GREAT FALLS — Great Falls boxing legend Todd “Kid” Foster is the closest thing Montana has to a superhero.
He’s a 1987 Golden Gloves champion, a 1988 U.S. Olympian, and a veteran of 46 professional fights against some of the biggest names in the world. Many of his biggest fights were held in Montana with chants of “Kid!” raining down from the nosebleeds.
Foster is one of the most well-known athletes in Treasure State history and at the peak of his powers was considered invincible and a world-class boxer. He was equally revered for his personality, generosity and wit away from the ring.
But a lifetime of combat sports and hits to the head spares no one.
The personality, smile and upbeat attitude are still there. But they’re wrapped in slow, difficult speech and tremors.
“Sometimes people can’t take the time to talk to me,” Foster said. “I’m not a quick talker. It takes me time to get my words out.”
Foster, now 56 years old, suffers from a brain injury.
“Sometimes I’m oblivious to things,” Foster said. “I think I’m fine. I know I’m not. But I think I’m fine.”
His symptoms have gotten progressively worse with age. But he’s tried a lot of different treatments. One that seems to work for Foster is hyberbaric oxygen therapy which involves breathing pure oxygen in a pressurized environment, often inside a chamber.
The extra oxygen triggers the release of substances called growth factors and stem cells, which promote healing.
“I’m not sure how it works, but I know the pure oxygen works,” Foster said. “I’ve used it before and it did wonders for me. My speech, my walking, my balance all improved.”
But the cost is prohibitive. At nearly $100 per session, Foster couldn’t afford regular treatment. And the retail price of a chamber is more than $30,000.
And that’s where the Brain Injury Alliance of Montana stepped in.
Foster had developed a friendship with Kevin Moore over the years through their combat sports roots. Moore owned an MMA promotion with events that Foster attended, and is also a TBI survivor himself.
He now works in donor relations for BIAMT.
“I asked what worked best for him because I was sharing with him that I was doing cold plunge therapy and it was working for me,” Moore recalled. “And he told me that hyperbaric therapy worked best for him and he was without it for a year and he couldn't afford it anymore. So my director and I came up with this idea about how we could, with our resources, try and get a hyperbaric machine for Todd.”
The initial call went to Dr. Tammy Stenberg with Healing Hands Chiropractic and Wellness in the Flathead area. Her services include hyperbaric therapy. She set up Moore and BIAMT executive director John Bigart with a company called OxyHealth in California.
Over the course of a conference call, Oxyhealth quickly agreed to supply a heavily discounted hyperbaric chamber.
In August the BIAMT held a fundraiser in Kalispell called “Fight Club” and invited several prominent members of the combat sports community who also live with brain injuries. In addition to Foster former UFC veterans Pat Miletich, Matt Hughes, Alfonso Alcarez and Chuck Liddell made appearances.
During the event, the BIAMT presented an emotional Foster with a personal hyperbaric chamber for his home. There wasn’t a dry eye in the building.
“Normal things are tough for people like myself. You just can’t go about your day,” Foster told the crowd. “You have to think about walking straight, talking right and trying to find your words. But it will get better now.”
For Bigart and BIAMT, working with brain injury survivors can take many forms. It’s often said that brain injuries are like snowflakes; no two are alike. And there’s no blueprint for treatment.
“When somebody reaches out to us or we're meeting with someone, we help connect the dots with what resources are available,” Bigart said. “It could be resources that we provide internally or they could be resources within their own community or across the state or across the country. Our mission is to help them get back on track with a better quality of life.”
The hyperbaric chamber was set up this week at Foster’s home with the help of Donna Hartelius, a Great Falls nurse and owner of A Healthy Horizon. Todd wasted no time in hopping right in.
“I’ve taken two dives so far, and I think I’m getting better already,” Foster said.
He paused, looked down and wiped away tears before continuing.
“It really means a lot to me,” he said. “When I did the chamber a year ago, it helped me. I couldn’t afford to do the treatment anymore. So I’m just really grateful.”
The chamber is Foster’s counter punch against the effects brain injury. And there’s decades worth of evidence that you can never count the Kid out.
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