Benefit planned for Stanton family after rare brain disorder strikes dad

By Elisabeth Waldon • Last Updated 3:19 pm on Friday, March 25, 2016

Jason Bonga of Stanton is pictured with his sons, Brock, 2, and Brayden, 10, and his wife, Breann. A benefit is planned for Monday at BC Pizza in Stanton to help the Bonga family with expenses related to Jason’s rare brain disorder. — Courtesy photo

STANTON — It started with a headache on a Saturday.

By that evening, Jason Bonga was nauseous and unable to sit up. His wife, Breann, called an ambulance.

Jason was taken from his home in Stanton to Sheridan Community Hospital, where a CAT scan was done.

Just a few minutes into the scan, hospital staff knew something was very wrong. There was blood on Jason’s brain.

The 37-year-old father of two was taken by AeroMed to Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids. By the time Jason arrived, he no longer knew his name. He didn’t recognize his wife. He didn’t know where he was.

The following day, Jason had a brain tube placed into his brain to drain the blood in fear that would clot if it was left alone. An angiogram was done to find out where the blood was coming from. Doctors discovered Jason had a blood vessel that wasn’t connected to an artery.

Jason was likely born with this rare condition, known as arteriovenous malformation (AVM), a tangle of abnormal and poorly formed blood vessels that can occur anywhere in the body, but are especially dangerous when located in the brain due to the possibility of bleeding.

“Less than 1 percent of people have an AVM,” Breann said. “Typically you have some sort of head trauma to cause it to start bleeding. Jason has had no head trauma, so doctors will never know the cause of why it started bleeding. Jason’s bleed was in the left side of his brain, so it caused weakness on his right side. He had so much blood on his brain that it traveled into his ventricles.”

Over the following week, Jason developed pneumonia and his blood oxygen levels were of great concern. Doctors tried a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine on Jason, which raised his oxygen levels. The pneumonia cleared up, but his kidneys began to show signs of trouble.

For four days, Jason had no idea what was going on. He gradually became more alert as the blood drained from his brain and his oxygen levels rose.

On Feb. 15, doctors used a special glue to fix his unconnected blood vessel. A week later, doctors were able to remove the drain tube from his brain.

“He started making great progress,” Breann said. “For the first time, he was able to get up and sit in a chair. He had previously been too nauseous to move.”

Due to Jason’s improvements, he was moved to a rehabilitation facility. On Feb. 26, after 20 days in the hospital, he was able to return home.

The scariest moments for the Bonga family may be over, but Jason has a lot work to do to get back to his full strength. He attends therapy twice a week for occupational therapy, as well as speech therapy, to work on his cognitive brain functions. His right arm still shows weakness and he struggles with short-term memory.

It is unknown when Jason will be able to return to his job in sales at Greenmark Equipment, a John Deere dealer in Kent City. Breann has also taken a leave from her job in the environmental health division of the Mid-Michigan District Health Department in Stanton to help take care of Jason and drive him to numerous appointments with doctors and specialists in Grand Rapids.

A benefit to help the Bonga family with expenses will be from 4 p.m. to close Monday at BC Pizza in Stanton. Customers are invited to dine in or carry out, with a portion of all proceeds going to the family.

A Go Fund Me Page has also been set up for the family at

For now, Jason is thankful to be home with his wife and their two sons, Brayden, 10, and Brock, 2. Relatives have been helping the family take care of their farm as well, including cows and Brayden’s horse.

Jason and Breann are both longtime members of the Montcalm Farm Bureau and are also involved with the Gratiot County 4-H program. They are close friends with Brian Gardner of Fairplain Township who is coordinator of the Gratiot County Fair For Youth.

“They’re a great couple,” Gardner said. “Jason’s an amazing guy, very patient, very good sense of humor. He’s really been struggling. He’s come a long ways, but he’s got a long ways to go. We pray that it was an isolated one and done incident.”

Breann says doctors believe Jason will make a complete recovery, but they can’t provide an exact time frame due to the complex issues of the brain.

“Every doctor we see all tell us Jason’s age plays a big role in how fast he’s already coming along,” she said. “He has a long road ahead of him, but with God and his family by his side, we will get through this.”

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