Local disabled couple gets engaged at fundraiser

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published May 31, 2017

 Brad Jones proposes to his girlfriend, Amanda Spens, May 13 at a fundraiser at VFW Post 6691 in Fraser.

Brad Jones proposes to his girlfriend, Amanda Spens, May 13 at a fundraiser at VFW Post 6691 in Fraser.

Photo provided by Donna Jones

FRASER — The past decade has been a roller coaster for Brad Jones.

After graduating from Fraser High School in 2002 with a 3.8 GPA, Jones attended Oakland University to play baseball while continuing his studies.

He was redshirted his first year with the team, which means he didn’t travel with his teammates, though he did attend all home games and cheer them on. He also made the dean’s list.

But according to his mother, Donna Jones, when he came home in the summer of 2003, “That’s when life changed.”

Brad and his friends attended a 19th birthday celebration in Canada, and after returning to metro Detroit, one of Brad’s friends decided to drive while intoxicated.

What followed changed Brad’s life forever. The drunken driver, about a block away from home near 15 Mile and Garfield roads, floored the vehicle to 70 mph, hit a parked car, lost control and flew sideways into a house. Brad was on the passenger side — the same side that struck the home.

Donna said it took “the jaws of life” to pry her son from the vehicle — all while the driver walked away unscathed. Brad suffered head trauma, in the form of brain bleeding, as well as swelling and a blood clot that needed immediate removal.

Doctors gave Brad a 1 percent chance to survive. Even after surgery was performed, Donna was told that her son would be a “vegetable.” After being in a coma for three months, what Donna described as a miracle occurred: A nun at one of Brad’s hospitals suggested putting a healing blanket underneath Brad, and the very next morning Brad spoke for the first time.

“To me, that was a miracle itself, that God was with us at that time and I never gave up hope,” Donna said.

Brad’s rehabilitation officially began. He went through many therapy sessions, and he had to relearn everything — how to eat, how to drink, how to use the bathroom and how to walk. He was in a wheelchair for about five years, and then he transferred to a walker after taking his first steps.

Now, he is adjusting to using a cane.

Brad, 33, who admits he had anger toward his drunk-driving friend, said that starting over was like the equivalent of being a newborn baby.

“It was very hard,” Brad said. “I felt helpless. … I’m just glad that friends and family stayed by my side. (The driver) vanished from the earth.”

His friends didn’t disappear, though. They visited Brad at the hospital just about every day. He also gained a new friend too.

In January 2016, through the Disability Network of Michigan, Brad met 24-year-old Amanda Spens. She was born with a twin sister who died during birth, with complications of the death leading to her own stroke.

Spens has gone through her own therapy sessions. She was born with a partial case of cerebral palsy, a speech impairment and right-side paralysis. Her tongue is similarly paralyzed, which makes it difficult for her to speak.

Brad said the two developed a quick rapport, especially in their mutual affinity for the Detroit Tigers.

At a May 13 fundraiser for the disabled at Fraser’s WVF Post 6691, Brad — who works two jobs and saved up to buy an engagement ring — popped the question to his girlfriend. Spens, who said “yes,” was completely shocked.

“I wanted everyone to witness this special event because family and friends have stuck with me,” Brad said.

That fundraiser was put on by Compass Creations Inc., a nonprofit 501(c)(3) that aids the brain-injured and multifarious-disabled community.

Sally Urbaniak, founder and director of Compass Creations, is a certified brain injury specialist who has also possesses an associate’s degree in business management and nearly five years’ experience in behavior intervention.

She took care of her mother — a brain injury survivor — for many years. After an accident in the 1970s, her mother became reclusive and attached to pain medication. It wasn’t until the later years of her life when she felt an “awakening,” in which she enjoyed socialization and an increased cognitive ability.

Family and friends have a hard time dealing with the disabled, she said, because everyone knows that life is forever changed.

“When I talk to other survivors, they say that when they can be with their own people, they are comfortable and don’t have to be afraid of what to say,” Urbaniak said. “It’s amazing what social activity does for people.”

She used to work with Brad through her behavior intervention specialty, knowing him and Donna since 2007. Brad was still in a wheelchair at the time.

Social activity spurred brain activity in Brad, she found, and he regained a sense of humor, he didn’t feel sorry for himself, and he offered people everything he could. He came a long way from a previous outlook that saw his life as marginalized and possibly institutionalized.

“(Brad is) just a remarkable person,” she said. “His perseverance is unlike a lot of people. … He is truly what I call a poster guy for brain injuries.”

Some people would give up in such situations, but both Brad and Spens have fought through their own conditions together. Donna Jones knows her only child’s journey is a blessing.

“It made me feel that I know God has a plan for Brad, and Brad always said, ‘All of my friends are getting married and having kids. I don’t know if there’s anyone special out there for me.’ I said, you never know God’s timing,” Donna said. “It’s very sentimental for me because I want Brad to live a life like he should have lived, being normal.

“It’s just different right now for him, but it’s still a life for him and I couldn’t be any happier.”

Compass Creations will hold fundraisers on June 10 and Oct. 20 in Howell, near Urbaniak’s home in Pinckney. More information can be found at compasscreationsinc.com and compassadventuresdsca.com.