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The hamburgers were sizzling on the grill. The gardens and patio were festively decorated in red, white and blue. And the rock guitarist had the crowd fired up; but no one more than Brandon Mengel, sitting in his wheelchair, front and center, at the annual All-American picnic. Life, for this 35-year-old resident at the Good Shepherd Home — Bethlehem, is anything but dull, and Brandon grabs it all with gusto.

Twenty years ago, Brandon suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) in a car accident. He lived at home with his mother, Thelma Keller, and stepfather, Greg, until December 2017 when it became apparent he needed a higher level of care.

“When Brandon was home, I took care of all his needs,” says Thelma. “But I had it in the back of my mind that Brandon would always need someone (else). They really do take care of him at the Bethlehem home.”

At first, Thelma was worried about Brandon’s transition to long-term care. But her concerns vanished when she realized how quickly Brandon fit in at the Bethlehem home. Brandon found a place that provided not only the specialized long-term care he needs, but also enriching activities and plenty of friends among staff and residents alike.

Brandon’s outgoing spirit makes him a people person at heart. “Brandon seems like he’s found his niche,” says Thelma. “He’s doing really well, and I’m really pleased. Being in a wheelchair has not made him depressed.”

Brandon gets regular haircuts, dental visits and eye exams right in the Bethlehem home. He enjoys visits home with his family throughout the year. One of his favorite activities is attending cross-country and track meets coached by his stepfather. Brandon also loves going to baseball and hockey games accompanied by Good Shepherd staff. One year, he was treated to a tour of the Christmas light displays around town.

The COVID-19 pandemic has curtailed group activities, outings and family visits, but Good Shepherd staff has developed creative ways for Brandon and the other residents to remain active and engaged. Brandon loves making birdhouses, feeding the birds and staying connected with his family virtually.

“Brandon’s social worker, Anna Maria Gialias, goes out of her way to help Brandon with Skype,” says Thelma, referring to the visual phone calls that connect Brandon with his parents.

Anna Maria has been instrumental in helping Brandon live his most enriching life in long-term care. Brandon is a member of Helping Hearts, a community outreach group he also named. He told Anna Maria, “We may not be able to use our hands, but we can always use our hearts to help.”

As a Helping Hearts volunteer, Brandon has enjoyed participating in two food drives, creating birthday baskets for other residents, writing letters to veterans thanking them for their service, making toys for shelter dogs and creating fall decorations for residents’ doors to bring a sense of community. “I also helped Brandon purchase chickens and bees for a charity program to assist individuals in other countries,” says Anna Maria. “He has a kind soul and generous spirit.”

In keeping with COVID-19 safety measures, Helping Hearts members have not been able to meet as a group and adapted their activities accordingly. Thelma admits she worried about Brandon feeling alone during the pandemic since he can’t have visitors. But during a recent Skype call, Brandon told Thelma he likes it “right where he is” at the Bethlehem home.

Brandon will always be a people person at heart. “I don’t know if there’s anyone he doesn’t like,” says Thelma. “He’s in the right place. We’ve been praying for Brandon all this time, praying for his healing. It’s been a long road, and we’ll keep praying.”  

“We may not be able to use our hands, but we can always use our hearts to help,” says Brandon.

To support expert and compassionate long-term care for the residents at the Good Shepherd Homes, visit goodshepherdrehab.org/donate or contact the Development Office at 610-778-1075.