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Family tragedy led to advocacy work

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By Sharon Graves

The News-Democrat

A trip to the family farm on Bucks Run Road 28 years ago changed the lives of many people, and continues to affect lives even today.

Jackie Hughes, then 25, was headed to the Ghent farm home of his mother, Clara Hughes, on March 10, 1981, to get a truck that belonged to his deceased father.

The roads were icy and his vehicle slid on cinders that had been spread, ironically, to help with traction.

The accident was nearly fatal; Hughes was ejected from the vehicle. Though the only visible injury was a scratch on one finger, he was diagnosed with a serious brain injury.

Hughes’ daughter, Jessica Hughes Embry, was 7 at the time of the accident. In a recent interview, she told how her life – along with her fathers – was forever changed that day, and molded as she watched her grandmother care for Jackie Hughes for years.

Clara Hughes took her son in after he left University Hospital and Frazier Rehabilitation Hospital in Louisville. She cared for him almost until his death 17 years later.

Embry said Clara got Jackie into a therapy program in Tennessee; she recalls watching while the  therapist worked with her father.

It was then she decided to pursue a career in occupational therapy. She earned a bachelor’s degree in that field and later earned a master’s degree in business. She works as a clinical evaluator for Center for the Comprehensive Services in Kentucky.

A Carrollton resident and wife of Carrollton Police Officer Daniel Embry, she also is a driving force behind the Northern Kentucky Traumatic Brain Injury Conference, which meets Friday, March 27, at the Northern Ky. Convention Center in Covington. The conference is for survivors of brain injuries, their caregivers and professionals who also care for them.

And this year, Embry is presenting a special award to one caregiver – the Clara B. Hughes award, named to honor Embry’s grandmother.

Embry believes Clara Hughes was the best advocate for Jackie, explaining that her grandmother worked tirelessly to find services for her son and get him into rehabilitation centers.

“She wrote legislators, she wrote the governor – whatever it took, she did it,” Embry said. “She never, ever gave up on him.”

Today, with the Internet, it’s very easy to find information for almost anything. But, in the 1980s, Clara struggled to find the information and help she felt her son needed, Embry said.

“She spent every penny she had on him. She was living on a fixed income and had nothing; but he went to every therapy there was,” Embry said. “She even had an above-ground pool built on the farm, and therapists would come and put him in the pool and work with him.”

Jackie never walked independently, and his speech was very slurred after the accident, Embry said. He was visually impaired and had absolutely no short-term memory.

While caring for her son, Clara also had Embry and her two stepsisters to care for every other weekend. 

“She was my hero,” Embry said.

While she was a student at Eastern Kentucky University, Embry said her grandmother was no longer able to care for Jackie and had to put him in a Madison, Ind., nursing home. He was 39.

Embry said she was devastated and cried as she toured the halls of the facility. She decided she would buy a house and take her father in once she graduated from college.

But before she could reach that goal, her father died in December 1998, at age 42. She said he stayed up late one night to eat popcorn and watch a University of Kentucky basketball game. He went to sleep and never woke up.

Though by that time elderly and frail, Clara Hughes comforted Embry through the grieving process, she said.

Clara Hughes died last year, but continues to influence her granddaughter every day, Embry said.

For information about the conference, call Embry at (502) 494-2868 or send an email to jessica.embry@thementornetwork.com. The event is free, but there will be a charge for the box lunch that will be served.

Conference information also is available at www.mentorabi.com; go to the events tab and select the March calendar.