Brain injury survivors raise awareness

Three East Kootenay Brain Injury Association clients talk about their experiences.

In small towns across the Elk Valley, many locals are unaware of the services that are readily available to them. The East Kootenay Brain Injury Association (EKBIA) is just one such service, and despite having little recognition in the community, the organization has helped about 150 clients throughout the East Kootenays.

For three local individuals, the EKBIA has made all the difference in their recovery.

“Rachel has been an inspiration to me,” client Karen McLennan said of the Fernie brain injuries outreach worker. “She’s a beautiful woman for what she’s done.”

McLennan suffered a frontal lobe injury in 2003 after her abusive ex-husband forcefully smashed her head into the ground. The injury left her with a damaged short-term memory.

“Socially it changed me, emotionally it changed me,” McLennan said. “I can remember things from 30 years ago but I couldn’t tell you what happened yesterday.”

Regularly forgetting appointments and misplacing bank cards, McLennan said she often is embarrassed by her injury.

In addition to her short-term memory loss, McLennan also suffers from multiple barriers and accesses the East Kootenay Alcohol and Addictions Services Society for her dependency.

She said that because of her multiple barriers, people often don’t understand her and pass judgment without knowing the full story.

“It’s embarrassing to me sometimes and hard to talk about,” she said of her past, holding back tears. “I can’t handle stress well, that’s another thing.”

Despite some of the physical and emotional challenges McLennan faces, which includes living with fibromyalgia, chronic pain and arthritis, she still cherishes each and every day.

“Every day is so special,” McLennan explained, adding that the relationship she has been able to build with Rachel Cline has helped her through some of her daily challenges.

Wanting to raise awareness about her story as well as the EKBIA, McLennan shared some of her weekly experiences with Cline, noting that Cline visits her apartment and sees how McLennan lives week to week is truly amazing.

“We have a trust. I tell her everything. I’m almost too honest,” McLennan joked.

EKBIA works to help individuals like McLennan each and every day. Because their services are not well known in the Elk Valley, Cline launched a Spring Cean Garage Sale event last year in Fernie, inviting businesses and locals to host their own garage sale, while raising awareness and funds for EKBIA.

This spring, the garage sale is spreading throughout the valley, and Cline is inviting Elkford and Sparwood to help spread awareness about EKBIA’s services.

L’wren Farkas is another individual who relies on EKBIA’s support.

After suffering from an unexpected stroke at the young age of 30, Farkas turned to EKBIA, a service she didn’t even know existed prior to her injury.

Struggling with not only her injury but the emotional hardships of suddenly being temporarily paralyzed by her injury, Farkas began working with the medical community.

“When this happens to someone in our community, this team of people you never even knew existed comes in to help,” she said, adding that she quickly embraced, “being able to be honest and not feeling judged about your recovery.”

Farkas was forced to take an eight-month medical leave from her career, focusing her time solely on her recovery.

“My full time job became getting better,” she admitted, adding that this entailed attending four to five doctors’ appointments a week for several months.  “It was super overwhelming.”

She went on to say, “It’s hard to talk about because you never think it’s going to happen to you.”

Farkas’ EKBIA support included weekly appointments in addition to emotional support.

The EKBIA has also been the mediator between herself and her employer in scheduling her return to work.

“Just having them there for that was huge,” she noted. “The fact that we have all of these resources in our small town is unbelievable. You take it for granted until you need it.”

Farkas, who often walked to the Elk Valley Hospital for her appointments added, “If the program were to go away I don’t know what I would have done.”

Farkas continues to heal while utilizing the EKBIA’s services.

Dwight Gross, 57, is another EKBIA client who, despite knowing he may never return to the same quality of life he had prior to the accident, embraces each day.

After a skiing accident last March that damaged some of his blood vessels, Gross turned to EKBIA for their support.

His injury left him fatigued and affected his eyesight.

“I got tired very quickly,” Gross said of the symptoms that followed his injury, “[But] what’s more concerning is its affected my left side peripheral vision.”

Since his injury, Gross has been unable to drive.

Despite this, the semi-retired skier has maintained his passion for skiing and runs farming equipment in Saskatchewan during the spring and fall.

“If you can push through and try to maintain as much normalcy as you can … things will get better,” he said. “I know I’ve come a long way since the accident but I also know there’s still room to go. I might not return to what I was before the accident but I will come to a new normal.”

Gross still utilizes the EKBIA’s services by attending a brain injury support group on the first Tuesday of every month.

For Cline, getting EKBIA on the map is her major goal. Last year, the garage sale, held on the weekend of May 23 and 24 had over 80 different sales throughout Fernie.

Cline’s goal is to raise that number and spread awareness throughout the Elk Valley.

“It’s imperative we support these programs through the garage sale,” Farkas said. “You don’t know [this service] is there until you need it and thank God it is.”

Registration for the garage sale began last week and can be done online at http://elkvalleyspringclean.blogspot.ca or by filling in an application form and dropping it off at The Free Press office. The closing date for applications is Friday, May 8.

For more information, contact Rachel Cline at 250-946-6322 or email her at elkvalleyspringlcean@gmail.com. You can also follow their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/ferniespringclean