For those who have suffered a brain injury, there is often much to learn over again. And there can be an array of challenges in terms of finding and connecting with a supportive circle as well.
June is Brain Injury Awareness Month and the staff, volunteers and clients of the Central Alberta Brain Injury Society (CABIS) hope the public can become better informed about the impacts and complexities of brain injury.
The Society has been helping individuals and families deal with the effects of traumatic or acquired brain injury since 1991 – free of charge.
Richard Langohr, 54, suffered a brain injury in the early 1990s in Calgary which left him with significant memory problems. Distant memories are easier to retrieve then events that happened very recently, even the day prior, he explained. He doesn’t recall the fall from 8th Avenue bridge on Calgary’s Deerfoot Trail that caused the injury either.
He was first sent to Foothills Hospital, and was also in a coma for five months.
“The doctors were unsure what was going to happen to me – whether I was going to come out of the coma or not,” he said. And if he did recover, they had no idea how the injury would impact him cognitively.
Eventually, he went to Alberta Hospital Ponoka – now known as The Centennial Centre for Mental Health and Brain Injury – and he speaks of his time there as incredibly helpful and restorative. “I had a tremendous three years,” he said. After leaving the Centre he settled in Red Deer and soon became a part of CABIS.
He’d like for people to build a better understanding of brain injury, as that would work towards a better sense of understanding.
“Brain injury is not a disease – it’s something that happens to a lot of people. We all have problems. Besides brain injuries, there are other problems in life that come along.”
Jeff Booth suffered a brain injury in an accident in the early 1990s as well. He was not even 20 years old. “I was in an accident on the way home after work from the oil rigs,” he explained, adding after initial treatment he also spent time recovering at Ponoka as well. “It was helpful and they re-taught me how to do just about everything. I couldn’t walk and I couldn’t eat.”
He’s been involved with CABIS for about 10 years.
“You get to talk to other brain-injured people, and discuss all sorts of things,” he said, adding that belonging to CABIS has certainly been helpful. Club CABIS – a social drop-in support group spearheaded by survivors – started meeting in the early 1990s.
Jean Stinson, president of CABIS, said the organization hosts Club CABIS twice a month. There are also peer support groups and a caregiver support group once a month.
And with June being Brain Injury Awareness Month, several events are slated for the coming weeks. Post Concussion Syndrome presents speakers Doug Rowe and Dr. Norman Hoffman for the ‘Heads Up Concussion in High School Sports’ session on June 8th at The Hub on Ross, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
A picnic runs June 24th at Rotary Park from 5 to 8 p.m.
As mentioned, Club CABIS is a social drop-in session which meets the first and third Thursday afternoon of each month between 1:30-3 p.m. CABIS also operates with no government funding and must rely on donors plus grants and the generosity of the community via fundraisers – these include the annual silent auction set for June 19th-21st at Parkland Mall, plus the Wellness Ride which runs Aug. 15th.
Mark Bough, 41, suffered several severe injuries and a brain injury in a crash in August of 2012. He was in a coma for about six and half weeks and received further care in hospital for about 11 months altogether.
He said the injury, in particular, has affected him in regards to his emotions. And adjusting to life post-accident was extraordinarily hard.
“The main injury that I have is emotional control,” he explained. “Part of the issue is that sometimes, I don’t realize that I’ve been triggered. I can start to get angry and raising my voice, and I’m not even aware that I’m doing it. The people that are close to me have actually been instructed to basically tap me on the shoulder and say, ‘Mark, you are getting mad’. As soon as I realize it, I can usually calm down pretty quickly.”
Another loss is the ability to work again, he said, adding he broke his back and neck in several places as well. “I get very tired, and an emotional day can wear me right out.”
As to Brain Injury Awareness Month, he refers to the range of injuries as being essentially invisible to people. They can misunderstand the symptoms, such as speaking slowly, for intoxication or a mental disability. Sadly, people can also be very intimidated by those with brain injuries.
“For me, it’s about recognizing that a brain injury can happen to anybody,” said Stinson. “And oftentimes, people can overcome it and function quite well back in the community again. The community needs to be fully supportive of the whole family.
“So what we try to do in June is build awareness, that it can happen to anyone. And CABIS offers supports,” she said, emphasizing the drop-in programs that help to build community. “I think that’s always been very important – Club CABIS – for people to come in and meet others who have brain injuries. They can come here and feel a part of a bigger family. Relationships are formed.”
Bough agreed, adding further education is key to building awareness and ultimately, a more sensitive and caring response. “Quite frankly, I had no idea – prior to the injury – about brain injury. Most people don’t. And that’s the biggest thing.”