Man unmasks brain injury, finds freedom again
Unmasking a brain injury hasn't been only thing on Jon Wocelka’s mind over the past five years. He’s also been focused on finding his independence again.
Mobility and independence are often taken for granted by most people, but Wocelka found out the hard way that they’re two things that can easily be taken away.
Wocelka, who grew up in Steele County, has been fighting to gain his independence ever since he nearly died after being hit by a car while walking along old U.S. Highway 14 on the edge of Owatonna on Oct. 20, 2013.
Wocelka wasn’t expected to survive and has waged an extraordinary comeback.
His path to recovery led him to Kasson where he lived in a group home for a couple years. Wocelka, 35, found his freedom just a few months ago when he moved in a new apartment in Rochester. The traumatic brain injury will likely be with him for the rest of his life, but he is able to live on his own and complete fundamental tasks like using a restroom, feeding himself and using utensils.
“I’m totally independent,” Wocelka proudly shared at a recent Celebrating Abilities 2018 in Rochester. The event was sponsored by Ability Building Center, the organization that has assisted Wocelka to regaining his life. “It’s a great blessing for me because I didn’t enjoy having a roommate as we didn’t see eye-to-eye,” he added.
Wocelka receives help from ABC two days every week for about two hours each time. ABC has also helped him with finding part-time employment.
He’s currently doing contract jobs in the medical labs at Mayo.
In addition to working outside his apartment, Wocelka is trying to obtain his GED by next spring. He also has his mind set on earning a marketing degree. “I know how to sell anything,” he said. “I’m lucky to be alive,” Wocelka says. “I flat-lined five times in Rochester.”
Though it hasn’t always been this way, Wocelka keeps going by maintaining a positive attitude. “I’m willing to adapt to everything that’s thrown at me,” he says. “I’m a bulldozer and trying to fight a river instead of going with the flow,” he added.
Stephanie Anders, who has been Wocelka’s case manager at ABC for the past four years, marvels at his achievements in recent time. “He is one of our success stories. Jon put in all the work,” she said.
While staying at the Kasson group home, Wocelka had “a lot of anger issues,” and he found himself very frustrated with life, according to Anders. He has worked on acceptance over the past few years. “Once you accept where you are, you can move forward,” Anders said. “Now he is thriving. He has learned to cope with his impulse control.”
As far as living with a brain injury, Wocelka thinks he is doing great. “There are some tough days, but I keep on fighting,” he said. “I have the drive to get up every day and the willingness to take the next step,” he added.
Wocelka, who is legally blind, utilizes an Orcam, a device that helps visually impaired people. The unit is strapped to his glasses and allows him to read books in four different languages.
“It’s like a cell phone,” Wocelka says. “When I put my cell phone in the pocket, I make sure to put on my camera,” he said. “It’s one of those things I get in the habit of every morning when I get up.”
The device has stimulated Wocelka’s interest in reading, which is something he struggled with since grade school. “I love to read now,” he said. “In elementary school they thought I had Dyslexia because I didn’t like to read,” he added.
Wocelka credits the accident with diagnosing his blindness. “The accident was one of the biggest blessings there was in my life,” he said.
The driving force in Wocelka’s life is his 12-year-old daughter, Trinity. He admitted without her, he wouldn’t have anything to fight for. “There must be
a reason why I’m still above ground,” Wocelka said. “If I didn’t have her, I would probably be under ground.”
He hopes to walk her down the aisle some day when she gets married. Going in hot pursuit of independence has paid off in a big way for Wocelka.