Accident motivates Plymouth Meeting woman to give back

Marissa Witman is about to take a bike ride to nowhere.

At the Cyclebar in Plymouth Meeting she will hop on a bike and pedal to the sounds of EDM and current chart toppers. Her heart rate will rise and she will feel the burning sensation so familiar to those hate it and those who crave it.

Marissa Witman looks flawless on this Sunday morning. The type of beauty you see walking around Whole Foods in the afternoon with poker straight hair, dewy skin and a physique that makes you curse your draw in the genetic lottery.

We base so much on looks. What is easy to see is a bike that goes nowhere and a beautiful 27-year-old woman.

Our eyes look but our mind processes what we see. It’s why – I hope – we don’t base everything on looks. That unseen thing between our ears that tells us to look, ask and learn.

Marissa Witman looks like she could be the spokesperson for Cyclebar. Instead, she uses her spare to raise awareness about Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).

Last Sunday, she put together a cycling class benefitting the “Run, Walk, Roll for Brain Injury.” Camp Cranium and the Brain Injury Association of Pennsylvania partner for the event, which is held on April 21st at Tyler State Park.

Witman, a lifelong Plymouth Meeting resident, has been involved with both organizations, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and others. She credits each of them with their role in saving and shaping her life.

A life that was changed on Halloween in 2004.

A vehicle struck Witman, then fourteen-years-old, when she was crossing Joshua Road and Ridge Pike in Lafayette Hill. She was medevac’d to the University Pennsylvania Hospital where she received emergency brain surgery. She also broke six bones and sustained a collapsed right lung. She was then transferred to CHOP where she underwent extensive occupational, physical and speech therapy. Witman spent two months in the hospital before returning home.

“It gave me a path. It changed my path,” said Witman. “I had to grow up quickly. Because of that accident it’s why I am the person I am today. I want to be able to help people and get awareness out there for brain injury.”

According to the Center for Disease Control, in the United States, an estimated 1.7 million people sustain a TBI each year. Of them, 52,000 die, 275,000 are hospitalized and 1.365 million are treated and released from an emergency department. The CDC also reports that TBI is a contributing factor to a third of all injury related deaths in the country. Seventy-five percent of TBIs that occur each year are concussions or other forms of Mild Traumatic Brain Injury. Children 0-4, older adolescents 15-19, and adults over 65 are most likely to sustain a TBI

Camp Cranium’s Assistant Director Heather Ruthrauff says those with TBI run the gambit from those significantly affected to someone like Witman. Run the gambit from those significantly effected to someone like Marissa.

“It’s all about education and getting ourselves out there. TBI can be in many different forms. We all need to support them within the community,” said Ruthrauff.

Camp Cranium is a camp for children with acquired or sustained brain injuries. The weeklong camp in the Poconos features zip lining, rock climbing and dances.

Witman was a camper, counselor and is now a cabin leader along with co-chairing the race for the past three years. She shares her story and serves as a mentor across the Philadelphia area while working as a teachers aid in the Wissahickon School District. Her goal is to finish school and become an occupational therapist.

“They helped me become the person I am,” Witman says about the various hospitals and organizations that have aided in recovery. “They helped me get better. All I want to do is help people get better to.”

“She’s fantastic,” commented Ruthrauff. “I listen to her and it makes me tear up.

To see her grow and develop and do what she wants in life…. to really turn it around after a TBI is just the values we are looking for and what we strive to do for our kids at Camp Cranium. It’s inspiring.”

At first look, it’s obvious Witman wants to show gratitude to the community that saved her and share her story to those who those who suffered from TBI.

But after a few minutes, it goes deeper. It’s not just about people with first-hand experience with TBI. Witman is serious about prevention. Her eyes narrow like she and her words are backed with not just facts, but feelings. She wants you to know how important it is to take care of your brain – whether you are playing sports or fall off a bike.

“It can happen from anything,” said Witman. “Be aware of it. Take it seriously. Take care of yourself. Be careful. Your brain is so precious and delicate.”