You really never appreciate just how quickly your life can change until it happens to you. On October 14th, 2009, an action that took less than second changed mine. I was picked up by a student at my school and dropped directly on my head. I tore and pulled muscles and tissue in my neck and back, fractured my spine and sustained a traumatic brain injury. It’s still hard to grasp how much my brain changed in those few minutes of unconsciousness, as it had completely rewired itself. I went from being an energetic, happy, athletic and pretty smart kid to being constantly exhausted, angry and confused. After I left the hospital, I was seeing specialists, physical therapists, psychologists and what seemed to be every physician in BCs lower mainland. I had at least 1-2 appointments every week for a year.
I couldn’t play sports anymore, I couldn’t get through a full day of school and I hardly saw my friends anymore. It didn’t take me long to sink into depression and a constant feeling of self loathing. It felt like I was constantly letting myself down, I remember seeing my neurologist 6 months after my accident and he asked me to count back from 100 by 7’s. I got to 93 and I was absolutely stuck, my brain couldn’t do the math, I couldn’t even count it back on my fingers successfully. I cried the whole drive home, I felt stupid and I felt worthless. I was 13 when I sustained my TBI, as if the teenage years weren’t hard enough without my misplaced laughter or comments, the memory of a goldfish and needing multiple naps a day. I would now have to navigate my high school years and beyond with a permanent learning disability and chronic back pain. No one understood how it felt inside my head, not even me.
I was fortunate to be connected with the best doctors and programs in my province shortly after my accident. I was with GF Strong rehabilitation program, BC Brain Injury Program, BC Children’s Hospital Neurology and many other physicians who’s care has given me the ability to live the life I do now. My neurologist had advised my mom and I that I might not graduate high school, or at least not on time with my peers. One individual who has played a major role in this whole brain injury being a success story was my social worker from the BC Brain Injury Program. She had comprehensive academic accommodations all written up for my high school teachers and would later help me navigate applying to university. I knew I wanted to graduate and pursue post secondary studies, I jut had no idea how hard it would be to get to that point.
I am truly blessed to have a mother who attended every doctor appointment, every meeting with my high school teachers and who I swear has googled every single vitamin and supplement that relates to the brain. Transitioning to high school and then to university with a disability was by far the most overwhelming and daunting experience I have ever had. As a student with a disability, I knew I had rights when it came to my education and that with my education plan from the BC Brain Injury Program, I would be able to be successful at school and graduate on time. In my 5 years in public school, I faced such incredible acts of discrimination and abuse from the staff at my school. I have been called slow, too dumb and a liar, all by the educators that were supposed to help succeed in school and get me to university. I wanted to learn, I had a tutor, I attended as much class as my brain injury allowed, I was in constant communication with my teachers in order to stay caught up. It seemed no matter how hard I tried or how bad I wanted to get my education, I was denied time and time again. I again sunk back into depression and the familiar feelings of self loathing. I couldn’t understand why these teachers and staff wouldn’t help me. I brought in copies of my neuropsychological assessments, my IEP from GF Strong, my social worker and mother came to the school every semester, I even brought in my radiology report from my brain MRI just to prove there really was an injury there. Nothing seemed to convince these people that my brain injury was real and that I was still entitled to my education just like every other child in that school. I was forever having to stand up for myself and challenge the teachers that refused me my right to my education.
High school for me was hell, but I couldn’t imagine what it would be like for the students who didn’t have a voice, or didn’t have a mother like mine or a social worker advocating for them. It made me angry! These experiences are what have pushed me to become an advocate for the rights for students with disabilities. With the BC Brain Injury Program, I was able to write a transitional workbook with the help of other young people with brain injuries. The workbook focuses on all facets of transitioning, in school, in the workplace as well as socially. I also started volunteering with BC Children’s Hospitals Youth Advisory Counsel, which also focuses on how youth transition to their new normal post TBI.
My next and most recent step towards bringing change for youth with disabilities in now in the works. Although my disability is invisible, I refuse to be treated that way. I have made a complaint against 11 staff at my high school including the school district itself for its systematic abuse and discrimination of students with disabilities. This complaint has been formally accepted by the BC Human Rights Tribunal and those who denied me my education will be held accountable. I know this is a big step for the rights of students with disabilities. I hope this will bring about changes to the school system and the treatment of students with no voice, no longer will we be ignored.
Hundreds of doctors appointments, a dozen hospital stays and 3 back operations later, I am now 19 years old, a full time university student and living independently. I now spend my time hiking, doing yoga, coaching basketball and being thankful for everyday that I am alive. I am pursuing a degree in Nursing, I have 3 awesome roommates and a great network of support at my university. I was never able to play sports again, but I am going into my 3rd year as a coach with Special Olympics. I still nap, I still forget my keys 9/10 times I leave the house and I will always hate math class but I am thankful for all the opportunities that my brain injury has given me. I have the unique experience to be an advocate, to ensure that no other survivor is made to feel like they are worthless because of their disability.
I love my “new normal” and have learned to embrace everything that comes my way on this journey!