NICHOLASVILLE, Ky. (LEX 18) — Antonio Reese was only nine years old in 2015 when a random gunman shot into his family’s car.
One of the bullets hit Antonio in the back of the head and left him with a traumatic brain injury (TBI).
“They didn’t think he was gonna make it past two days. He’s really just knocked things out of the park,” said Tara Murillo, Antonio’s mom. “It’s an invisible disability. It really is. People don’t take it seriously and it’s not out there the way it should be.”
Six years after the shooting, Antonio is adjusting to high school and surrounded by people who love and support him. The life-long effects caused by his brain injury, unfortunately, make some days really hard to get through.
“Every day is a light switch. I never know what this one day is going to bring or the other,” Murillo said. “It’s an invisible disability. It really is. People don’t take it seriously and it’s not out there the way it should be.”
March is National Traumatic Brain Injury Awareness Month. 2.8 million Americans suffer a TBI every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Falls are the leading cause of injury at 40%. TBIs caused by assault, like in Antonio’s situation, make up 10.7% of the cases.
A TBI can cause side effects like memory loss, balance issues, and depression.
Antonio also experiences seizures. In 2016, the Guardian Angels program paired Antonio with his service dog, Alice.
“We actually call her ‘Mamma Bear’ because I know that when I’m not around, he has his back,” Murillo said. “She’s saved his life multiple times. There’s no thinking of life without her. I couldn’t imagine it.”
The family is now pushing for more awareness about TBIs with the hopes of helping people understand life through Antonio’s eyes.
“There’s so much negativity and so much judgment that sometimes you need to sit back and think that somebody could be going through something you don’t understand and there could be a true underlying health issue that you can’t see. Not all disabilities are physical,” she said.
Murillo said above all, she wants people to remember to be patient.
“What happened to him is horrible, but Antonio is here for a reason. Maybe he’s here to get out awareness for brain injuries. Maybe he’s here so we can fight more,” she said.