When Montana Highway Patrol Sgt. Sean Finley learned about the brain injuries Trooper Wade Palmer sustained earlier this year, he and the patrol decided to show their support in a different way.

Finley and other MHP officers will participate in this year’s Big Sky Challenge Hike to help raise money for the Brain Injury Alliance of Montana and show support for those who have traumatic brain injuries, or TBI.

Now Finley is encouraging members of the community to register with his team, called the Montana Highway Patrol Family, to help raise money that directly supports the alliance.

“We thought this would be a great way to show not only support for Trooper Palmer, who had a traumatic brain injury due to the violence that was used against him, but also to show our support for the community as well,” Finley said. “We wanted to show our support for everybody.”

The event, set for July 14 at Snowbowl Ski & Summer Resort, will feature four different types of hikes to help raise funds that will support the alliance and provide needed services for those living with brain injuries.

Palmer was shot in the neck, face and head on March 15 after locating the suspect involved in a shooting that injured two and killed one man earlier that same night in Missoula. After spending time in Salt Lake City to receive lifesaving care, he returned home in May.

“(Traumatic brain injury) affects everybody, and it affects quite a few members in the community,” Finley said. “Trooper Palmer’s injuries just brought it to the forefront for the Highway Patrol, for us here in Missoula, so we just wanted to do something to give back to the community.”

Because of budget cuts to the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services last year, many organizations and programs related to brain injury have struggled to provide services or have closed their doors. 

John Bigart III, executive director of the Brain Injury Alliance of Montana, said the organization lost about $100,000 in funding for its Brain Injury Help Line, the alliance’s largest program. 

However, last year’s hike had about 100 participants who helped raise about $30,000 to help keep the support line up and running. So far, about $11,700 has been raised this year, according to the event’s website.

“Brain injury can happen anytime, to anyone, anywhere, and they say that brain injury doesn’t have a face when it happens to you or someone that you know. It’s all too true,” Bigart said. 

Montana toggles between second and third in the nation per capita for brain injury related deaths, Bigart said, and traumatic brain injury rehabilitation facilities are crucial.

The alliance’s services are also necessary, with the help line providing one-on-one guidance for TBI patients and directing them to resources, therapy groups, rehabilitation facilities and literature. The organization also donates about 5,000 helmets each year through giveaways.

“If you shatter your leg and you go to the doctor, they typically have a pretty clear plan for treatment and what the recovery is going to look like,” Bigart said. “But unfortunately with the brain, because they can’t always see what’s happening, it can be a lot more difficult and just a lot harder to understand, so there are many different organizations and individuals involved with that recovery.”

Bigart said that during this year’s legislative session, there were a few bills that would have helped fund brain injury resources across the state, but they didn’t pass. In the meantime, he plans to continue raising funds through events like the Big Sky Challenge Hike. 

“Me being up there and causing a big storm, has initiated talk within the Department of Health and Human Services that they’re planning to potentially reinstate a smaller amount to help fund the Brain Injury Help Line,” Bigart said. “I’ll be meeting with them over the next few weeks.”

The event on July 14 includes four different loops ranging from .8 miles to 10 miles at Snowbowl Ski & Summer Resort, with a virtual reality loop for those who may not be able to hike. Participants can register on the event’s website.

Contact reporter Mari Hall via email at mari.hall@missoulacurrent.com.

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