Ridgefielder's childhood spine surgery inspires Eagle Scout project

RIDGEFIELD — The story behind Ben Rosenbaum’s Eagle Scout project begins 15 years ago.

At 14 months old, he hadn’t yet attempted to crawl, which alerted his parents that something might be wrong. An MRI scan at Tufts Medical Center in Boston revealed a thumb-sized pocket of fluid known as a syrinx cyst was compressing the nerves in young Ben’s spinal cord.

The Rosenbaums went to Boston Children’s Hospital to get a second opinion from Dr. Mark Proctor, who recommended Dr. Carl Heilman, who diagnosed Ben, perform the surgery.

“It was 100 percent successful,” Ben said.

The cyst’s removal gave Ben his full function, years later enabling him to hike and camp with Scout Troop 116 in Ridgefield. Those simple activities wouldn’t have been possible without the help of the neurosurgeons, he said, so when it came time to pick his Eagle Scout project, he knew what to choose.

“I wanted to raise awareness for traumatic injury and how to prevent it,” Ben said. “Because of that unique opportunity, I have the opportunity to (present) a unique project that hopefully ... (other) Scouts can learn (from).”

On June 19, Ben hosted an educational event at the Ridgefield Recreation Center in conjunction with a local chapter of the ThinkFirst Foundation. Its mission is to prevent brain, spinal cord and other traumatic injuries through education, research and advocacy.

“The whole purpose and point of ThinkFirst is to engage the youth and prevent these injuries from happening,” ThinkFirst program coordinator Megan Palmer said. “We reached out to our Voices for Injury Prevention (VIPs), which are people who have had a brain or spinal cord injury and tell their stories and how it’s affected their life.”

The presentation featured testimony from ThinkFirst VIP Courtney Beckwith, who at 19 was involved in a single-car accident after drinking and driving and crashing into a farmstand. The impact was so severe that first responders had to use Jaws of Life to free Beckwith from her vehicle, Palmer said.

Beckwith underwent rehabilitation at Gaylord Specialty Care in Wallingford, where Palmer cared for her as an occupational therapist.

“When she came to us she was like a rag doll,” Palmer recalled. “It took a long time to get her back home.”

In the seven years since Beckwith’s injury, she has become “an amazing advocate” for ThinkFirst, Palmer said. She believes when people hear these stories, it can be a powerful tool in preventing future traumatic accidents.

“People who have been through trauma and came out the other side can provide others a push in the right direction,” she said. “Their message can help them think in that moment and choose the right thing.”

At the event, which was attended by 80 people, Proctor spoke about traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries from the medical standpoint. Guests were invited to visit “information stations” that offered tips and facts about diving in safe areas, distracted and drunken driving and using helmets while playing sports.

Ben’s father, Ari Rosenbaum, said he was proud of his son for making the best of a bad situation.

“These two bad things happened to two really remarkable people, (but they chose) to turn it into a positive for others,” he said.

As a result of Ben’s advocacy efforts, individual donors came together to pen a $5,000 check benefitting ThinkFirst.

“It means so much to me that I’m making an impact,” Ben said.