to kind of take care of them acutely, but once they’re discharged and they go home and go back to, you know, work or family life...that everyday living again, you know, it’s the patient who’s kind of challenged with trying to adapt themselves to this new kind of new baseline,” he said. “And also the family members.”

He told Channel 9 he can’t directly tie TBI and suicide, but said, “There’s definitely a connection between TBI, or traumatic brain injury, and mental health, illness, and overall wellbeing.”

He also shared that it can be a challenge to get mental health care.

“With or without a traumatic brain injury, it’s very challenging for patients to really get access to care,” Dr. Ruangchotvit said. “And not only do we really have to think of the patients, but also the families as well, too. Because as much as the patient is suffering, some family members are really trying to do what they can to help support individuals with the brain injury.”

Dr. Ruangchotvit says every case is different and it depends on the injury, but there is hope for improvement, with resources and support.

It’s that hope Nichole Steadman wants to give to other families, in honor of Jace.

“Oh my gosh he was so funny, he was life of the party, he never met a stranger, even as a baby. He loved everybody and everybody took to him,” Steadman shared with a smile. “He’s my beautiful baby.”

Dr. Ruangchotvit shared the following resources for those in need of help:

  • Dialing “988″ connects you to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. It’s available 24 hours a day for mental health crisis support.
  • MSKTC, or Model Systems Knowledge Translation Center, is a national center with support and resources for those dealing with a traumatic brain injury.

Channel 9 has a list of resources dedicated to breaking down the stigma that surrounds mental health and offering real solutions. We hope to make it easier to find help by breaking down what is available to you, county-by-county. Click here for more.

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