Walking for Brain Injury Awareness

What may seem like a small, inconsequential decision can have a huge impact. Brain injury can happen in a split second to anyone at any time and “affects more than two million people in Canada. This means that there are more than 6 million family members and caregivers living with the effects of brain injury”. (Brain Injury Canada 2018)

Sharon Wells was a high school student in Invermere, BC on February 6, 1982 when she decided to join her friends at a party rather than babysit that day. That decision changed the course of her life and the lives of her family and friends.

She was walking on the road with friends that evening when the group was struck by a vehicle who tried to leave the scene. He was caught down the road by police after other kids from the party slowed him down.

The World Health Organization defines an acquired brain injury (includes traumatic brain injury or TBI) as:

“Damage to the brain, which occurs after birth and is not related to a congenital or a degenerative disease.  These impairments may be temporary or permanent and cause partial or functional disability or psychosocial maladjustment.”

World Health Organization (Geneva 1996)

Several of the kids in the group were also injured but Sharon’s injuries were the most severe. She lay on the side of the road for nearly an hour before being driven to hospital as she was too critically injured to be airlifted. This was actually “a blessing” according to her mom as Sharon survived the impact likely due to the cold temperature.

She was however, left with a traumatic brain injury and permanent disabilities.

Sharon spent six weeks in a coma in hospital in Calgary with bruising on both sides of her brain.

Sharon’s mother, also named Sharon Wells, recounts the early days after her daughter came out of her coma.

“It was like starting over again with a brand new baby. I had to feed her. She had to learn how to walk and talk again.”

It took Sharon eight months before she was able to speak again and she has trouble walking without support. She still speaks with great difficulty and her mother is often asked to “translate” what she says to people who do not know her well.

She spent one year in the inpatient program at GF Strong in Vancouver, BC relearning basic skills before going home.

While Sharon’s mom had been told that there was not much available in the community for people with brain injuries, she was shocked to discovered just how limited the services were. Sharon’s care fell to her family.

Her mom wants people to know that dealing with brain injury is extremely hard. “Everything is not rosy”, she says with a sigh. “The family suffers as well and most find it difficult to deal with the injured family member”.

If you are struggling with caring for someone with a brain injury, it is important to know that you are not alone.

Sharon understands the struggles faced by caregivers all too well. Wanting to provide as much rehabilitation as she could for her injured daughter, she involved her in therapeutic riding, doing exercises, and helping in the garden. She also incorporated activities at home to help with fine motor skills, including colouring. To this day, adult colouring books are one of her daughter’s favourite things to do.

Eventually, they got involved in the development of the Fraser Valley Brain Injury Association’s Community Leisure Program in Hope, BC, which opened in January 2008.

“I thoroughly enjoy that she is so interested in it. This program is special to her and she gets excited about it.” – Sharon Wells

Funded by Fraser Health Authority’s Acquired Brain Injury Services, fundraising dollars from the local Fraternal Order of Eagles and donations from the community, this small program provides support to people with acquired brain injuries.

It also gives family members a few hours a week to have some time to themselves, to run errands and have a small break from the intensity of 24-7 caregiving.

Other than this program, her mom has only limited family support to care for her and once a year, she puts Sharon in respite for a bit of time away. Otherwise, Sharon relies on her mom to care for her. Brain injuries can result in a variety of challenges, both physical and cognitive, so living independently is not always an option.

The Community Leisure Program’s long-time Manager, Heather Plain has known Sharon since she started coming to the program.

“She is talking more since I first met her. She is more outgoing and more demanding”, she says with a chuckle. “She has come so far and is so helpful.”

Mom Sharon laughs aloud as she muses, “Sharon is so proud to bring stuff home from here. All of her paintings and crafts are kept in a tote in her room because we can’t possibly throw any of it away”,

Her mom says that Sharon loves coming to the program and likes the painting. “She thinks every day is art day. I thoroughly enjoy that she is so interested in it. This program is special to her and she gets excited about it.”

Sharon wholeheartedly agrees and when asked whether she likes the program, she enthusiastically states, “Yes, I have fun here!” and “Yes, I like coming here!” Her smile is broad, from ear to ear, and her excitement is infectious.

The program has started offering a broader variety of activities including art, games, cards, movie days and community outings. They also volunteer at the Eagles Bingo nights and at the foodbank once a month.

Heather mentions, “Sharon is open to the new direction the program is going even though one of her favourite things has always been the art.” Sharon has sold several of her paintings over the years and her mom has noticed a big improvement in her fine motor skills. She can colour inside the lines now.

The group hopes that the program can grow and they want to get the word out. Sharon’s mom welcomes people to “come talk to us” to find out more about brain injury.

June is Brain Injury Awareness Month so this tightly-bonded mother/daughter team are both doing their part to raise awareness. #BrainInjuryAcrossCanada

They are participating in the Annual Brain Injury Awareness Walkathon at 3:00 pm on Saturday June 16, 2018 at Mill Lake Park in Abbotsford, BC.

They have already raised over $500 and even have matching t-shirts to wear during the walk so keep an eye out for them. Walk, wheel or run as much as you can or want to and come join them!

Proceeds from the Brain Injury Awareness Walkathon support Fraser Valley Brain Injury Association programs and the Abbotsford and Chilliwack brain injury drop in centres provided by Communitas Supportive Care Society.

Register, get your pledge forms and/or donate online at https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/brain-injury-awareness-walkathon-2018-tickets-43577389144, contact info@fvbia.org or call 604-869-9494 or 604-557-1913.

You can find out more about Fraser Valley Brain Injury Association’s other services and programs at www.fvbia.org 

The Fraser Valley Brain Injury Association’s Community Leisure Program for people with brain injuries is open Wednesdays and Fridays from 1:00 p.m. – 3:30 p.m. It is located at 19855 Owl St. Silver Creek, Hope, BC.

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