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Triumph over tragedy: Farm family supports others in need

Here is the story behind the Travis Burkhart Foundation.

Tom J. Bechman

February 5, 2024

7 Min Read
 Kim, Travis and Mike Burkhart smile for a photograph
SUPPORTING THE CAUSE: Travis Burkhart and his parents, Mike and Kim, display a T-shirt that supports the Travis Burkhart Foundation, which helps people in times of their greatest need. Photos by Tom J. Bechman

At a Glance

  • A near-fatal auto accident in 2008 left Travis Burkhart with a traumatic brain injury.
  • Mike and Kim Burkhart sacrificed for their son while keeping the home fires burning on the farm.
  • Today, the Travis Burkhart Foundation exists to help others going through similar events.

Think back to Feb. 12, 2008. Do you know what you were doing? Mike and Kim Burkhart, Plainville, Ind., recall that day all too well. They received the call that their son Travis, then 23, lost control of his car on slick roads on his way back to school at the University of Southern Indiana.

How serious was the accident? He died and was resuscitated, but they would not find that out until much later. Travis suffered a traumatic brain injury and fractured his C2 vertebrate.

“It changed his life forever, and it also changed our lives forever,” Kim says. “The first time we saw Travis at the hospital, he was being brought off the elevator. There laid our son.

“He looked perfect, like he could just sit up and talk to us. Travis is 6 feet, 2 inches and 212 pounds. He was lifting weights and was in the strongest and best shape ever. How would we have ever known that God was preparing him for the fight of his life?”

Fighting for Travis

It would turn out to be a long fight for the entire family. There were enough twists and turns navigating the medical system and standing up for their son to fill an entire book. Meanwhile, they kept a 3,200-acre farm operation and life for three siblings going. At the time, Mike farmed with his brother Bill.

“I actually fired a doctor,” Mike recalls. “When you don’t believe your son is getting the best care, you do what you must do. It was not an easy time, but our faith in God and unbelievable help from family and friends kept us going.”

Travis spent over five months in an Evansville, Ind., hospital, then four months receiving hyperbolic oxygen treatment in Cincinnati. Later, he would undergo treatment in Chicago, plus endure emergency treatment for life-threatening blood clots years later.

Mike and Kim held things together. “You learn what to do when insurance runs out and bills pile up,” Mike says. “We received lots of help and guidance from many people, and we knew we wanted to pay that back somehow.”

Helping others

In 2009, Mike and Kim established the Travis Burkhart Foundation, a nonprofit governed by a board of directors. “We are there to assist those facing a sudden or prolonged illness, injury or diagnosis, like so many people have been there for us,” Kim explains. “We were helped when we were faced with a tragedy, and we want to do that for others.”

Mike adds, “Our passion is to bring financial and emotional stability back into the lives of these families. We want them to be able to focus on supporting their loved one rather than stressing over big bills and expenses.”

To date, TBF has assisted 1,848 times, Mike reports. It has provided 25 iPads for developmental or communication needs and gifted back $459,862.97 to those needing medical assistance. The foundation has helped people in 45 Indiana counties, but also in 179 cities and 29 states.

Fundraisers and donations support TBF. Those needing assistance apply online and often receive help within seven days. Sometimes it’s food or gas cards or money for hotel or medical expenses related to someone undergoing medical treatment.

“We also become personally involved sometimes,” Mike says. “We’ve had calls from people enduring a horrific family tragedy. Often, it’s just a matter of listening, letting them know someone cares. Sometimes, we’ve hooked them up with other people going through a similar tragedy so they can share.”

Travis today

Travis has trouble walking alone and speaking but thinks clearly. He writes: “The lasting results of my injury affect my coordination and balance. It causes my speech and walking to be very difficult.

“I understand everything that is said to me. I love God, my family, kids and dogs. They see no difference in people — they love unconditionally.”

A framed Mike Matheny jersey hung on a wood-paneled wall

By 2019, Mike and his brother Bill realized it was time to make tough decisions. They were farming 1,800 acres. Bill’s children didn’t want to farm.

“We gathered our children for a family meeting and a frank discussion,” Mike explains. “We asked if anyone saw themselves farming. They were all pursing other interests, and farming wasn’t in their plans.”

So, Mike and Bill marketed land they owned, and prepared for a machinery auction in January 2021. Mike and Kim still own some land, which they cash rent. Mike assists during busy seasons.

Travis Burkhart Foundation

“We believe it was all part of God’s plan,” Mike says. “The foundation really took off about the same time. I was on TikTok sharing Travis’ story and built up a following. We were part of Farm Tok. Dozens of farmers and their families contacted us, wanting to visit.”

That led to a three-day outing each summer, Kim explains. It includes cooking competitions for Farm Tok people and many other activities, all held at their farm. “It’s a fun family event that has come out of this,” Kim says. “It’s like one big family.”

Many members of the Farm Tok group support the Travis Burkhart Foundation, and it has led to lots of networking. “I’ve spent time helping other farmers on their farm after we met this way,” Mike says. “It’s another way to spread the word.”

Anyone can help by spreading the word about traumatic brain injury and TBF, Mike says. Supporting through donations or buying TBF merchandise also helps. Visit travisburkhartfoundation.com to read Kim’s comments about the entire experience.

What would you tell Jesus?

Kim remembers the day eight months after the accident when Travis told her he died that day.

“No, you didn’t die, honey,” she responded. “You are here with us.”

“Yes, Mom, I died. I saw Jesus.”

Until that conversation, neither Mike nor Kim knew Travis clinically died at the scene. They sought out the EMTs who responded.

One explained, “Yes, we were doing our best, but he died. Then we heard a big breath, and he came back.”

Here is what Travis writes about that moment: “I died on the scene. I met Jesus face to face. He gave me a choice. I could stay with him, or I could stay on Earth. But if I went back, my body would be broken.

“I told him my mom would be mad if I didn’t go back. So, I wanted to stay on Earth.”

Perhaps that experience is why this verse appears on TBF literature: “Now faith is the confidence in what we hope for and assurance of what we do not see.” — Hebrews 11:1.

Life with Travis

Mike and Kim can attest that life with their son is never dull. “We’ve had experiences through him that I would have never dreamed possible,” Mike says.

Case in point: One of Travis’ friends is Tim Tebow. Yes, that Tim Tebow — Heisman Trophy winner in 2007, professional quarterback and sports broadcaster. Travis has an autographed pair of Tebow’s shoes to prove it.

“Travis made a connection somehow when we were in Chicago, and it took off from there,” Mike says. “Tim has his own foundation and a golf tournament every year, and we take part in it.”

Travis Burkhart holding a tennis shoe signed by Tim Tebow

In fact, Mike met Artis Gilmore, the 7-foot, 2-inch All-Star from both the American Basketball Association and the NBA, through Tebow’s golf outing.

“He is the real deal, too, but man, is he big!” Mike says. He has a picture with Gilmore towering over him, and Mike is not a small man himself.

Second case in point: There is a framed jersey that once belonged to Mike Matheny, player, coach and manager for the St. Louis Cardinals, in the Burkharts’ home.

“One of our fundraisers for TBF is selling tickets to a Cardinals game each year,” Mike explains. “They let Travis and I sit in on a press conference where Mike Matheny was speaking. Travis is not shy! When they took questions, he asked Matheny if he could have the jersey he was wearing. Darned if Travis didn’t end up with it.”

About the Author(s)

Tom J. Bechman

Editor, Indiana Prairie Farmer, Farm Progress

Tom J. Bechman is editor of Indiana Prairie Farmer. He joined Farm Progress in 1981 as a field editor, first writing stories to help farmers adjust to a difficult harvest after a tough weather year. His goal today is the same — writing stories that help farmers adjust to a changing environment in a profitable manner.

Bechman knows about Indiana agriculture because he grew up on a small dairy farm and worked with young farmers as a vocational agriculture teacher and FFA advisor before joining Farm Progress. He works closely with Purdue University specialists, Indiana Farm Bureau and commodity groups to cover cutting-edge issues affecting farmers. He specializes in writing crop stories with a focus on obtaining the highest and most economical yields possible.

Tom and his wife, Carla, have four children: Allison, Ashley, Daniel and Kayla, plus eight grandchildren. They raise produce for the food pantry and house 4-H animals for the grandkids on their small acreage near Franklin, Ind.

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