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Hinds’ Feet Farm: Out of Tragedy, Triumph

Philip Lance Van Every Foil was one of those special young men you hear about from time to time. A brilliant student, a gifted musician. His middle names indicated he came from two of Charlotte, N.C.’s most distinguished families. His namesake, Philip Lance Van Every, took over as president of Lance Foods in 1943 and turned it into a food industry powerhouse. Especially in the South, Lance Snack Foods are household names with products such as ToastChee and Cape Cod Potato Chips.

With a pedigree like that, Phil Foil was the kind of guy you might envy, except that he was also so nice. His great grades were the result of intelligence, but also of hard work. His brother, Marty Foil, said he would do SAT math problems “just for fun.”  He would tutor fellow students for spending money. Everyone who knew him thought he was a young man on the rise.

But life changed for 16-year-old Phil Foil on Dec. 12, 1984. He was a new driver, having earned his license just a month before. But it wasn’t Phil’s inexperience that caused the accident. According to news reports, “an 80-year-old driver on a restricted license crossed the center line toward Phil’s car. Phil swerved away from the oncoming vehicle, hitting a guardrail on his side of the road, but the old man’s car kept coming. It hit Phil’s car full-force.” The accident left Phil in a coma for four months, and with a traumatic brain injury he would deal with for the rest of his life.

Today, traumatic brain injury (TBI) gets a lot of attention. Sports stories about NFL players with concussions and soldiers returning from war zones have brought TBI to the national consciousness. But in 1984, care options for someone in Phil Foil’s position were limited.

But Phil’s parents, Martin Foil and the late Carolyn “Puddin’” Van Every Foil, were not the kind of people to just let things happen. They made things happen. They became advocates for their son, and for others with TBI. Martin Foil became the treasurer of the North Carolina Brain Injury Association, and his activism eventually put him on a national stage. He served for 10 years as chairman of the Brain Injury Association of the United States. In 1995, Phil, Martin, and Puddin Foil joined another brain injury survivor, Reagan Press Secretary James Brady, at the White House to watch Bill Clinton sign into law a bill to provide federal assistance to those with TBI. Martin Foil’s activism pushed the Veteran’s Administration to create the first veteran brain injury center at Walter Reed Hospital. Today, PTSD and TBI centers operate at 22 locations in the VA system.

Still, the options for TBI survivors like Phil Foil, especially those who don’t have such dynamic families, remained limited. That’s why — after spending several years looking for options in their native North Carolina, but also in Atlanta, Houston, and elsewhere — the family founded Hinds’ Feet Farm in Huntersville, N.C. Hinds’ Feet Farm began small, with just a few buildings that became the home of a day program for Phil and a few other families in the area the Foils knew through their work in the TBI community.

Today, Martin and Puddin’s son Marty Foil – Phil’s older brother – runs the 32-acre facility, and under his leadership it has grown from a place that would provide care for Phil and a few others to a fully certified residential facility. It has six beds at its suburban Charlotte facility. (The entire state of North Carolina has only 30 beds at certified facilities.) In addition, Hinds’ Feet Farm runs day programs in Charlotte and Asheville. The two facilities serve about 60 people every day.

The name of the farm comes from Habakkuk 3;19: “The Lord God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and he will make me to walk upon high places.” The verse reflects Puddin Foil’s conviction that everyone, even those with disability, should “maximize their potential — to reach high places,” and that they deserved to live and grow in a safe and nurturing place.

An important and growing part of Hinds’ Feet Farm is its Unmasking Brain Injury Project. According to Marty Foil, it began as a “simple art therapy project with 20 masks, it has grown, expanded and is active in 28 states, 3 provinces in Canada, Argentina, Costa Rica and Puerto Rico. Thousands upon thousands of brain injury survivors have created masks to share and tell their stories, and these masks have been displayed in thousands of venues and viewed by untold thousands of normal everyday folks. Newspaper articles, TV news spots, YouTube videos, social media – you name it. Thousands upon thousands of people have been reached, educated about the consequences of brain injury and their lives have been enriched as a result.”

So, the work of Hinds’ Feet Farm continues, even though two of its driving forces are no longer with us. Puddin Foil died in 2010, and Phil Foil, whose 1984 accident set this amazing journey in motion, died last week, on July 2, 2018. He was 49 years old.

At Phil’s funeral, his brother Marty told those gathered to remember him a story that has become a part of family lore:

“When Phil was a young boy, sometime between 4 and 8, he slept-walked into Mom and Dad’s room, waking mother. ‘Phil,’ she asked. ‘What are you doing up? Go back to bed.’ Phil responded, “My name is not Phil. I’m Peter and I lived a long time ago. I was a fisher of men.’

“Simple words, but prophetic. No one at that time had any idea how true those words were to become.”

Image: YouTube

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