By Yvonne Neilsen
I am one of the people from Terrace you have heard about, one of several who have sustained what is called an Acquired Brain Injury (ABI).
In 1987 I was in a head-on car crash between Burns Lake and Houston. I was a passenger in the back seat of the car and sustained a severe brain injury to several parts of my brain, including stroke on right side, spinal cord injury (my back is fused with rods and clamps), foot drop, seat belt burn and other problems.
A traumatic brain injury is damage to the brain after an incident or an illness. Examples of an ABI cause include a blow to the head or hitting one’s head, which is what happened to me in the car accident—my head went forward and backward causing damage to most of my brain.
It also includes, as mentioned, strokes. I suffered a blood clot in the brain stem which caused a stroke on the right side. Other causes are brain tumours, brain infections, lack of oxygen, violent shaking (for example Shaken Baby Syndrome), and the effects of drugs and/or alcohol.
The brain controls everything your body does. Everything you do and think about, how you feel, breathing, regulating your body temperature, seeing, hearing, sleeping, swallowing, balance, smell and taste, appetite, and so on.
Brain injuries are invisible and each person’s brain injury is different. Children’s brains are particularly susceptible.
A few signs and symptoms of a brain injury a person may have include the following.
Physical effects: Get tired very easily; sleep problems; headaches; visual/hearing problems; problems with balance, coordination; paralysis or weakness in arms or legs, dizziness; spasticity (shaking, stiff or jerking muscles); seizures; cognitive effects, including changes in thinking abilities; difficulty concentrating; memory problems; flooding (brain gets overwhelmed and shuts down); disorganization; takes longer to learn new things; communication difficulties; multitasking; reasoning and judgment; and decision making.
Psychosocial effects: changes in emotions and social behaviour; problems with motivation (can’t get started, don’t finish things); change in self-identity; emotional issues; depression problems; anxiety and stress; impulsivity; impatience and anger; and difficulty with relationships.
Concussions: these are also a form of brain injury that results from a direct or indirect blow to the head, face or jaw causing a change in brain function. Symptoms of a concussion can last for days, weeks, years and for the rest of your life. Signs of a concussion may include: general confusion; nausea and vomiting; dizziness; strange behaviour and unusual emotions; slurred speech; headache; slow response to questions; loss of consciousness; sensitivity to sound and/or light.
I have taken it upon myself to encourage our community to follow steps that will reduce and prevent brain injuries and concussions. And it bears repeating.
Put on seat belts before the vehicle begins to move. Everyone in the vehicle must be buckled up. The hands are off the steering wheel to buckle up and it takes only a second for something to happen.
Adults must be good role models for their children, so that the child will grow up knowing about safety and obeying the law. When children see their parents are breaking the law, they end up doing the same thing. On the other hand, some children will do the opposite and inform the parents.
Also when driving a vehicle there must be no distractions, such as no talking on cell phones (there is a B.C. provincial law), no texting, no twittering. Don’t take eyes away from your driving focus on driving, don’t put make-up on while driving, don’t eat and drink while driving, etc. Always come to a complete stop at red lights and stop signs.
Over the years I have attended many brain injury conferences in Vancouver. Attending the conferences, I have learned about my own injury and in turn shared the information gained at the conferences in Terrace. I have also attended conferences in the past in Prince George, Smithers, Naramata, Comox, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Halifax, Regina, Ottawa, Charlottetown, P.E.I. In Vancouver one year I, along with a few other survivors, did a presentation from a survivor’s point of view. There were about 100 people who listened to our presentation.
I have provided information and been interviewed about acquired traumatic brain injury to The Terrace Standard newspaper for over 20 years. I have had total strangers come up to me and told me they appreciated the information.
I was also successful in lobbying the government for a change in Federal Income Tax for people who have a disability attending a post-secondary education part-time.
In the past I have done numerous interviews on CBC radio Daybreak North, as well as CFTK TV News, including a feature in Open Connection.
I have distributed Headline magazine, B.C.’s main brain injury publication to Terrace city councillors and mayor, and have also been featured in Headline a few times.
In the past I did presentations in the schools in Thornhill through the B.C. Injury Prevention Center called Injury Free Zone. I had positive feedback from the kids.
I was involved with the Bike Rodeo a few times. I thank the city for making a big sign/banner saying “Got Wheels Get a Helmet!” that was at the bike rodeo.
In the past I was also involved with the Brain Injury booth that was set up at the Farmers’ Market, and a couple of times Terrace’s Brain Injury Support group had a booth set up at the Trades Fair. We were very busy explaining brain injury to people. I have also had displays at Northwest Community College and at the Terrace Public Library.
I have donated books to the Terrace Public Library. All books are written by Canadians who are survivors of an ABI. I found out about these books by attending the Brain Injury Conferences over the years.
I highly recommend a number of books, one of which was co-authored by ex-NHLer Keith Primeau called Concussed! Sports-related Head Injuries: Prevention, Coping and Real Stories.
Another is Winds of Change, a collection of inspirational stories by survivors of brain injury that illuminates the power of the human spirit to overcome adversity.
The Courage to Come Back–Triumph over TBI a story of hope by Michael Coss, is another, as is March Forth: The Inspiring True Story of a Canadian Soldier’s journey of Love, Hope and Survival, by Trevor and Debbie Greene about an Afghanistan veteran who suffered a head injury.
I also recommend these websites:
*BC Brain Injury Association
*Brain Injury Association of Canada
The documentary called Wipe-Out from the Knowledge Network is also great, as are TV commercials made by preventable.ca.
The last words I would like to say:
Brain injury is for life – PROTECT YOUR HEAD – THINK AHEAD A FATAL BRAIN INJURY IS END OF LIFE.
Thank you for listening.