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Live Life

Together, they founded a cause that endures.

Donna Walsh was probably destined to a life of service to others.

Together with her husband, Wally Walsh, they created a world where the challenges of traumatic brain injury were met with compassion, rigorous support and devotion to the idea that everyone deserved to live life to fullest extent of their ability.

Together, Donna and Wally Walsh sparked a collaboration between families of those with brain injuries to create the Washington State Head Injury Foundation in 1982. It would evolve into the Brain Injury Alliance of Washington.

Even now, years later Donna continues to support brain injury programs.

The origin came about in 1972 when Wally and Donna found themselves taking the reins of the Delta Rehabilitation Center in Snohomish. Wally suddenly found himself immersed in the healthcare business after spending most of his career as an executive in the lumber industry.

“The compassion was there; we felt it,” Donna said. “We, as a family, decided we would take over Delta Rehabilitation Center, a 138-bed nursing home.”

Wally and Donna along with their three sons worked had to create and better living environment for the residents of the nursing home. In 1975 the family suffered a traumatic event when middle son Mike was driving to Everett Community College and was involved in a totaled car accident causing his severe brain stem injury.

Wally and Donna soon discovered that support systems for people with brain injuries was incredibly scarce. As they navigated care options for Mike, they met other families in the same conundrum.

“Wally would consult and help these people any way he could,” Donna said. “We’d share information. We put out the first newsletter in the state out of our home. Our office was the dining room table. That’s where we helped people.”

The Foundation was born of these hand-in-hand encounters. The name was eventually changed to the Brain Injury Association and later the Brain Injury Alliance to more accurately define the organization’s efforts.

Wally and Donna brought Mike into their nursing home and eventually began bringing in other brain injury patients. Delta Rehab Center was changed to Snohomish Chalet, because, Wally had said: “Who wants to be in a rehabilitation center when we wanted to create a home?”

As part of the renovations to change a nursing home to a home for people living with brain trauma the facility rehabilitation room became the “Gymnasium.” The cafeteria became the “Hard Knocks Café.”

Eventually, they created a campground, with families of their brain injury guests pitching in to build camp shelters and benches and raised, wheelchair-accessible garden boxes so that the residents could each spend a week at the camp. Other activities include monthly socials and a summer festival open to all people with disabilities and the community.

Before Wally passed away in 2016 he became an active advocate for helmet laws and automobile seatbelts and talked about the dangers of shaken baby syndrome. The family’s Delta Foundation funded ways to assist families of brain injury victims and funded buying bicycle helmets for children.

Although Snohomish Chalet is now closed, Wally and Donna’s 40 plus years of brain trauma involvement live on through memories of the Chalet employees and all those individuals and families helped by their efforts.

“When you live a life, you don’t realize what’s important and what isn’t,” she said. “When you’re living it, this is the way it’s supposed to be.”

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