Carrick Wilken

Brain injury and how it changed my life forever

Shortly after my 17th birthday I was in accident that caused me to suffer a catastrophic brain injury, and changes that have and will affect the rest of my life. I somehow was thrown or fell out of the bed of a truck traveling down the highway at highway speeds. Unfortunately, I was developing some habits that have become all too common.

I spent 3 months or so in a coma. I lost my vision, suffered paralysis, and had multiple strokes (9 back to back). My story is a story of survival, but more then anything, it is a story of awareness. There is no way I can explain the level of difficulty and frustration disabilities can cause on a daily basis, but I hope it can be appreciated.

When I was found on that fateful night of my accident, I was found by my older brother, then my older sister came onto the scene. I can only imagine how that must have felt for them. There are many coincidences in life, if you want to class it as a coincidence. My older brother was coming back to town with some friends and they found me on the side of the highway. Followed by some other vehicles of course. One of which was a bus carrying one of my older sisters and some of her friends. I can only guess on how I came to be on the side of the highway, but either way I was there, and I was rescued by my older siblings.

I was immediately taken to the hospital and air lifted to somewhere that was prepared to handle such an injury. I have been told that when I was first found It was though some of my behaviour was just the result of being under the influence of alcohol, but in fact it was a result of the head injury and massive bleeding inside my head. When someone hits their head with such a strong blow the brain can swell and create a great deal of pressure. I had to have a bone flap surgery and a drain put in to help with the swelling. It is quite difficult to remember all the fine details-obviously, but it is quite hard to forget the big ones. That feeling of having no bone flap and having to be regularly flushed is something I wish and hope few people have to go through. I required blood thinners to reduce the blood clots I had formed, and in this entire ordeal my parents took care of me and administered most of the blood thinner needles that I required. It is hard to imagine how my parents felt  giving me those needles, but they certainly did, and it certainly helped. In so many ways.

My family were told that if I were to survive I would have little to no quality of life and independence. I was brain dead and actually flatlined on more than one occasion when I was in the hospital, that must have been so hard to witness. I am no doctor or medical profession at all, but I do know that they say when a person brain goes without oxygen for a prolonged period of time they are unable to recover. I went without oxygen and I did lose many things, but with a ton of repetitive work I was able to regain many things – but also unable to regain others. I say repetitive in reference to being asked my name and age often. I spent many, many hours working on different things. Speech lessons are another one of those things that is hard to recall 100% but I do remember bits and pieces. Thank goodness my family and the professionals were patient with me and so willing to help. I credit my family – specifically my parents – with being most of the reason I was able to recover in such a way.

They told my family that I would never walk or talk again, they said that I would more or less be dependent on the breathing machine and on attendant care forever. There’s no doubt I was dependent on them for a while but with help I was able to regain those abilities too.

When I was hurt I was quite into sports and work, just being active in general. That was one of the different things I certainly took for granted. I worked for my father’s custom carpentry home building company, I worked on some friends’ farms as a hired hand when I could, I worked with my older brother with some of his jobs, and I helped my grandfathers growing up when I was able. One ran a small beef farm and the other ran a construction business also. The time I spent on the job is something I loved and will never forget. I was in the beginning of an apprenticeship and working hard to do what I always wanted to do: construction and carpentry work.

I also loved sports. I played hockey throughout my childhood and throughout the teenage years, up until I was hurt. I played baseball throughout my childhood and rugby throughout high school. Now that I am unable to do those things, I am so thankful I was able to experience it while I could. I spent a lot of time fishing and a lot of time out biking and fort building with friends growing up. The fresh air and the opportunity to spend time in/learn about the wide world around us is invaluable for a child’s life and development. Quality time with friends and family together is something that is also something that is super important, in my opinion.

I work hard on a daily basis to enjoy life to the fullest. Being blind and living with the risk of seizures is not easy. My mission in life is to try and help other become aware of head injury and the change vision loss brings. I am blind, and it effects every part of my life. I can’t deny it is unbelievably frustrating, I do not look blind because it is the result of the head injury and strokes. When I say look blind I mean I do not have any difference in my eyes and do not have a guide dog. I do have my white cane that helps me so much it is unbelievable. Many people are unaware these things play a crucial role in someone’s life. Looks can be very deceiving, they can be misleading.

If I tried to say suffering a brain injury didn’t affect me cognitively I would be lying. It definitely did. I was once really quite good at math and really fairly good at problem solving in many different ways. I certainly didn’t always apply myself in ways/situations I should have. I could catch onto things on the jobsite quite quickly and write with ease. Since the brain injury though I find certain things to be difficult, which is quite common, but nothing to fret about! Like every other obstacle in the world, you just have to find another way. I do rely on cues I have set up for myself: for example, my alarm clock, trying to go sleep at the same time so I wake up at the same time. All trial and error really. Unfortunately, in some cases (certainly in my case) more often than not its errors that you have to learn from. I was only 17 at the time of my accident and was not yet done high school. When I was able, I set up some stuff through my occupational therapist (O.T.) and the high school to finish up! The O.T was such a great help to me, she was patient and explained so much to me too! Helped with the work and showed me how to do certain things. As a matter of fact, I completed two courses online with her help, in nutrition and dog training! That occupational therapist and once again the family helped me in so many ways. Their patience and understanding was and is invaluable! One of the challenges I live with as well is some bad memory difficulties. There are definitely some things I will never forget, like the feeling of losing the ability to move my hands and feel the world around me as well as I once did. I cannot remember what it is like to seem like a “normal” person and I cannot remember many things that so many people take for granted every day. I can appreciate these many things but cannot remember them.

What I can remember though is the tranquility of a parent’s love. Not just the love my own parents and family gave me, but also the love and tenderness I witnessed by other parents. My family has done so much for me over the years and helped me in so many ways. They have helped me learn the importance and striving for a better future and a better more optimistic view of life.

I am incredibly proud to be a Canadian, I feel honoured to come from such a beautiful country that has helped make it possible for me to recover in the way that I did. I also train as hard as I possibly can daily with the hopes of representing our country and bringing hope to more people. If I can show the world brain injury and sight loss: prove to them with a lot of hard work it can be overcome. I was once unable to walk, unable to do much at all – but now I can push hundreds of pounds on a leg press and bike a mile in a minute, and row as fast as some professional rowers. As a child I loved different sports, I loved my hockey, grew to appreciate and really enjoy the baseball and rugby. I watched boxing and watched wrestling whenever I could; always wanted to try those sports because they looked like so much fun and looked like I could have excelled in them. There is no way to get that back but there is other sports that I have become extremely passionate about. I lift free weights 4-6 days a week. I love the rowing and weightlifting/cross fit. I have become an avid cyclist and regular walker. I was going to a cross fit gym in Goderich, Ontario before the pandemic and the trainer there helped me so much! Understanding, open minded, he explained things to me and very encouraging! Now that we are able to safely go again I am working out at the YMCA. The atmosphere there is great, it is a clean gym, open concept, well-run, and the trainer I’m working with has helped me so much! Great guy, also patient and takes the time to explain and show me stuff.

I can’t stress the importance of exercise and fitness in my life. It has helped me in so many ways – not only living healthier, but also with aggression, keeping my strength up, helping me in the pursuit to my goals, and helping with confidence. Whether you strive to reach a competitive level or just want to try to exercise more, I suggest an exercise routine of some kind. After the accident I was in rehab and worked with trainers and rehab workers. Also, my father helped a lot with exercise! They left me with a positive feeling and left me more confident, which I think is good for anyone trying to recover from a head injury – or any injury for that matter.

My K9 companion has become another valuable part of my life. He is not a service dog by any means but rather a companion and close friend. I believe dogs are our best friends for a reason!

There is no way I can make people realize how important it is to be there for each other, there’s no way anyone can fully understand until they have to go through these things on a daily basis, but I just ask for you to consider it. Consider it but also appreciate how good we all have it! Although it is quite hard sometimes, were all able to learn: sometimes with more help but there’s nothing wrong with that! Nothing to be ashamed of. Brain injury and sight loss are hard in so many ways, but if you don’t try, don’t give it your all, that will make it even harder!

I do what I do for the family, the friends, but I also do it for every person in the world that has had to come through a struggle of any kind, had to beat the odds with their back against the wall, and triumph! Brain injury and sight loss are hard to live with, but I am lucky to be alive, and lucky to see the 2.5-3% I can see. I am lucky I was able to regain the ability to walk-row-bike, I am most lucky though to have had the second chance and the environment to recover!

That is my story. If it can help provide some hope in any way, I hope you will let it inspire you to never give up and always strive for what you love!

Evan Wall

evan-wallEvan Wall was a bright 19-year-old from the small town of Shellbrook, Saskatchewan whose only concerns were football, engineering college and partying. He was a top student with every reason to look forward to a very bright future until 2016, when a severe car accident and resulting traumatic brain injury brought his carefree life to a screeching halt.

Evan still doesn’t remember the late-night accident on a country highway. He was a passenger in a truck that flipped and ejected him through the windshield into a roadside ditch. Paramedics weren’t hopeful about his survival as a Shock Trauma Air Rescue Service (STARS) air ambulance carried him to Saskatoon’s Royal University Hospital. He spent two weeks unconscious in critical care. Along with bruised lungs and other more minor injuries, Evan sustained a diffuse axonal brain injury (DAI). The neurologists couldn’t predict whether Evan would wake up or spend the remainder of his life in a vegetative state.

His anxious family was thrilled when Evan did open his eyes after a few weeks, but alertness took much longer to return. Evan spent six weeks in the neurology ward learning to communicate with head shakes and hand signals. During this time, he wore diapers, was fed by a stomach tube, and learned to sit in a wheelchair.


“After six weeks, I was more alert but still not talking or responsive beyond answering yes or no questions with hand gestures. Degree of alertness after a brain injury can vary greatly, and diminished alertness can be one of the permanent effects. Fatigue from not just physical but also cognitive activity is a very common condition after a brain injury, one that I still live with.”

Evan’s speech and motor coordination had been badly damaged. He spent the following winter in the rehabilitation unit of Saskatoon City Hospital, where he undertook a daily regimen of speech, occupational, recreational and physio therapies in hope of recovering his abilities to walk, talk, eat unassisted and many other basic life skills.

“Everything I was doing now was incredibly painstaking and slow going. You might think the frustration would have driven me through the roof, but my mind was fully engaged just dealing with the tasks at hand. In this new headspace, my sense of self-reliance was challenged at every turn and there was no more room for my former blasé attitude toward achievement. The option of that mindset had been plucked out of my life. The humbling was sudden and absolute.”

When he was released from in-patient care to return to his parents’ home in Shellbrook Saskatchewan, Evan had spent a total of six months in the hospital. Evan now faced a life irrevocably altered. Gone were the athletic skills and facile academic prowess he had built his life on in the past. He would have to recreate himself.

“The work was grueling and very lonely. What I was doing and experiencing was present in my mind, but higher-order thinking would take time. A few months earlier, I had been a sharp engineering student able to solve calculus equations in my head. Now, my consciousness was fully occupied with seemingly mundane tasks and movements. Ironically, the learning and adaptation going on inside my brain was more dynamic and demanding than a healthy adult would ever have to endure. I was working harder at learning basic life skills than I ever had before, in university or any other aspect of my life.”

“I wasn’t that Evan Wall anymore, and I truly didn’t know what that was going to mean yet. Everything was new and scary without the hospital support I was used to. All I knew for sure was that I wanted to get to work and heal as soon and as much as possible.”

Daily strength training at his local gym soon became a saving grace. Over time, Evan’s body grew stronger and there were improvements in his coordination as a result. When he realized that good health would help optimize his recovery, Evan also started taking better care of himself, and put drinking and smoking behind him for good.

Evan’s family connected with the Saskatchewan Brain Injury Association and through it, Saskatchewan Health’s ABI Outreach Team, which runs the PARTY Program (Prevent Alcohol and Risk-related Trauma in Youth) for high schoolers. Evan was invited to team up with paramedics, fire fighters and police to help educate high school classes about the potential outcomes of risky behaviours. Since 2018, Evan has presented talks at high schools across Saskatchewan and is known to be a very relatable and engaging speaker.

“Hearing from a brain-injured kid close to their age really brought the message home. There was little difference between me and the current students when it came to interests and party lifestyle. The students were very engaged when I described the nitty gritty details about living with a brain injury and seemed to take the subject of safety seriously when they heard about my having to wear diapers, how I no longer work or attend school, even what it’s like to talk to girls now. I was happy to help contribute to brain injury education and do something with my time to help keep other teenagers out of hospitals.”

Five years after his accident, Evan has recovered an altered form of his voice that gives some people the erroneous impression that he is mentally challenged. He also walks unassisted, but his walk is slow and cumbersome. Evan lives on his own in Saskatoon, where he still visits his local gym daily. In fact, Evan has become an avid body builder and has even competed in physique building competitions.

“Bodybuilding is one of the purest forms of self-discipline because you’re literally fighting yourself all the time. Even during exertion, the body shouts loudly and constantly that it wants more carbs, but it’s not getting them. The results can be spectacular, but the self-discipline required to get there is enormous. I don’t think I’d be where I am now if I hadn’t gone through the physical and emotional rigors of coming back from the dead.”

“Challenging my limits has always been part of my journey. I did it physically in my youth. Since my injury, I’ve had to challenge my limits mentally and emotionally as well. And I’m still doing it today. I can say in all sincerity that living with this brain injury, I have become well acquainted with physical weakness and, in dealing with it, have become tougher than I would have ever imagined.”

To his dismay, Evan has found that the outside world reacts differently to him since his accident. Some acquaintances speak to him differently than they used to. Strangers look away or, when they do interact with him, often talk to him like a small child. Evan feels there is much society can learn about interacting with disabled people more respectfully.

“If there is one thing I know first-hand from being both an abled and a disabled person, it’s that able-bodied people react distinctly differently to one versus the other. Before my accident, I never would have imagined I would one day talk about ableism, ableist fragility, and microaggressions. I was a strong, agile, and capable teenager who, having grown up with a sister with autism and epilepsy, was raised to be considerate of other peoples’ differences. Prejudice in any form never crossed my mind or my path. I hadn’t even heard of the word ‘ableism’ before my injury.”

In 2020, Evan took on a collaborative writing project about his journey with a writer friend, Susanne Gauthier. Over many coffees and interviews with family, friends and colleagues in the brain injury community, Susanne drafted Evan’s story in full detail – from his point of view. Their co-authored memoir is entitled Rebuilding a Brick Wall, published by DriverWorks Ink, Regina SK 2021, and available in Canadian bookstores.

What does Evan want people to take away from his story?

“For someone with an injury, that you will always move forward if you refuse to give up. Even though life looks completely different from before, there are always successes and joyful moments that make the journey worth it, not to mention wisdom!”

“For able-bodied people; you may not think you get uncomfortable when you meet a person with a disability or treat them differently, but are you sure? Microaggressions are still heavily embedded in our culture. We have only just begun to acknowledge the variety of microaggressions towards those with ability differences that are still rampant.”
More information can be found on Evan and Susan’s website

Julianne Heagy

julianne heagyIt’s Tuesday, May 21, 2019. As I start to wake already my mind reminds me that this is the Tuesday after the long weekend and my desk has already so many things I need to do to get caught up. I also wake knowing that this is our 31st wedding anniversary and the day of our daughter Justine’s first part of a two-part pharmacy licensing exam.

[Praying] “Lord, thank you for putting Blair in my life. Thank you for 31 years of ups and downs and mostly that we were able to take every challenge and every victory to you in prayer. I especially pray for Justine this morning and ask that You give her peace. Lord, please easily bring the answers to the exam questions to her mind. I also ask that you keep Jared safe at work today. In Jesus name I pray. Amen”  As my prayer ends I hear the roar of our son Jared’s car arriving to town and off to work. I silently say good morning and wish him a good day.

As I get up and get dressed I move quietly around the condo. Blair was diagnosed with lung cancer six years ago and sleeps until 9:30 most mornings. He is currently stage IV but doing remarkably well. He has an amazingly positive attitude.

In my position as Member Relations officer at our local Co-op head office, this is the time of year when we’re winding down from two major events, doing scholarship presentations, lots of donation requests for summer events and negotiating advertising with our new local radio station. It’s always busy on my desk but I thrive on having several balls in the air all at once. So much still to do so feeling like I’d better eat lunch at my desk so I can leave at 5:00 for our anniversary supper. Deli salad from downstairs fits the bill.

At some point during the morning I wonder how Justine’s exam has gone and send up another quick prayer.

1:39pm  text from Justine. “It’s done. That’s all I can say. Gonna go nap”

It really has been a long day. My eye’s are starting to bother me. Like gold squares of light are in my field of vision.

5:19pm Just not feeling great so thought I’d text Justine to bring her dad to the Co-op so he could drive my car home. I text Justine “Can you come to get me around with dad on 5:30. I’m very to delay.”

Justine, “Okay. Are you okay?”

Me, “Not sure”

I know that Blair and Justine are heading my way shortly, so I decide I’m going to contact the groups with the donation requests I’ve approved. The first one is a donation of gift cards, but I can’t think of the words “gift cards” to write on the donation request form. Man, it’s been a long day. I’ll come back to this. (I looked at this particular file after many months and see I wrote five random letters where I would normally note what I had donated and the date). The next donation is a donation of beef. I decide it’s easier to call the group, so I dial. Someone answers. I comment, “Hi, this is” and then I can’t think of the next word. I feel like I’m in a big dark, empty room and I can’t find anything—not a word, not a thought, not an idea, just total blankness. I hear the person on the other end say, “from the Co-op?”

“Uhm” I’m so embarrassed with my response. What a terrible representation of our Co-op.

“About our donation request?”


“Will you donate the beef?”



The whole time I was so embarrassed, wanting to hang up but thinking that would be even more rude than just responding with a mumble. I want to cry! I look up and Blair is just entering the admin office on his way to my office. I’m feeling very off balance and am already thinking that it will be hard to walk down the stairs to the main floor and out to the parking lot.

The ladies at the admin desks wish us a happy anniversary and tell us to have a good supper. I smile and nod, even offer a small wave as we leave. I know I need Blair’s support to get me down the stairs. Justine is waiting outside in the car and they take me directly to the hospital. If I could speak, I would just ask them to take me home to sleep. I just don’t feel well and am tired.

I’m so glad to be able to lay down on the ER bed at our local hospital. There is busy-ness around me and I.Vs going into both my arms. Having worked at our local hospital off and on for over 20 years I know most of the nursing staff. I see concern in their eyes. They asked me my name but I couldn’t find it in my mind. I would get a quick glimpse of it but then it was gone. Then when I got a hold of it I couldn’t make my mouth work. I couldn’t speak my name. I concentrated with all the effort I could muster and then it exploded out of me. My name, “Julianne”. That was exhausting! I just want to rest now. There is no thought in my head, no fear, no questions just a desire to rest in the quiet emptiness.

Our family doctor arrives and there is more commotion. They keep asking me my name. I hear someone say blood pressure is 215/90.

It seems that the ambulance has arrived, but I feel like I’ve just gotten here.

The normal 60-minute drive to Moose Jaw took only 40 minutes.

There is another swirl of activity as blood is drawn and I’m rushed for a CT scan.

The scan indicates it’s not a brain hemorrhage, so I’m cleared to receive the ATP, clot-buster, treatment.

I must have napped on and off because all I remember is the nurses telling Blair and Justine that I’m to stay in bed for 48 hours as I am now a high bleed risk following the ATP.

The CT scan also showed that I have a greater than 70% occlusion of my left carotid artery. The attending physician explains to us that I have been referred to a surgeon in Regina for a left Endarterectomy where they will open my neck up, open up the left carotid artery, clean it out and then put a patch on the carotid before closing me up again.

I received the surgery and was sent home a few days later.

It’s now 19 months since my stroke and I’ve learned so much.

A few resources that I’ve found very helpful are the “Let’s Talk About Stroke – An information guide for survivors and their families” published by Heart & Stroke Foundation and “Returning to work following an acquired brain injury” handbook which I found online from Brain Injury Canada.

As a retired Registered Massage Therapist I had access to many modalities of treatments. Some of which I was very aware of, and some new treatments offered to me by fellow therapists. Of the therapies I received; reiki, sound therapy, massage, yoga, reflexology, etc.; the most valuable treatment that helped relieve my anxiety was emotional reflexology from a therapist in Regina. I’d highly recommend it.

Speaking of anxiety, one of the greatest tips from my occupational therapist was to find something such as putting together picture puzzles or take up some stitching or other handwork as my eyes allowed it. Doing this keeps your mind in the present. Focusing on your project means you spend less time worrying about the future. It works!!

One of my greatest frustrations is my inability to read for more than about 20 minutes. I’m an avid reader. I’ve always had an affinity for learning. It probably took me about a year to discover how easy it was to access audio books. I use the Libby app. I also listen to podcasts that uplift and motivate me.

Being in large groups or in stores makes my head spin. I feel very off balance. Sometimes so severely I even feel that I’m going to lose bowel control. If there is something good that’s come of Covid, for me, it is that I can guilt-free order my groceries online for home delivery. Another trick I’ve learned is that if I need only one thing in a store, I call ahead to see if it’s available. If it is, I will ask if they have time to set it at the till and I give them my estimated time of arrival. If they don’t have time, I ask for the aisle number where the item is located so I can quickly get in and out.

Stay home, stay safe was part of my internal dialogue even before Covid. Especially early after my stroke when my balance was an issue. I used to be very independent and travelled a fair bit both for pleasure and business. In the past 19 months I’ve driven alone only in our small town or a few times to our daughter’s house 15 minutes away. I find that the ditches move quicker than the road and I experience extreme fatigue after just a short drive.

Financially, we’ve had to jump some hoops to receive some help. Insurance training is in my background so it should’ve been much easier but the mental process of applying was exhausting. Some tips I have here…if you have life insurance policies, check for waiver of premium coverage; if you have critical illness insurance coverage, you may have to prove cognitive impairment residuals lasting more than 30 days so check with your occupational therapist to give you a cognitive assessment; if you are applying for CPP disability, know that the processing takes a very long time (for me 7 months to approval and 8 months before payments started).

Don’t give up! It’s hard and frustrating. I know some days this will feel like a stretch but find something to be grateful for every day – some days you’ll have to fake it until you make it but you will make it.

Accept help. This one is tough for most of us. Especially when we’ve enjoyed independence. Know that your caregiver(s) want the best for you. For me, I seem to have lost some of my filters and say things that I wouldn’t have in the past. Sometimes this makes me embarrassed and sometimes it actually feels empowering. I’ve come to accept that “it is what it is”. Try to remember that your closest caregiver is likely receiving the brunt of your comments and frustrations. Take the time to let them know you’re sorry and how much you appreciate them.

Give yourself permission to evolve into the new you. Oh, how I pushed myself to try to get back to work. Back to the old me. I’d push through headaches and visual disturbances just to be able to stay on the computer and try to keep my mind from going to mush. By about five months after my stroke, I had to take my computer and put it in a box so I wouldn’t use it. My therapists and councilors all told me to rest and let my brain heal. I actually felt like I was resting because I was no longer working my three-quarter time job, casual work at the hospital and my home business. I was determined to read because I was too stubborn to believe I could be happy without it. I see now how much I was taxing my brain out of fear that if I didn’t keep it busy and stimulated, I’d lose it. I can tell you now, things will change, you will have changed and you will find peace and joy again.

Thank you, Brain Injury Canada, for giving me this opportunity to share parts of my journey. I sincerely hope it will be helpful to others.


KieszaIn 2017, Canadian-born singer and performing artist Kiesza was in a car accident in Toronto that left her with a traumatic brain injury.For two years she has worked on her recovery and is now releasing new music through her own record label, Zebra Spirit Tribe. But the recovery journey is far from over. Kiesza spoke with Brain Injury Canada about her injury, her struggles, and how she moves forward each day.

After the accident

Kiesza acquired a brain injury the day she was in the car accident– but she didn’t know it.

“I knew nothing about brain injury. I knew a little about concussions, but what I knew wasn’t accurate,” she says. “After the accident, I couldn’t tell what was going on, and no one around me knew anything. I got out of the car, and I was stunned. There was a ringing in my ears, and my balance was off. People asked me if I needed to go to the hospital. I said I didn’t know.”

“I walked home that night, and I don’t know how but I got on my flight to New York the next day. It was when we started to land the pressure changed that I started to feel like something was wrong,” says Kiesza. “It was about 5 days of worsening symptoms before I went to the emergency room in New York. They told me I had a concussion and to take one day off work.”

“It’s crazy, because you feel things days and months after the injury. It escalates, and your brain is running into turbulence,” Kiesza explains. “I flew to Denmark and did a show. I almost cancelled but it was an important show. I completely collapsed after. I knew something was definitely wrong.”

“After that, I cancelled everything: it was the end of my career at the time.”

The early stages of recovery

For the next 6 months, Kiesza spent much of her time alone, limiting her activities due to nausea, balance issues, and many other symptoms that made activities of daily living difficult She ended up moving to Los Angeles to be close to her cousin, who has a background in neurology and was able to offer support.

“Everyday my life was recovery. I was experimenting with therapies. It was painful; I was nauseous and dizzy all the time,” Kiesza says.
Kiesza didn’t just have physical symptoms. “I had trouble controlling my emotions. I had to work through a lot of fear. I was scared of lots of things. I was scared of washing the dishes!” Today, Kiesza still struggles with nausea, balance, and even reading. “I can only do one to two chapters a day, and I really have to track the page,” Kiesza says. “I’m still trying. I get tired – my brain crashes, which is terrible. You have to work a lot to repair your brain. But I never lost my will.”

She always had the will, but sometimes it was difficult to find the way.

“Every brain injury is different, and you don’t know how things are going to go. And no one does. Everything was a mystery going forward,” explains Kiesza. Many of her doctors and therapists were open about the fact that they couldn’t predict what would happen next with her recovery.

While Kiesza did have some assistance from family and friends, for the most part she was on her own. “It was a longer journey on my own,” she says, adding that it makes a difference having people behind you. But it’s also difficult explaining to people what’s happening to you.

“People ask me why I didn’t do something or tell people what was going on [at the time]. My response was that my brain was injured. I didn’t have the capacity to think about it, to realize what was going on,” she says. “I couldn’t think my way through it.”

“What was really helpful was I had a neuroscientist explain what was happening to my brain – I got it on a scientific level and it helped me figure out what was real and what wasn’t,” Kiesza said. For her, understanding that she was feeling a certain way or reacting to a certain thing because of her brain injury helped her focus on her recovery.

What life looks like after a brain injury

Early on, Kiesza knew that things were never going to be the same for her. “There’s no way I was coming back the same. I grew a lot,” she says. “You know when you look back at things that at the time were terrible, and you go ‘oh that wasn’t so bad?’ Looking back at this scares me. I wonder, ‘how did I make it through that?’”

Today Kiesza still undergoes various therapies and uses tools and activities to further her recovery. “I currently use brain plasticity practices. Consistency is really important,” Kiesza says. This involves doing an activity a little bit everyday, consistently using your brain. One example is reading.

“I try to read every day. I get a feeling when I can’t stay connected to the page, but I try to do a little more. It’s like neurological tightrope walking,” she explains, adding that she listens to her body when it’s time to stop.

“I do it with arm exercising too because I have trouble with my arms and I want to get back to performing,” she adds.

Kiesza had a lot of issues with sleep after her injury, with many of those issues persisting today. “Waking up isn’t pleasant. I don’t wake up happy for the day. I wake up and go, ‘okay, I have to do it,” she says. “I was having a lot of trouble sleeping. I would sleep for 18 hours and wake up exhausted. They did brain scans and that part of my brain wasn’t calming down. Neurofeedback helped with that.” Neurofeedback is when brainwaves are monitored to determine brain activity. This information is then used to inform treatment methods.

While she still undergoes therapies and treatments, there are lots of things Kiesza does on her own that have helped her cope with the effects of her brain injury.

“I learned how to say no,” she said, adding that admitting to her limitations has kept her out of situations she knew would be too much. “I became aware of negative people around me. That negativity brings stress, and I cut out a lot of that,” she said. Through that process, she has developed a network of people who bring a lot of support. “I’ve learned a lot about self-protection while still being open to people,” she says.

Kiesza now spends much more time checking in on how she is feeling. As a singer and performer with high-energy songs and choreography, Kiesza often had to push her mind and her body during her grueling schedule. “When I was performing before the injury, I was putting it all out there. It was hardcore, and I never gave myself the time to think,” Kiesza said.

Since her injury, Kiesza engages in a form of mediation to help center herself and her emotions. “I don’t mediate by sitting in a room. It’s kind of always going on inside me,” she explains. I find a place of calm, because mood swings and stress crash my head. It’s hard, and it’s something I constantly work at.”

As a public figure, a performer, and now a business owner, this constant attention to self helps Kiesza with daily stresses, which can cause her symptoms to worsen. “Stress is like a lion coming at you. Big or small stress, it’s all the same to me. I have to remind myself what is actually happening,” she explains. “It’s a lot of conversation with myself.”

Kiesza has also embraced a new diet to help manage her feelings of nausea and contribute to her overall health. “Diet changes helped. No alcohol, no caffeine and no grains,” Kiesza says. She admits that making those changes were challenging. “I thought I was going to go crazy, but it really made a lot of difference for me.”

Please note: dietary changes should only be made in consultation with your healthcare provider.

When asked what helped the most in her recovery that could help others, Kiesza had 3 answers: consistency, help from others, and patience. “You have to consistently work at it [getting better],” Kiesza says. “Have someone there to help you – someone who is going to be honest, no sugar-coating”

Understanding patience also helped Kiesza move forward. “I wanted to control my healing. When I surrendered to patience, the process changed. I [realized I] can help my healing, but I can’t control it.”

Today, Kiesza is jumping back into her music career. It’s not the same as it was before, but she’s grateful for that.

“I’ve reconnected to the storyteller in me. My lyrics have opened up honestly,” she explains. Writing the songs is still a challenge. “I wasn’t able to write for very long periods of time, but now I’m good at writing quickly before I get tired.”

Kiesza has also started her new record label, Zebra Spirit Tribe. “I was worried,” she says about starting the label. “It’s a lot more work and an uphill battle, but in a good way.”

“It takes bravery, and I take bravery with me throughout. I had a second chance at life, and I’m not going to take the path of least resistance,” she says.

The name for her record label came through an experience early in her recovery. “My friend recommended an animal spirit healer,” Kiesza shares. “I was open-minded, and I was trying everything [to help with the injury]. The healer did a lot of body work, so at least I’d get a good massage,” she said. “She was working down my back and stopped at my lower back and said the zebra spirit was speaking to her. There was a void there, something to do with my brain injury.”

For Kiesza, addressing the problem in her back helped her feel better and aided in her recovery. When the time came to name her label, the choice seemed appropriate.

Kiesza has plans for a hybrid album to release later in 2020, and will continue working on her recovery, her music and her business. “I’m now in a place where I can put out a lot more, and I’m dissecting my journey,” Kiesza says. “It’s not something I always like to go back to,” she says, but acknowledges that, “my story has a lot of hope in it.”

That hope is what Kiesza wants others to take away with them. “The injury changed the way I viewed my life,” she says. “It’s the hardest thing to do. It’s the hardest thing I ever did,” she says of recovery and embracing her new life. “Even though it feels like the worst, it could be an opportunity for growth,” she says. For Kiesza, those silver linings made all the difference.

Tim Kerr

Tim-KerrNaval commander Tim Kerr didn’t know anything about brain injury or stroke before he suffered his own in 2012.

“It happened out of the blue while I was at sea,” Tim says. At the time, Tim was a captain of a destroyer stationed off the west coast of America. “I was exercising on an elliptical: next thing I knew I was in a hospital.”

What happened between the elliptical and waking up in the hospital was filled in for Tim by crew members and doctors. “The crew said they found me seizing on the floor: luckily we had a medical professional on board who followed stroke protocol. They evacuated me to another ship nearby with a physician, who then ordered my evacuation to a hospital in San Diego.”

The first few days

“I remember waking up and feeling surprised, fearful, and confused,” Tim remembers. “My initial concern was ‘I have to get back to my ship’. I had a lot of questions.”

It took some time for doctors to confirm why Tim had had a stroke – he was a healthy man in his 40’s when it happened. But after several tests, including MRIs, they had their diagnosis. I had a hemorrhagic stroke in the right parietal [section of the brain] which affected the left side of my body,” Tim explains. This left him with paralysis in the left side of his body and mild issues with his memory.

“I remember thinking ‘I had a stroke. I’m disabled. Is this going to be my state? Am I going to recover?’” Tim recalls. “In early recovery, I was extremely emotional – I couldn’t control them. [I felt] anger at the situation, uncertainty, fear, and sadness.”

A lot of that uncertainty resolved into determination. “Family was a motivator: I was determined to recover as best as I could,” Tim says. He had young kids, and he was determined to do as much with them as possible.

Going through rehabilitation

Tim’s determination started in the hospital. Before he started rehabilitation, he tried to use his right side to manage his left-side deficit. “One example is that I would drag myself to the bathroom with the help of my wife or using other supports in the room with my right side trying to compensate for my left.”

“It didn’t really hit me until I arrived at the Élisabeth Bruyère rehab centre [in Ottawa] how disabled I was. I was in a wheelchair, and they showed me my room. Then they took me to the dining room with all the other stroke survivors. I was leaning because of my left-side deficit. One of the volunteers there tried to begin the process of feeding me.”

The action really shocked Tim. “I thought “is this how I’m going to be for the rest of my life?”” It was difficult for him to come to terms with all the changes he had faced, and would continue to face as he recovered.

After a week of assessment, Tim’s rehabilitation program began. It was a mix of physiotherapy, occupational therapy, and cognitive therapy. “In the first stage I worked on my core, exercises to rewire my brain to support my core and help me sit upright. We spent a month on this stage.”

“In the second stage I did arm and leg exercises. It was a very robust physio program. In the third stage, once my left arm started to improve, I went to occupational therapy to work on fine motor skills.”

Tim was motivated. “I had an end goal in mind the entire time: be mobile enough to play with my kids.” But in his first 6 weeks, Tim says he didn’t see a lot of improvement and was discouraged. While it helped to have that big end goal, Tim admits that focus on such a big goal made it difficult to see results. “Setting daily, weekly goals helped me see progress. It wasn’t until I implemented those small goals that I started to see results,” he says.

Tim spent a total of three and a half months at Élisabeth Bruyère and was able to walk out using a walker. He continued outpatient rehab and progressed to using a cane and then after a number of months was able to walk unaided. He attributes part of his success in rehabilitation to his age, his military background, and his past experiences.

“This was not my first time in rehabilitation,” Tim says. “In 2009 (3 years before the stroke), I was in the United Kingdom (UK) doing training. I was in an armoured vehicle accident and my right femur went through my right hip. I joined a complex trauma group in the UK during my long period of rehabilitation. I walked in on crutches. Everyone else was a Royal Marine wounded in action – many were missing limbs. I did rehab alongside them, and they were an incredible group of people.”

This experience showed Tim the importance of being determined and having support when in rehabilitation. It’s what helped him after his stroke.

“I had so much support at Élisabeth Bruyère. I love the staff. I also recognize I had a rare level of support from the military, family and friends.”

Along with his wife and kids, Tim had frequent visits from his parents. “They advocated for me, pushed for me,” Tim says. “My dad motivated me, and he helped me. He would even give me baths – now that’s something I never thought I would need him to do again.”

Once Tim was discharged from Élisabeth Bruyère, he continued as an outpatient. “I’m very happy with my recovery. I’m kind of amazed at my recovery, looking back,” Tim says. “I’ve recovered about 95% of my mobility. I use precaution and walking poles for long walks, and cleats/spikes in the winter. I stay healthy with safe exercise. And now I actually volunteer at Élisabeth Bruyère.”

While Tim recognizes that not everyone will recover to the extent that he has, he does believe that support and motivation play an important role for everyone. “People lose a lot of motivation and miss opportunities for improvement because they don’t have external support. Ideally everyone would have someone – an advocate, a case manager during rehabilitation who would provide that external help.” As a volunteer, Tim tries to lend his personal experiences and determination to others, providing some of that motivation himself.

Returning to work

At the time of his stroke, Tim was a naval commander finishing his time at sea. During his initial recovery, he was placed on medical leave.

“The military had a robust mechanism for a plan to return to work. I worked with a military case manager,” Tim explains. “I started a couple half days a week about 9 months after the stroke. My employers and I slowly added half days over several months. I was full-time 14 months after the stroke.”

Tim still experiences fatigue and takes anti-seizure medications. After 3 years he received a medical release from the Canadian armed forces, and now works in public service in Veterans Affairs.

Every day is a starting point

When asked what he wanted others to take away from his story, Tim had a simple answer. “No matter what happens to you, you can always move forward,” he says. “What’s important is to do the work, set goals, try to find someone to accompany you on your journey. Always believe you can recover to some degree. I took that lesson into my stroke recovery.”

“Every day is a starting point. You owe it to yourself to make your life as good as it can be.”

Kinnie Starr

Kinnie-StarrMusician Kinnie Starr acquired a brain injury in 2015 after a distracted driver collided with her taxi in downtown Vancouver at 70 kilometres an hour. But she didn’t know about it until 18 months later.

“I knew nothing about brain injury [before my accident],” Kinnie says. “For the first few months, the focus was on my physical injuries. I had an injured spine and limbs.” As she worked through rehabilitation for her physical injuries, she began to realize that something else was going on.

“When I laid down to go to sleep, the bed would be spinning. I was experiencing sensations such as the room moving, depth-perception issues, and my spatial relationships changed,” she says. Kinnie knew these things were real, but because of the brain injury that hadn’t been discovered yet, she had trouble drawing attention to what she was experiencing – especially since her other injuries were more visible and immediate. “There were a lot of other physical matters with my legs, pelvis, shoulders and spine. And I couldn’t articulate what was happening because of the brain injury.”

“My husband is the person who noticed something was off. He said I was flipping my sentences, had slurred speech, and my walk had changed,” Kinnie says. “It was about a year, a year and a half before I was [officially] diagnosed.”

Finding answers and the right rehabilitation

The process of finding answers and treatment was a long one for Kinnie and her family. Once it was clear that something was going on besides her physical injuries, it took some time to find the right solutions.

“I was boggled with [the] medical investigation,” Kinnie says, trying to describe what it was like to live with a brain injury and find a diagnosis. “It’s…you’re just in it”. When she did receive her diagnosis, Kinnie started multiple kinds of rehabilitation – many of which she continues to this day. “I’m still ongoing with rehabilitation – for example cold laser therapy, sensory deprivation, and going to a chiropractor.”

While the therapies are a big help, Kinnie still faces challenges every day. “I still have to be careful with changes in light,” she says. “I try to build self-care into my days; take time away from stimulus. For example, I carry an eye mask with me to create my own dark space. Even if it’s just a few minutes in an airport bathroom where I can get a little privacy – it makes a big difference for me.”

Kinnie’s other self-care tip is simple: “put your phone down.” It may seem small, but for Kinnie replacing part of her scroll time with other activities or rest made a big difference.

The impact on her music

The impact of Kinnie’s injuries had a profound effect on everything, including her livelihood as a musician. “I went from living my life to not being able to do my work,” she says. “I’m an artist – that’s my trade.”

It was challenging for Kinnie to put to words what her experience was like in the early stages of her recovery – particularly when it came to the changes in her abilities. “There’s no way to explain the lack when you aren’t in a standard work environment,” she says. “When you work alone, you don’t have people interacting with you, noticing changes [in you].”

It was difficult for Kinnie to even sit down and pick up her instrument. “I couldn’t play guitar: even looking at it I vomited or fell off my stool,” she says. She would even occasionally experience the sensations that accompany urination.

When Kinnie had her accident, she had already committed to another album called Feed the Fire. “The record label hired a producer (Douglas Romanow) to help me meet my contract,” Kinnie says. “It was the first time I had a co-writer. It was really interesting.” Kinnie was used to working solo, and even when working with Douglas would continue to write the lyrics privately.

Co-working and her brain injury made for an unusual schedule that neither of them were quite used to. “When we started I could only do about 45 minutes at a time, and then I’d have to take a break or be done for the day,” Kinnie says. This was a change from the full days of work she had been able to do in the past. “The album workflow was so dynamic, very stop and start. He [Douglas] turned out to be a good friend and was incredibly patient,” Kinnie says.

With patience and hard work, Kinnie has made incredible improvements in her recovery and her music. “Now I can do 8 hours a day. And 6 months ago (2019) she was able to start playing guitar again. It was a big milestone, one she was happy to celebrate.

The way brain injury impacted Kinnie changed her outlook on being an artist. “I’m a new person. I’ll never take my musical skill set for granted again,” she says.

Furthering the conversation

One of the biggest challenges Kinnie has experienced is the lack of knowledge and understanding about brain injury. While her husband, mom and other family members and friends were incredibly supportive, other people didn’t understand what was happening.

“People don’t understand brain injury. Some thought I was just being emotional,” she remembers. Now, a few years after the accident, she’s hoping to help change that.

“[After the accident] I didn’t know where to go for help – even my doctor didn’t know I had a brain injury,” she says. “There’s a lot of misinformation about how a head injury presents itself,” she adds. It’s not just one set of symptoms – it’s a whole range of them, and many are invisible.

“There’s not enough info on nuanced human emotion and brain injury,” Kinnie says. She explains that there are a lot of emotions connected to a brain injury, and for her it’s easy to see them when you know what to look for. “When you have a brain injury, you know when someone else does. They look lost, confused, and scared,” Kinnie says, adding she felt the same way.

Kinnie is also trying to bring more attention to the differences between genders when it comes to head injury. During the legal case for her accident, her lawyer was representing 3 other women with head injuries, all of whom were experiencing drastic changes to their reproductive health and sexual functions. “Because there is a history of women’s sexual health being tied exclusively to reproductive function, women over 30 who experience sexual dysfunction from brain injuries are readily accused of histrionics…should their issues be brought to court. Men, on the other hand, can readily demonstrate loss of sexual function because (for them) it is visible,” she says. This was an eye-opening discovery for Kinnie. She has spent time working with researchers at the University of Calgary on a medical journal article (being published soon) about women and concussion in an effort to further this particular conversation about brain injury and gender.

Listen to Kinnie Starr

Kinnie has been actively involved in many other projects since her injury, including the documentary Play Your Gender about the gender wage gap in the music industry, and was a musical partner for the Haida language film Edge of the Knife. She also has new tracks coming out in 2020. It’s safe to say that brain injury has not impacted Kinnie’s drive to support what she believes in and to share her music.

For more information about her music and to listen to her songs, you can visit her website or check her out on streaming services.

Jonathan McMurray

Jonathan-McMurrayMy name is Jonathan McMurray and I have been living with a traumatic brain injury since 1995. This story begins in August 1995 in Riviere Du Loup, Quebec. We were three students returning to Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. We were enroute from Georgetown, Ontario to finish our final year at university. My life changed forever that day, late at night in the dark along the Trans-Canada highway near the New Brunswick border. A car tire popped and as the car flipped I was ejected from the side window. My seat belt wasn’t fastened because it was my turn to sleep and I was stretched out in the back.

Help came quickly, because as luck would have it there was a trauma hospital near the accident site in Riviere Du Loup. Calls went out to my family around midnight from the hospital. My family was asked to get to Riviere Du Loup as quickly as possible as I lay in a coma (a 6/15 on the Glasgow coma scale). They came from Georgetown, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, and Victoria, British Columbia not knowing what to expect or what was to come next. No one knew that I had suffered a traumatic brain injury, they just knew they had to get there as quickly as possible.

I’d had a very hassle-free life up to that point. My parents, two brothers and I lived in Georgetown – a small town less than an hour west of Toronto. I’d had girlfriends, played some basketball and spent most of my free time on my skateboard or listening to music. All of my childhood and 22 years of my life were completely erased after my brain injury. So my life really didn’t change: it ended. Everything was taken from me.

Coming back to earth in 1995, I was a complete alien. I knew no colours or shapes or much of anything really. Music had luckily stayed with me, and that was an enormous help to my rehabilitation. My family and friends of course were always able to fill in the countless gaps of my memory. Also social media was very helpful in putting my life back together. Not completely together because 22 years were missing, but as together as it was going to get. Everyone would always share stories about my youth which for me was a complete mystery: it seemed like make-believe or like someone else’s story. Gradually over time I was able to piece together enough stories of my past to realize that the accident hadn’t changed me really, it had just damaged some of my parts.

My parents and brothers were always there. I had to re-meet them and have complete trust that they knew what would help me. Never hovering over me, but always there to help me navigate. They would tell me that the raccoon I almost let into our house was not the neighbour’s dog, but a slightly more dangerous animal. Or that shaving cream was not whipped cream and I shouldn’t stick it in my mouth. I was forced to trust that these people that I didn’t recognize (my parents) would look after me. Everything was entirely foreign so I had to hope that this “family” knew what I needed and how I would best get it.

A story that I sort of remember from the early days of my recovery was when I was tasked with picking a cassette tape for the ride to Annapolis Royal. My parents and I entered the store and my mother reminded me that I was allowed to pick out any tape that I wanted. Once we made our way to the tape section of the store I was a fish out of water. There were a lot of different tapes to choose from and I didn’t have a clue what to get. I saw a staff member (which I recognized because of the uniform) and thought she could help me pick out a tape. “Excuse me, which tape should I buy?” I asked.

She looked at me like I was 100% alien, and I guess I was pretty close at that time. “I don’t know, what do you like?

“I don’t know,” I said to her and I was being totally honest. I didn’t know what I liked or what I wanted.

“Well you could get the last Nirvana tape, they won’t be making anymore music now that Kurt Cobain is dead,” she told me.

“Kurt Cobain is dead?” This had happened over a year ago but I had no idea, and this was an example of feeling ‘out of it’. This feeling I would learn to accept and live with, but it was one of the hard realities of brain injury. When we got to my grandmother’s house and I told my cousin Duncan that Kurt Cobain had died, he tried really hard not to look at me as though I had three heads.

Duncan and I went through my huge collection of music afterwards and something else shocking happened. For some reason that I couldn’t understand at the time, there were a bunch of hip hop CDs and tapes in my collection. Without thinking twice I took every tape or CD that looked like a “rap” product and put it in a shopping bag to give to my cousin. Hundreds of dollars worth of music was bagged and given away; I was sure that this stuff wasn’t mine. A year or so later I would buy all of these records again but at that point I was totally certain they didn’t belong to me.

My brain injury also came with visual agnosia, which adds another layer of difficulty to my already complicated life. Visual agnosia is when you can see things, but you can’t necessarily figure out what they are just by looking. My wife came in to visit me once at work some years back and I had no idea who she was until she spoke. She had straightened her hair.

Having been through my own traumatic brain injury, I have three suggestions to share from my long, exhausting, frustrating journey – and that of my family.

1. Be patient – Now the medical staff would understand this more easily than the patients, but it makes sense (trust me). Take baby steps, and celebrate your accomplishments as they happen. Take/make note of what you do as it’s done (you may think “big deal” at the time but it is a big deal). So use a memory book or daily schedule to recognize your progress. This observation of your accomplishments will help you see progress and continue to be patient.

2. Take breaks – When you are tired and/or worn out you need to learn to give yourself time. Obviously everyone wants to work on making himself or herself better, but cut yourself some slack. If you could go and listen to a record, or go for a walk, or play a game then you would be taking better care of yourself. You are far less apt to throw in the towel and settle if you take breaks. Once you’ve had your break from what can be a totally intense reality, then get back to work on your self-reconstruction project. If you stick to it when you are tired than everyone loses. The project or task at hand won’t be done as well as possible, and if you push it too much then you will either become even more frustrated with your situation and/or start to give up. Never ever give up. It’s not a test that may affect your grades: this is your new reality. No magical spacecraft will come from the sky to return everything to how it was. In 1995 I was in such bad shape that the doctors and nurses would be surprised to see me today. But I took breaks, and I never gave up. There is no due date on rehabilitation: it is a journey.

3. Be happy – This will be the hardest to understand and the most likely piece of advice to frustrate you. Try however to look for the good in life, appreciate the beauty that surrounds us. It is not for me to guess or try to figure out how you will be happy. YOU figure out how to be happy. It could be puzzles that make you happy, art, picture books, watching birds, eating an orange – whatever! Music was mine – it had the ability to take me away to a much happier place. So when your world seems too much or too intense then you have found your front row tickets to a happier place.

This now is not advice but a fact that may get lost in the fog of rehabilitation. This can be an incredibly long journey. The sooner you realize this the better prepared you will be for what could lie ahead. 22 ago my family and I would have never predicted how far I would come. That I would have – with some extensions of course – finished my Bachelor of Arts at Acadia University. That I would become employable and employed. That I would meet a beautiful woman, get married and have two boys. That I would function quite well as a stay at home dad. That after a decade or so of hard work I’d become a published author with my first book “Mind the Gap” that describes my long journey back to health.

We also couldn’t predict that over 20 years after my brain injury I would be diagnosed with cancer in three different parts of my body. Fortunately, after surgery and an intense treatment of chemotherapy I have recently been told that I am cancer-free.

Thanks to the lessons I’ve learned over the past two decades and a support system of family and friends, I’m here: I’m not sure where I would be today without them.

Thank you for reading my story and I wish you the best with yours.

For more information about my experience, visit my website:

Cindy McNaughton

Cindy-survivorMy name is Cindy McNaughton, and I have lived with the effects of concussion since September 2015. This is my experience and it isn’t to scare you: it’s so you feel normal if this has happened to you.

I was leaving work for the day. I worked as a letter carrier with Canada Post. The loading dock door was left 3/4 of the way open. I was looking in my bag for my keys and when I lifted my head, I walked into the steel bar on the bottom of the dock door.

I remember excruciating pain, blacking out and coming to in a crouched position. I split the bridge of my nose and had a very large goose egg on the left side of my forehead. I also somehow managed to jar my jaw in such a way that I loosened my two front teeth.

I was fortunate one of my supervisors was familiar with concussions, but I had a different supervisor go to the hospital with me. They left to pick up their child before I was seen. I can’t stress enough how important it is to have someone there who will wait with you and be your advocate to make sure everything gets checked over thoroughly, make sure they ask questions about what to expect, resources to help and what to watch for after the person with the concussion leaves the hospital. The ER doctor suspected I had a concussion and I just remember him telling me I shouldn’t drive. For how long? I don’t remember that part.

It is still very emotional for me to remember that day because moving forward, my life changed so much. Honestly, I really only remember the very beginning of my injury. The next few months is just gone.

I had a very hard time with any noise, lights, and being around crowds and people. I was tired all the time and I was beyond irritable with the smallest things. My short-term memory was fairly nonexistent. I hated talking on the phone and it was so frustrating being asked all the time how I was because there was so many things happening with me, I couldn’t pinpoint what I was feeling.

My cousin, who I am so grateful for, came to help me for a week with my daughter. I can’t even recall what she did, other than let me sleep. At some point months later, I thought I would be okay quickly. But that wasn’t the case and it scared me to think that I actually had a concussion for this long. I started Googling signs and symptoms and there were so many I had. I felt a sense of relief that what I was feeling was part and parcel of a concussion.

I saw a physiotherapist who helped me with tracking things, as my eyes and brain just wouldn’t line up and it made me so nauseous. The exercises I was given tired out my brain so much I would nap for hours after. One of the hardest symptoms for me was my memory loss. Everyone noticed that I would say something and two minutes later forget. I used so many sticky notes, but they were what helped me remember. Another very frustrating symptom – that I still have four years later – is having a word on the tip of my tongue and for the life of me I can’t think of it. I can remember the longer or different version of the word and I use a thesaurus to figure out the right word. I just hope it will still get better over time.

I did eventually return to work. I have been a registered massage therapist since 2002 and dropped down to part time while I worked at the Post. I was a casual there for 7 years. I took a three month leave of absence after my concussion, but if I took any longer I would lose my seniority. I wasn’t 100% functioning at optimum and didn’t have it in me to negotiate more time, so I went back and ended up spraining my ankle badly. I knew I needed more time to heal and being at the Post was not going to facilitate that, so I decided to open a massage clinic and handed in my resignation in October 2016. I should’ve fought harder but didn’t have anyone to help. So, I did return to work, but it’s a huge blank. I don’t remember any of the small details, but it was for less than a year.

I use a lot of coping strategies like the sticky notes and the thesaurus. Another coping strategy is letting everyone I know well that I’ve had a concussion, so things don’t run as smoothly in my brain as they once did. I also saw a physiotherapist who dealt with concussions and worked on my tracking with my brain and eyes, balance, hand eye coordination and really let me know I was “normal” with the symptoms I was experiencing. The biggest strategy is I’m patient with myself, which was not always the case. I’m not who I was. My brain doesn’t work the same although it’s getting better, but if I forget something or can’t do roller coasters anymore with my daughter, it is my way of life and I accept that.

Time is what heals. Be patient with yourself and be open with everyone on the struggles you have so they can help you. Always take the help.

Michael McNally

Mike McNallyMy name is Michael McNally, and I have had my brain injury since the fall of 2009.

I was on my way home from work, when I blacked out and I was in a car accident. The doctors figured out that I had a brain aneurysm which caused my accident.

I was at the Hamilton Hospital in a coma for between 6-9 months. There was a lot of blood in my brain, and I had 4-5 blood transfusions. The damage was mostly on the right side of my brain, and I had surgery.

I spent a total of 2 and a half years at the hospital. Now I live in at Thornton View Long-term Care in Oshawa.

When I first got my brain injury, I couldn’t move the left side of my body. I also lost the ability to swallow whole foods and some of my speech. Doctors told me I would probably never walk again.

After I was told I wouldn’t walk again, I did lots of physical therapy. One exercise that really helped improve my mobility was tossing a ball back and forth with my therapist.

Today I have a step counter and I use a walker. I can even walk for a short time without the walker. I participate in Brain Injury Society of Toronto’s fundraising walks, and last time we raised $18,000.

My advice to other people with brain injury is to never give up. Not even once. It’s hard: I still get migraines and have a speech impediment. I continue to do physical therapy. But the hard work is paying off. And my goal is to continue getting better so I can walk out of here and into my home to my wife and kids.

I would like to thank my wife Dawn and my children Taylor and Ryan, my mom and dad, my brothers Mark and Matthew, and all my friends abroad and here at Thornton View for their continued love and support.