Why Am I Still Here?
Installing garage doors and security gates for a living, Chris Glowa didn’t see his mission in life coming. A self-professed adrenaline junkie, he was always searching for the next high. Chris worked out twice daily at the gym, thought nothing of riding his street bike from Kelowna to Calgary at speeds reaching 290 km/hr, and pushed the limits while racing motocross on weekends. He played hard and partied hard. He smoked two packs of cigarettes a day, drank, and used cocaine.
After a night of heavy partying leading up to his thirty-first birthday, Chris showed up for a motocross race in Salmon Arm, severely hungover. While on the twisting, turning track he assumed the lead position of his group of riders. Unbeknownst to Chris, one of his buddies (also still feeling the effects of the night before), had gotten turned around on the track and begun heading in the wrong direction at top speed. They collided head-on, and Chris flew forty feet in the air in front of a horde of helpless spectators.
Chris died on the track that day, and was revived by the attending ambulance driver. On the way from Salmon Arm to Kelowna General Hospital his heart stopped beating again, and he was brought back to life a second time. Despite surviving the crash, the prognosis was grim. Chris had suffered twenty-two fractures and lay in a coma for the next seven months. The doctor said that Chris would never recover – he’d never walk, talk, or feed himself again. When he regained consciousness, Chris says the outcomes of the brain injury he’d sustained left him feeling like an infant as he lay in bed “in diapers”, unable to do anything for himself.
He then began the long road back to what he calls “being a man” again. Chris underwent extensive physiotherapy and speech therapy. Now 44 years old, he can take steps with a cane, though relies on a motorized wheelchair to maneuver his way more quickly and safely. Chris works hard to form every word he utters and at times, he still struggles to be understood. He continues to work diligently with a speech-language pathologist, believing that the ability to communicate by speaking is the most important thing he can recover. Chris did smoke and drink for years after his injury, but eventually quit. While he once had no shortage of girlfriends, Chris is now single and resides in an assisted living facility.
Connecting with BrainTrust has brought unique kinds of support to Chris on his healing journey. This has included getting the cost of his medications decreased, leaving him with more money for daily living expenses; helping him learn how to navigate the bus system, so he can be more mobile in the community; and advocating for a nearby gym to become more wheelchair accessible, so he can continue to work with weights.
Today Chris has replaced his old thrill-seeking behaviours with gratitude for the simple things that he can do on his own again - preparing meals, going to the gym, reading his email. Every evening he calls his grandmother and reminds her to take her medication.
Chris takes full responsibility for the choice to drink and drive that resulted in his accident. “I was an adrenaline junkie, and I got caught,” he says. He does, however, wish other people better understood how long it can take to recover from brain injury and how hard it is to live with the consequences. “Everything gets taken away from you,” says Chris.
At times he has struggled with depression and found himself asking, “Why am I here? Why am I still here?” Today, Chris believes he has an answer to that question. He feels it’s his mission to encourage others to quit drinking and doing drugs, and especially to stop driving while under the influence. Chris shares his own story as an example of how tragic and life-altering the outcome of those behaviours can be.
It’s a big mission, and he’s not the first one to tackle it. But Chris says he has always been determined – that’s something the brain injury didn’t change. His determination is evident every time he uses all his strength to stand on his own two feet, every time he fights to communicate through words, and every time he chooses to get up in the morning and make his saved life count for something.
Makes one beg the obvious…wouldn’t the choice to stop drinking or doing drugs and driving be a whole lot easier to fulfill than what Chris goes through every day? And yet, alcohol and drug-related brain injuries keep happening. There are over one million new cases of brain injury in North America each year. Motor vehicle incidents account for 60% of them, and from one third to one half of persons incurring a traumatic brain injury are intoxicated at the time of injury.
Sometimes we have to look back before we can see our way forward. Chris’ willingness to take responsibility for past choices has led him to finding a mission that in his wildest imagination, he couldn’t have seen coming. When he stands up for that mission, let’s not let Chris stand alone.