TestimonialsRead about brain injury survivors we have helped and people who have volunteered with us. Want to share your story? Contact us today!
Ila Branscombe aspired to become an interior designer. She was getting ready to be married and begin a fulfilling career. Then in 1994, she was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour. The doctors told her that no cure was available, and she had weeks to live. Radiation was deemed her only chance at survival. As a result, Ila underwent extreme radiation which left her with permanent brain damage, and she lost all day-to-day capabilities.
Shortly after, Ila learned that her brain tumour was misdiagnosed. The radiation had been entirely unnecessary.
The years that followed were spent relearning how to live again: walking, eating, speaking. After the radiation, Ila gained 90 pounds, lost her hair, and battled with depression. She lost her friends, fiancé, and career. Her family worked incredibly hard with her to restore her independence. Twelve years later, she was finally able to live alone across the street from her sister, Karen.
However, in 2012, Ila was hit by a car while crossing a crosswalk to get to Karen’s house. Karen recalls hearing emergency sirens outside her home and a police officer informing her that a homeless person had been hit by a car. She spotted a body on the road but didn’t recognize her sister because the impact had caused Ila to land 60 feet from the crosswalk. It wasn’t until an emergency personnel began cutting away Ila’s outer clothing that Karen stopped short and told the police,
“That’s not a homeless person, that’s my sister.”
Since the car accident, Ila requires 24-hour care. She is relegated to a wheelchair because she cannot walk. She has difficulty speaking and taking directions. The independence she worked so hard to gain over 12 years after her first brain injury was lost.
Then Ila began attending Brain Gain Fridays, a neuroplasticity program at the Vancouver Brain Injury Association. Karen notes the difficulty to find brain injury support for Ila in the Lower Mainland because of Ila’s behavioural and functional capabilities often disqualify her from programs. Additionally, many programs are underfunded or discontinued.
Despite her condition, Ila’s talent for visual design remains strong. While assessments during her hospitalization resulted in a low overall score, she was in the 99th percentile for visualization.
Before Ila’s brain injuries, Karen and Ila enjoyed running through Lynn Canyon together. With that possibility now lost, Ila likes to spend time giving Karen pedicures, enjoying the opportunity to give back to her sister.
When asked what she would like others to know about people with brain injury, Karen says, “The challenge is accepting the new person they are today and not comparing them to who they were before the injury. You have to remember what they have lost and gone through.”
Karen wishes that people would develop a deeper understanding and empathy for those with brain injuries. People often treat Ila differently and don’t set high expectations simply based on her appearance and capabilities, yet they don’t realize that Ila was just a girl who once lived a full life.
Today, Ila continues to attend events at the Vancouver Brain Injury Association. Her favourite part is engaging with other attendees and, of course, the snacks. Visit our Services page to learn more about what we do.
Ila with her caregiver Jennifer (left) and sister Karen (right).
Ila (middle) prior to the car crash.
In January 2017, Linda Brown boarded the bus with her walker and was just about to sit down when she was thrown off balance and landed on the lap of another passenger. She called to the bus driver to stop, but the bus continued to move, and she was stuck on the passenger’s lap. Eventually, Linda was able to move off the passenger.
“The driver never apologized; he never said a word.”
Ever since, Linda has experienced constant pain in her legs and hips. The irritation to her leg tissue makes sitting for more than 60 minutes unbearable. She is now relegated to using a mobile scooter, and her pain affects her walking, sitting, and sleeping. She sought therapy and medication to ease her paid as well as increased depression and anxiety.
Linda filed a claim with ICBC the moment she returned home. She felt confused and helpless as she was passed from one person to another and told conflicting statements.
“[ICBC] doesn’t like to tell you the whole truth.”
She was advised that a lawyer was not necessary, however she was very aware that she needed someone to help her think things through. Linda had been a participant of Brain Gain Fridays hosted by the Vancouver Brain Injury Association (VBIA). After her bus incident, Linda reached out to VBIA for help with her ICBC case.
VBIA was able to open lines of communication between Linda and ICBC by translating Linda’s requests and concerns into language that ICBC can understand. Since VBIA began working on her case, Linda says she has felt a great relief in pressure and is thankful that such a service exists to help her in understanding the legal matters she needs to face.
Despite all this, Linda tries to keep things lighthearted by describing her situation as “Just [being] an unhappy camper.” She lives with her cat and says that “When I’m with my kitty, I’m a happy camper.” Learn more about how we can support you or your client with our Advocacy Services.
When Peggy Cameron enters a room, she brings a bright energy and wears a joyful smile. For the better part of two years, Peggy volunteered with the Vancouver Brain Injury Association (VBIA) and helped develop the Brain Gain Friday program. Her cheerful disposition makes it surprising to realize that Peggy endured eight strokes and incurred brain damage.
Previously an elementary school teacher, Peggy’s strokes damaged her frontal lobe which affects emotions, information processing, and decision making. Peggy volunteered for three years with a stroke recovery program, also taking part in a music therapy session. However, she felt a disconnect with her fellow stroke survivors due to her more cognitive rather than physical disabilities. When she saw a VBIA flyer, she decided to try attending a session and interacting with people with brain injury.
Soon, Peggy became a volunteer for the Brain Gain Fridays program which was brand new and not yet named at the time. She prepared food for every meeting and took over running the program when the need arose. Learning from her personal challenges as someone with brain injury and her teaching background, she eliminated difficult exercises and introduced line dancing, organized crafts, and played music for the program.
She fondly remembers the happiness and excitement of the program attendees when they dressed up during Halloween. Games and activities were organized, and Peggy was thrilled to see the fun that people were having. She fondly recalls a man sitting with a rubber chicken on his head. She laughs at the memory. “It was just priceless”, she says.
Peggy summarized what she learned from VBIA in three parts:
1. Everyone’s brain injury is different, and you really don’t know where they’re coming from.
“It’s a whole different set of problems if you’re elderly, it’s a whole different set of problems when you’ve done a header-over on your bicycle… and your brain injured at sixteen. Every age has a different set of issues”, she explains.
2. One-on-one counselling is a resource gap that needs to be filled for people with brain injury.
Peggy emphasized that brain injury survivors experience “A whole shift in their world structure.” with so many factors and aftereffects: physical and cognitive disabilities, loss of jobs, adjustments to family and social interactions. While there are support groups available, what’s needed is one-on-one counselling. What many people don’t realize, she says, is that “Your body may have healed, but your brain hasn’t.” VBIA now offers one-on-one counselling as an important aspect of our recovery program.
3. As a brain injury survivor, it’s almost too late once you start to get tired.
Peggy explained that she fatigues easily from being in new environments, attending events in the evening, and not sleeping well the night before. Planning naps is a strategy that Peggy has adopted that helps address this issue.
Peggy has two grown children and is an avid volunteer for her church. Visit our Volunteer page to learn how you can get involved.
Heading into his final year in Grade 12, Saman Darabian was already looking for ways to make a difference. His interest in neuroscience led him to accept a position with the Vancouver Brain Injury Association, where he still volunteers today. Now a University of British Columbia sciences student, Saman has worked to expand the support and awareness for acquired brain injury throughout his University and community.
When Saman first started out at VBIA, he began by writing blog content, assisting with website updates, helping with event planning, and managing the organization’s social media. “After talking to Richard, I knew this is what I wanted to spend my time doing,” he recalls. Aligned in purpose and goals, Saman’s next step was to try and establish greater support and awareness regarding VBIA on the UBC campus, where he facilitated the introduction of a university club. UBC now hosts a once-monthly support group for brain injury survivors that will be increasing to twice-monthly come September. Saman is currently awaiting response on the status of the program’s acceptance for UBC Alma Mater Society membership and support.
It’s clear from talking to him that Saman has found his time volunteering with VBIA extremely rewarding in many ways. “The smallest thing you do can really make the biggest difference,” he states, before continuing by praising his time volunteering for its value in helping him see how anyone can help others to better themselves. After spending an afternoon attending a Brain Gain Friday session, Saman was impressed by the atmosphere. “The community sense they had was very strong,” he says.
“The people who were there had a real sense of family.”
When Saman was asked about other skills he was able to develop throughout his time volunteering, he listed teamwork skills (frequent collaboration with other team members on website and event management), as well as leadership and presentation skills from his time spent coordinating, planning, and executing events.
In his personal life, Saman has almost completed his lifeguarding certification and enjoys karate and kickboxing in his spare time. Moving forward, you’ll find him continuing to volunteer for the VBIA, championing the push for UBC brain injury support and awareness on campus, and studying towards his passion of brain-related science (He dreams of becoming a rheumatologist or a neurosurgeon). He has been a model community member and a valued part of the team at VBIA, and we thank Saman for his ongoing and meaningful contributions.
Gerry Dela Guerra
In July of 2009, Gerry Dela Guerra was living life the way he had always wanted. He worked hard by day at his job in construction and had busy and satisfying evenings and weekends, drumming in multiple bands as well working on building his hotrod. A month later, in an instant, everything turned upside-down. During his shift, while climbing a ladder perched atop scaffolding, the scaffolding supporting the ladder moved, causing Gerry to lose his balance and plummet to the ground. When Gerry awoke, he was at Lions Gate Hospital, where he was told the extent of his injuries: a fractured skull, bleeding in his brain, spinal cord damage, severe motor skill damage, shattered teeth on his left side as well as permanent vision loss in his left eye. Life was never the same.
Suddenly unable to work or engage in the hobbies he had previously enjoyed, Gerry searched for solutions. When he approached WorkSafe BC (WSBC) in hopes of assistance, the support he received what not what he expected. While WSBC was supportive in attempting to get Gerry on his feet and back to work, his laundry list of injuries made this a nearly insurmountable task. Despite two years of financial support from WSBC, it was not enough money to support Gerry in his time of need. Then he was sent off to rehabilitation to be trained for other work, including some positions entirely unsuitable for someone recovering from an acquired brain injury, such as a cashier and doorman. Gerry began to feel that he had not received adequate support, and chose to appeal WSBC’s decision, at which time he found that due to his injury he was easily overwhelmed by the legal jargon and language used in the process. When he hired a lawyer to help, and the lawyer asked for payment up-front, the cost was too much for Gerry to afford. He sold some personal possessions to make ends meet and was left in dire financial straits.
“I was at a park camping and getting ready to practice a homeless lifestyle.”
Gerry recalls, “A friend I was camping out with told me to not to quit looking for resources. I took her advice and kept searching. I found brain injury support groups and started attending the meetings, that’s when I met Richard.” At a time when Gerry felt he had lost almost everything, Richard and VBIA assisted with reopening his case. Where Gerry had only received a 35% loss benefit for his physical injuries originally, through VBIA support he was able to receive 100% wage loss coverage, the maximum potential amount.
Today, Gerry is a dedicated attendee at Brain Gain Fridays. He is a percussionist in a reggae blues band that recently toured from the East Coast to Vancouver Island, and is headed to Saskatchewan and Manitoba next. The hotrod he started building from scratch years ago is finally finished. It took almost a decade, but with a strong will and a little help from VBIA, Gerry has finally returned a sense of normalcy to his life. When he starts to feel strange or affected by his injury, he meditates to focus himself. “It helps to know how to cope with it,” he says, “every time I feel kind of weird, I just take my moment.” Despite everything Gerry went through to get where he is, he has overcome tragic odds and maintains high spirits. “Take the journey in life,” he says knowingly, “without the journey, you only have half of a life.”
In November of 2017, while attending the University of British Columbia and taking a psychology class on the brain and behaviour, Zeba Khan was tasked to take on a community project working with brain injury patients. After some searching, Zeba found the Vancouver Brain Injury Association and the two began their partnership together. Zeba ultimately chose to stay on with VBIA following the conclusion of the project and attempt to bridge the gap between her university and VBIA after discovering that very few UBC neuroscience students knew about the association.
During her time with VBIA, Zeba has worked on multiple projects including traveling to an elementary school where she filmed and documented the Brain Waves program in action. “It was an amazing experience for me.” She says, recalling how excited the kids were, as well as the lessons she learned. “Children are so easy to talk to, they grasp things so easily,” she continues, “and I really wanted an opportunity to apply my learning in real life and be able to interact with patients and children.”
“This experience has really given me that opportunity.”
Earlier this year, Zeba attended the “Know Your Neurons” event organized by VBIA and the World Awareness Initiative and hosted at UBC, which explored the impact of brain injury on student health and well-being. Zeba describes the experience of meeting patients with brain injuries and being surprised at seeing the long-lasting impact first hand. “I’ve been reading about all these in textbooks,” she says, “but to actually talk to someone and hear their story is a whole different experience.”
Zeba ultimately ended up using the skills and development fostered through her time at VBIA to secure a position as a Research Assistant on the Canadian Traumatic Brain Injury Study at Vancouver General Hospital, starting September 2018. We wish her all the best in future and thank her for her great contributions to our cause. You can see Zeba in action and learn more about the Brain Waves program or visit our Volunteer page to get involved.
Sue had been a teacher for 30 years when very suddenly, she found she couldn’t remember students’ names. Although the doctor’s office was just five minutes away from work, it took her an hour to find. Sue eventually learned that she had a type of Lupus called antiphospholipid syndrome (APS), a genetic autoimmune disease.
“Life as I knew it changed from that moment.”
She underwent two years of diagnosis and is now 18 years into recovery. Throughout this journey, she received help from Hospital Day-Rehab, Community Centers, Rheumatologists, Psychiatrists, Counselors and multiple generous and talented volunteers and friends. Along the road, she has experienced short term memory loss, and confused mixes of words and phrases. In 2015, Sue saw a flyer for the Vancouver Brain Injury Association’s (VBIA) event at the North Shore Neighbourhood House. She began attending Brain Gain Fridays and has been a diligent member of the group ever since. Her favourite parts of the program are the exercises for body and brain, one example being last year, when VBIA acquired several iPads and hired someone to teach their use to the support group, as well as the camaraderie among the group. Sue says she appreciates Brain Gain Friday’s focus on reopening neurological pathways. As a former teacher, Sue has high standards when it comes to teaching quality and praised Brain Gain Fridays for exceeding her expectations:
“I instantly pick up when someone doesn’t know what they’re doing. Brain Gain Fridays has excellent, experienced support staff, and Richard is an excellent mentor.”
Sue points out that more people suffer from brain injury than stroke, but stroke recovery has more followers and support than brain injury in Canada. VBIA aims to fill that gap by providing resources to brain injury survivors in the Lower Mainland. Today, Sue continues to attend Brain Gain Fridays and enjoys socializing with the other attendees who range in age and history but share similar goals. Class is open to adults who were born with or during their life acquired brain damage. Learn more about Brain Gain Fridays and our Resources.