Brain injury has many faces - meet some of our clients.
Her Road to Recovery
On a bright and sunny July morning Shelley Pacholok and her cycling companion stopped to discuss their route before continuing down a winding stretch of road. It would be the last thing Shelley remembered until two weeks later when she awoke to learn she had been hit by a truck.
Shelley’s husband visited her in the hospital several times a day, and each time she asked him why she was there. When she began to remember, panic set in. A dedicated professional, she worried about getting out of the hospital in time to prepare for two international conferences she planned to attend.
Then came the news from the neurosurgeon: her plans would have to change. Shelley broke down. She was a sociology professor at UBCO who regularly clocked 60 hour work weeks and the brain injury Shelley sustained would prove career-ending.
Three and half years later, tears still fill Shelley’s eyes when she talks about the loss of her professional life. “This has been the hardest part, because it was just such a big part of who I was...when you leave that behind you, then you have to craft a new identity for yourself.” It’s a struggle that people with acquired brain injury know well.
“It was a complete 360 from being a successful academic and financially stable to losing a career and all the implications that go with that...brain injury nearly took me down.”
Accepting her new life has been a slow and emotional process that Shelley admits is not yet complete. Frustrated by the ongoing effects of debilitating fatigue, slower processing time, and vertigo, Shelley has been forced to shift her perception of what it means to be ‘productive’.
While her pace is now different, Shelley is still an academic at heart. She has begun researching and writing about the experience of having a brain injury in hopes that she will someday publish a book that will “get brain injury on the radar”. The numbers are staggering. Someone in Canada sustains a brain injury every three minutes, and brain injury is the largest cause of death and disability under the age of 44, yet it is considered a ‘silent epidemic’ largely due to lack of awareness.
Shelley sees BrainTrust Canada as instrumental in connecting those with brain injury with programs, resources, and education that help them navigate their new reality. Attending the peer support group there has also given her a safe space to process her experience without judgment and to talk with others who’ve traveled this road.
Composed and articulate, Shelley’s voice breaks again. “It’s not the life I imagined...I’d give anything for my old brain back, but I think it’s going to be okay.”
Living His Dream
Four-year-old Mark Bertolutti was simply answering the call of a friend to come and play when he was hit by a car as he ran across the street. That day he sustained a brain injury that altered the course of his life.
Now 46, Mark matter-of-factly explains that he’s never really known life without brain injury. It hasn’t been an easy one.
He was laughed at as a child and struggled with learning to read, unable to remember what he had read. This was compounded by worrying about retaining the information. He has never read a book, and can’t always respond quickly in conversation.
Yet he is very aware of the subtle and sometimes unintended judgments that lie beneath the words of those without brain injury.
“I wish people could treat each other for who they are, and not who they think they are…we all have situations in our lives where things have happened…it might not be an injury, but we should all understand each other.”
His greatest ongoing difficulty has been connecting with others. “I’m a pretty lonely guy,” he says candidly.
Though not a reader Mark is a poet, enjoying the permission this genre gives him to share his deep thoughts in a condensed fashion. Seeing Mark’s passion for sharing his poetry during a peer support group, a BrainTrust Canada employee suggested he connect with Inspired Word Cafe (IWC) - a local coffeehouse show for poets and musicians.
At IWC Mark has found a form of connection through self-expression. It is his goal in life to help others, and he loves the idea that his words could reach and inspire someone he may never even meet.
This opportunity has been a life-changing experience. “I’m living my dream because of BrainTrust.”