Three years ago, fifth-grader Meredith Casey hit her head. She had no way of knowing that her accident would launch her into starting her own nonprofit to give back to the medical community, raise awareness of traumatic brain injuries, and promote kind acts everywhere—all while still attending middle school.
Now, the 14-year-old shares what inspires her mission, how others can help, and why International Women’s Day can encourage young girls everywhere to make a difference. Meet the face of the next changemaker generation.
I hit my head on a granite countertop on December 15, 2015, while picking up my science homework from the kitchen floor. There was no bruising or bleeding, but rather an immediate onset of headaches. After visiting the school nurse, it was determined I most likely had a concussion. Over the course of three more months, my health deteriorated significantly with no known cause. Activities were stripped away, school days were reduced, and homework was no longer an option, yet my health continued to worsen. It wasn’t until one of my doctors recommended to remove my braces that my growing medical team could see a blood clot had formed in my brain, also known as a sagittal sinus thrombosis.
I was first hospitalized in April through June 2016 to address the blot clot and pain management, missing out on my last year of the fifth grade. During this time, I also had a myriad of other medical conditions that came with the blood clot. I was under the care of several different types of doctors that each addressed a different medical condition that included a neurologist, hematologist, ophthalmologist, otolaryngologist, interventional radiologist, psychologist, and pain management. I also attended physical therapy two to three times a week, participated in alternative treatment options like acupuncture, had a tutor, and managed by the grace of God to get to the sixth grade.
Over the course of the last few years, the blood clot went away but left me with some residual medical “benefits” that require long term medical care. Let’s just say, my medical journey is not over, but I am learning how to manage it and make the best of my new normal.
What inspired you to start the Mighty Meredith Project? What is the mission?
I can no longer participate in contact sports or activities that have a high likelihood of brain injury. Both at Tufts and The Brain Injury Center at Boston Children’s Hospital, I was encouraged to get involved with something that would help replace what I had lost to help with the associated psychological impact. One of my doctors learned that I donated my birthday gifts and had a bake sale with my two best friends to raise money to purchase gift cards for the Hematology Clinic at Tufts. He advised me to “take that and run with it!” After months of discussing the purpose and potential charitable offerings with my parents and getting them on board, I decided I wanted to start a nonprofit organization built around my experiences in suffering from a TBI. The mission for the Mighty Meredith Project is simple:
The hope for the MMP is to bring a bit of hope, joy, and education to as many people as we can.
To me, kindness is not something big or overdone, but rather small things that can really make a difference in someone’s day. It is a nod, a gesture, a hello, a card, a note, or any single act that has an impact. The kindness pledge is a way to get someone to think about their actions, write it down and commit to doing it. In 2018, we held a Kindness Day at my middle school where I introduced the kindness pledge and everyone had to write down one or two things they would do to make the school community a kinder and gentler place.
Another kindness initiative is that I send notes of encouragement to those who may be suffering in silence. Anyone can go to our website to send a note of kindness to someone who may be suffering in silence for any reason and could benefit from an act of kindness from the Mighty Meredith Project. Upon receipt, we will send a note and a small gesture of kindness to the suggested individual. I have received requests from as far away as California and as close as my own community of North Reading. I let them know I know what it is like to have a hidden injury or brain injury and that they are not alone. I try to find out through the requestor something that they like and send a token gift.
We also offer a kindness scholarship to a graduating senior in my hometown who has made kindness a part of their character. I am currently in the process of working on a children’s book about kindness and the impact of having a hidden injury, such as a TBI.
Giving back to the medical community became a core objective of the Mighty Meredith Project based on personal experiences. This is driven by the care I have personally received across hospitals, physicians, nurses, and child life specialists. As an inpatient for longer hospital stays and an outpatient for many of my procedures, I have personally benefited from the generosity of a stranger’s donations during difficult visits and hospitalizations. I wanted to help bring joy to those who may be in a similar situation by giving back to hospitals where I have and continue to receive treatment.
“Fill the Box” is a program that benefits patients and families at the Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center and Boston Children’s Hospital. This year, our focus expanded and included families who have fallen on hard times due to the cost of medical care and need assistance with the purchase of gifts during Christmas, children hospitalized or receiving treatment in Neurology Clinic and the Neuroscience Floor at Tufts, the Child Life department at the Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts with a targeted focus on clinics where I have personally received treatment and areas that have the greatest need, and the Boston Children’s Hospital Neuroscience Floor – 9NW Child Life Group with focus on teenage population. Our latest campaign donated over 1,000 toys, personal care items, and gift cards with a value of over $15,000 as a direct result of private donations and funding from our organization. Having been on the receiving end many times from the donations of people I will never know, I can tell you how important this is to the patient and family.
“Helmets for Heads” is a program we started after an appointment with my neurologist at Tufts as we were just getting started. He had explained to us one of the biggest reasons why kids experience head injuries and brain trauma is due to bike accidents when they were not wearing a bike helmet. In 2018, we launched the first “Helmets for Heads” bike helmet collection during the month of March, which is also Traumatic Brain Injury Awareness Month. Together with donations from our surrounding communities of Reading and North Reading and our fundraising efforts, we were able to collect 75 helmets and purchase an additional 200 that were donated to the Neurology Department at Tufts and local pediatricians. We also used them as promotions at each town day we attended throughout the year to promote education and awareness of TBIs.
We’re not doctors or medical practitioners, so we’re not creating any new material that doesn’t already exist today. However, when first diagnosed as a family, we found it hard to dig through all of the material that was available. Therefore, I wanted to provide an easy way for people to access information in one spot. On our website, we provide a simple list of places to seek online information on the topic of TBIs and concussions. We also started an annual speaker series to bring information and awareness to our local community. In 2019, we are partnering with Tufts in bringing education and awareness to medical providers and will be sponsoring medical research on the topic of TBIs.
One of the most important aspects of education and awareness of TBIs is sharing the fact that they are the ultimate hidden injury. You just cannot see what is going on inside of someone’s brain like you can when someone breaks a leg or arm. Their cast is visible and what goes on in the brain is invisible other than the symptoms, which in many cases are doubted. When I was first diagnosed with a concussion, there were very few people who believed that I did not feel well. I worked hard to feel normal but that took a huge toll. If I can educate one person, one teacher, one friend to look beyond what you see on the outside of someone suffering from a concussion or brain injury, I feel as though we are making progress.
International Women’s Day signifies the importance of women and the roles we play in society today. International Women’s Day honors those women who have stood up for what they believe, and who have made a difference in this world we live in. It recognizes those who have accomplished social, economic, cultural, and political achievements. Whether those accomplishments are big or small, we, one by one, step by step are changing this world to be a better place a day at a time. This is the day that women are recognized for trying to make the world that you and I live in every day, a better place. This is the day that I am honored to say that I have been recognized for a charity I started after having suffered a traumatic brain injury for the past three years and hopefully making a difference in someone’s life.
Primark is celebrating International Women’s Day all month long with four female leaders who are changing Boston for the better. You can inspire your own style with pieces from Meredith’s wardrobe at three nearby Primark locations: Downtown Crossing, South Shore Braintree, and Burlington.
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