Episode 6 Surviving A Brain Injury
Hosted by: Phil Peck Guests: Jacqueline Christmas, Dr. Anne McLachlan, Anna Jurak
Excerpt Episode 6 Surviving A Brain Injury:
On this podcast, you’re going to find out what it’s like to have an acquired brain injury. Jacqueline Christmas was hit on the head with a piece of steel in 2019. It changed her life. Since then, she has been working to overcome her brain injury. Now she’s raising money to help others.
Transcript Episode 6 Surviving A Brain Injury:
Phil Peck 0:10
Welcome to Better Together with A Life Worth Living. I’m Phil Peck. Our stories, teach, inspire and bind people together.
On this podcast, you’re going to find out what it’s like to have an acquired brain injury.
Jacqueline Christmas was hit on the head with a piece of steel in 2019. It changed her life.
Jacqueline Christmas 0:29
One minute, your life is great, and then all of a sudden, your life can change in a heartbeat.
Phil Peck 0:35
Since then, she has been working to overcome her brain injury. Now she’s raising money to help others.
On this podcast, we’ll also hear about the types of services available to help people who, like Jacqueline have acquired brain injuries.
Special thanks to William McCrae for sponsoring this episode. Mr. McCrae is the former Director of Education with the Windsor Essex Catholic School Board.
Phil Peck 1:03
Jacqueline Christmas is a brain injury survivor. Before her head injury, she had a job that she liked, had a good income and loved to drive her Corvette. As she recovered from her head injury, Jacqueline has regained some of her former talents, such as cooking. She makes and sells perogies from her home in LaSalle. The proceeds go to organizations that help others with brain injuries.
Jacqueline is with me in the studio. Welcome.
Jacqueline Christmas 1:31
Phil Peck 1:32
Jacqueline, where’d you get this idea to sell perogies to raise money to help others?
Jacqueline Christmas 1:38
I love cooking. And I figured that people love perogies. It is time consuming to make however. I started to try it at the camp first and found that it was very successful. So, I figured I would start advertising it on social media. And it was very successful. People coming up to me, even wanting to give money to help with the fundraising, you know, without even buying the perogies and because of the brain injuries. And, people even telling me stories about family members having brain injuries. So, I find it very beneficial. It gives me a great warm feeling, making the perogies for people.
Phil Peck 2:38
So how does it work? People send in their orders and then they come to your house and buy them?
Jacqueline Christmas 2:44
Yep. People send in their orders, either messaging, right on Facebook, or they go right to my website. I’m unable to drive because of my brain injury. So, they come and pick it up. They enjoy the perogies and then they come back and buy more.
Phil Peck 3:07
So you’ve heard that they enjoyed the perogies?
Jacqueline Christmas 3:10
Oh, they enjoy it. And not only do they enjoy it, they also advertise it as well. They post it on social media and then other people see their posts.
Phil Peck 3:23
Sure, the old ‘word of mouth’ spreads it around. Well, it’s a good thing.
And I take it there’s more than one type of perogy?
Jacqueline Christmas 3:31
I have several types of perogies. Yes. The ‘potato and cheese’, the ‘loaded’, the ‘bacon cheeseburger’, ‘pizza”. I’ve also advertised that anybody who has any other suggestions. So, people came up with other ones like ‘poutine’. So, I’ve taken their suggestions and made other perogies. So, I have quite an extensive list of perogies that’s available.
Phil Peck 4:00
Now, I saw on Facebook, I believe it was, that at one point, you didn’t think you were going to have the ability to cook again.
Jacqueline Christmas 4:08
Yes, I was actually told by my doctors that I was not able to cook again because I have a head injury, dementia. I go to therapy and I thank Shirley from the brain injury clinic. She’s helped me with using techniques of timers and using other tools and techniques to be able to cook again. And, having my daughter around, helps as well. Thank you, Holly. That she’s there, helps me be able to cook. So, that’s been very helpful.
Phil Peck 4:49
So, they thought you couldn’t cook because you wouldn’t be able to remember the recipes and what else?
Jacqueline Christmas 4:56
Hazards of leaving a stove on or stuff like that because of the dementia.
Phil Peck 5:01
So, is that what the timers help with?
Jacqueline Christmas 5:02
Phil Peck 5:03
So, it must be quite an operation in your kitchen?
Jacqueline Christmas 5:06
Yes. It is quite an operation.
Phil Peck 5:10
I can picture flour everywhere.
Jacqueline Christmas 5:12
Yeah. There’s bacon going; there’s hamburger going; because I’m making so many different types of perogies at one time. Because I want to stock up.
Phil Peck 5:25
How many perogies can you make in a day, say a week?
Jacqueline Christmas 5:28
In a day? We can make over 30… 40 dozen, easy. Having a brain injury, there’s a lack of asleep. So, I’m awake at three o’clock in the morning making perogies.
Phil Peck 3: 47
Okay. Let’s go back to 2019. What do you remember about the day that you got hit?
Jacqueline Christmas 5:53
Oh, wow. One day can change your life. One day, can alter your life.
I was sitting in a medical clinic and a guy walked through the door and it was a double door. The six-foot metal bar that divides the two doors, that bar fell down and hit my head on the frontal lobe. On a front part. And that’s all it took. And after that, yeah, I was rushed to the hospital.
Phil Peck 6:26
So, they treated you for a brain injury at the hospital. Did you have surgery?
Jacqueline Christmas 6:33
No, I did not have surgery. It was a concussion. Then, I came on with a lot of problems. I have post trauma vision syndrome. Like there’s a lot of problems; seizures, vertigo, dementia. I have middle ear damage on that side, as well. A lot of buzzing in my ear that does not stop. I’m sure a lot of people that are hearing this, who have brain injury problems, can agree with that.
Anxiety, oh my lord, I’ve never experienced anxiety before. I’m on a lot of medication because of anxiety now and it helps me.
Cars! Cars! I was not able to even sit inside of a vehicle. Because of that, I would have to wear a blinder on my eyes in order to be inside of a vehicle. Thanks to my doctors. They’ve helped me.
Phil Peck 7:45
You seem to be doing okay, as you sit here. I wouldn’t know, if you didn’t tell me, all these symptoms. Are there things you still can’t do?
Jacqueline Christmas 5:55
A lot of things that I can’t do. I’m not allowed to drive because of my vision. I have post trauma vision syndrome. I have seizures, the vertigo. You know, seizures happen at any time. You can’t drive.
Phil Peck 8:15
Makes sense. You’re probably safer not to drive.
Jacqueline Christmas 8:19
Yeah, yeah. It really cripples your life.
Phil Peck 8:23
So, when you think back to that day, what goes through your head?
Jacqueline Christmas 8:30
I wish I wasn’t sitting in that chair. You know. I wish that it never happened.
Phil Peck 8:35
But there were things that you used to do, that you can’t do now. That all changed in instant?
Jacqueline Christmas 8:42
Oh, yes. Yeah. One minute, your life is great. And then all of a sudden, your life can change in a heartbeat. Yes.
Phil Peck 8:52
When you were learning to cook again, what kind of help did you have?
Jacqueline Christmas 8:56
Yeah. The help that I was having to cook again was very basic; eggs and boiling. Whereas before, I was like a chef. Everybody said I should own, or start, a restaurant. So, when you’re starting at the very basics of boiling water, you know, that’s hard to start, but now I’m getting back up there. And when people are very happy and pleased. And commenting, you know, these are the best perogies I’ve ever had. It makes me feel happy. It makes me feel I’m there. It gives me not only the pleasure that I’m cooking, it gives me the pleasure that I am working again. Even though I cannot work outside of the home, because of seizures and stuff like that. It’s fulfilment. And it’s also warming. It’s also completement.
Phil Peck 10:12
So where did you learn these techniques and these tricks to learn to cook again?
Jacqueline Christmas 10:18
Yeah, a lot of self teaching. It took a lot of time. It’s coming up to three years. It’s taken two and a half years of my medications to be sorted out, because it’s trial and error of medications. Now, getting to the point where I can start being able to manage and start cooking. So now I can start thinking properly. When you have a brain injury, it’s hard. It’s really, really difficult to think properly when you’re not managed on medications.
Phil Peck 10:55
You mentioned you’re in the hospital. Some of the time, there were therapies and counseling. What kind of stuff did you have there?
Jacqueline Christmas 11:04
Yeah, so I’ve done a lot therapy. I’ve been to the Brain Injury Clinic, which is great. Dr. Anne and Shirley and of course, Dr. Mustafa, they’ve been a wonder to me and have helped me through this. Have helped me through depression, as well. That’s a big thing of brain injuries, depression.
Phil Peck 11:27
Jacqueline, I’m going to come back and talk with you more in a few minutes. But right now, I’d like to hear more about these hospital treatments that you’ve mentioned. Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare in West Windsor helps a lot of people with head injuries. They have a special program for acquired brain injuries, abbreviated as A-B-I.
Phil Peck 11:42
I’m here with Dr. Anne McLachlan. She’s a neuropsychologist with the ABI program. Thanks for taking the time to talk to me.
Dr. Anne McLachlan 11:53
Oh, you’re quite welcome.
Phil Peck 11:55
Now, I know there’s lots of different causes for head injuries. But I’m wondering what are the most common symptoms that you see when people get here?
Dr. Anne McLachlan 12:02
Okay. So, when people come to our outpatient Acquired Brain Injury Program, sometimes they’ve come to us because they’ve had a traumatic brain injury, right, where they’ve had a blow to the head. Or, they’ve had a fall. And the mildest form of that is concussion.
Other times they have non-traumatic brain injury. And that might be the result of bleeding in their brain due to a ruptured aneurysm or a brain tumor, or some other neurological condition. So, the symptoms that they have, are usually a wide range of symptoms. So, we don’t deal with the physical stuff. More often, we’re dealing with the social, emotional and cognitive changes that people are dealing with.
Phil Peck 12:40
So how do you decide what people need? I mean, is it obvious when you first meet them?
Dr. Anne McLachlan 12:44
Well, usually what we do is an assessment actually. So, one of the things I do as a neuropsychologist is I do what’s called a neuropsychological assessment. So that’s an assessment that looks at people’s thinking abilities, their memory, their problem solving, understanding visual information. And then we also look at how they’re doing emotionally as well.
If you’re seeing a speech and language therapist who might be working with someone with a brain injury, they would do a cognitive communication assessment, or they’re looking more at language abilities and speech. An occupational therapist might look at more functional type tasks to see how people do things day to day.
Phil Peck 13:19
And there’s no common thread in all of this? Each depends on the patient?
Dr. Anne McLachlan 13:24
Yeah, every patient is different. Right. Everybody’s brain injury is slightly different. Everybody’s brain is wired slightly differently from their life experiences and from their genetic background.
Phil Peck 13:34
When you’re trying to help somebody, what kind of tools do you have? What things are you trying to help them overcome?
Dr. Anne McLachlan 13:41
Well, so for example, our social worker might help people apply for different financial support programs, things like Ontario Disability Support Program, or CPP, Canada Pension disability benefits, for example. She might do some counseling with people in terms of adjusting to the way things are right now. Our occupational therapist, in our program, might work on some functional tasks. So, getting people to pace their activities, so they can manage symptoms, for example of concussion, or to compensate for memory difficulties or visual perceptual problems.
Okay, I might see people for some short, brief psychotherapy to work on more of the emotional difficulties that they’re having, reducing symptoms of depression, anxiety, and helping them to come to be able to move forward and do things despite the difficulties that they’re having.
Phil Peck 14:35
And what sort of outcomes do you get for people? I know there’s lots of different people but is it normal that people improve in some fashion?
Dr. Anne McLachlan 14:44
Usually, people improve in some fashion. Yes. So, for people who have a very mild brain injury, like a concussion, for example, we would expect it within a few weeks to a few months. Or maybe in a year or so, they’ll recover and return back to most of their activities.
People who have more severe brain injuries will never get back to exactly how they were before, but they can often find a new way of living their life. Right? And again, everybody’s situation is different. People show the most changes within the first three to six months after brain injury. But people will continue to change and improve, one to even more years later. So, patients often need to kind of work away at things but they also in the meantime need to live their life. Right? They can’t put their lives on hold as they recover during that first few months, or a few years.
Phil Peck 15:37
An ongoing process, then?
Dr. Anne McLachlan 15:38
An ongoing process. Yeah.
Phil Peck 15:40
Thanks very much for talking with me today. Dr. Anne McLachlan is a neuropsychologist with the Acquired Brain Injury Program at Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare.
Phil Peck 15:51
We’ll hear more from Jacqueline Christmas and learn more about programs that help people like Jacqueline who have a serious head injury.
Thanks to William McCrae for sponsoring this episode. Mr. McCrae is the former Director of Education with the Windsor Essex Catholic School Board.
Phil Peck 15:14
You’re listening to Better Together with A Life Worth Living. I’m Phil Peck.
In this podcast, we’re talking about acquired brain injuries. They can happen in an instant and change a person for the rest of their life or even kill them.
Now, Jacqueline Christmas is a brain injury survivor. She’s had a lot of help along the way. And now is trying to help other people who have brain injuries.
Jacqueline, in addition to your perogy fundraising, you also have a non-profit organization, ‘Brain Injury – Making Miracles’?
Jacqueline Christmas 16:44
Phil Peck 16:45
Tell me about that. What do you hope it will do?
Jacqueline Christmas 16:47
The reason why I started it is to help others. You know, because there are so many other people that I’ve experienced, that do not have funding. You know, there’s the funding that’s not available for glasses, for example, special glasses, or medications.
Phil Peck 17:08
These are things that aren’t covered by people’s insurance?
Jacqueline Christmas 17:13
Phil Peck 17:14
You’ve helped raise money. And you have a website that is also part of this organization. What kind of things will be on your website that could help people?
Jacqueline Christmas 17:26
Okay, so on my website, what I do is teach people awareness. I also have exercise classes, cooking classes and I have recipes. I also have the store so that people can order the perogies. I also have my cookbook. So, it’s called Making Miracles Cookbook. And the proceeds will be also donated to the Brain Injury Association of Windsor Essex. So, I’m pretty excited.
Phil Peck 18:12
And who helps you with your website and doing all this?
Jacqueline Christmas 18:16
Just me. Yeah, I built my website. I’ve always built websites and I’ve never lost that technique. It takes me longer. But however, I still plug away at it. I love it.
Phil Peck 18:34
And you plan to put on more videos and classes like that as time goes on?
Jacqueline Christmas 18:39
Phil Peck 18:40
Well, that’s terrific. Now, you mentioned some of the funds will go to the Brain Injury Association. So, right now I’m going to talk to them about what they do.
Jacqueline Christmas 18:49
Phil Peck 18:51
My next guest is Anna Jurak. She’s the Executive Director of the Brain Injury Association of Windsor and Essex County. The organization raises awareness about brain injuries and has programs to help those who have a brain injury.
Anna Jurak 19:06
Thank you for having me.
Phil Peck 19:08
What are the main things your organization does?
Anna Jurak 19:11
Well, there are two really big things. The first thing is that we enhance the lives of those affected by a brain injury. So that means people who have actually had a brain injury and have survived and their caregivers. So, we put them together, because they’re all affected. The other big part of our programs is public education. So, brain injury prevention is a huge thing. So, we do a lot of different programs that brings awareness about brain injury, and educates people about how to prevent brain injury.
Phil Peck 19:40
Okay, let’s start with that one. How do you prevent brain injury?
Anna Jurak 19:44
Good question. Glad you asked. Wearing a helmet, the proper helmet when you’re engaged in certain sports. But not just wearing the helmet but wearing it properly. So, we have a program called Helmets for Kids. We fit the child with the helmet for their size, and we show them the proper way to wear it. So just having it on is not sufficient and has to be on the correct way for it to work in the best way in case your child falls and hits their head. Right now, with the winter and ice, you know, the proper way to walk, you know, that sort of penguin-walk. Just things on how to prevent falling.
And the other thing is, once somebody has a brain injury, their personality may change. And so, they’re not the same person they were before. Part of the awareness is for other people to recognize that there are people in our community who may have a head injury, but because it’s not obvious, it’s not an obvious disability, because there’s nothing physical, you can’t see what’s inside the head…
Phil Peck 20:44
Right. They’ve not wearing a cast or walking on crutches or anything else?
Anna Jurak 20:49
Exactly. So, my point is, when you see some people behaving maybe a little bit off, don’t just naturally assume that they’ve been drinking or taking drugs or something else is wrong with them. It could be something simple, like they have a brain injury. The fact that maybe they can’t handle an anxiety inducing situation. They’re okay.
See, every brain injury is different. As we say, in the brain injury world, ”if you’ve seen one brain injury, you’ve seen one brain injury”. Every brain injury is different. And so, people manifest their symptoms differently. So, some people will get upset very easily, or they get angry really quickly, and they can’t help themselves. They would also fatigue easily. So, you can’t just make assumptions about this person. You’ve got to think that, you know, perhaps there’s some deeper issue here that I can’t see. So that’s the big challenge we have, it’s a hidden disability.
Phil Peck 21:44
That sounds like there’s a wide range of symptoms that people have, when someone comes to your organization. Where do you start?
Anna Jurak 21:52
You’re right about them having a lot of symptoms. Some of our board members are putting together list of possible symptoms, and I think they’re up to 80, so far. Now, some of them are very common. Memory issues are huge. Fatigue is huge. So that’s why we keep our programs to like an hour, hour and a half max. So, when someone calls our organization, you know, we get a little bit of background information about them and find out what it is they’re looking for.
Almost everybody with a brain injury would benefit from peer support. So that is talking to other people who have a brain injury, because they’re the ones who understand them the best. You know, despite the fact you may have someone in your family with a brain injury, unless you have a brain injury, it’s very difficult to really understand what they’re going through.
Phil Peck 22:41
It’s difficult to relate to somebody in that situation?
Anna Jurak 22:44
You can try but it is difficult. And so, in the peer support groups, they talk to other people who have a brain injury. And when you talk to other people who have a brain injury, they have a lot of hints and tricks and things that can help them or had helped them that they can share with others that they may not have thought of.
Probably the biggest hurdle is to understand the new them. They are a different person than they were before. They have to come to terms with the fact that they have a brain injury and the things that they were able to do before, they may not be able to do the same way now.
Phil Peck 23:18
So, they have to accept their own situation?
Anna Jurak 23:21
That’s the hardest thing. Right. But it’s that hurdle of understanding that I’m different now. And once I accept that, I can move on with my life.
Phil Peck 23:30
So, you mentioned these programs. Give me an example of the kinds of things. You said ‘art’. What else is there?
Anna Jurak 23:32
Okay, well, doing like Sudoku and crosswords together as a group. Just some challenging things to challenge the brain. A lot of people think that once your brain is injured like that, there’s nothing you can do. The brain is plastic, which means that it can change. You may have damaged some neural pathways, but you can build some new neural pathways. So new habits, new ways of doing things. And you can only do that by actually doing them. There is hope after a brain injury, that you can get better in a different way.
Phil Peck 24:10
And you say exercising your brain, that’s kind of the advice they give to elderly people.
Anna Jurak 24:14
That is extremely important. The other important part is physical activity, because the brain and the body go together. I mean, your body doesn’t work without the brain and vice versa. So, when you exercise your body, you’re also exercising your brain. So, exercise is huge.
Now, one of our challenges is that we don’t have a building, we don’t have a physical building to have these programs. And so, our programs are sort of scattered throughout the city and county because of that. And we’re grateful to these other organizations. We are a charity, so donations and fundraisers are how we manage to keep up with the programs
Phil Peck 24:51
Do you have any idea how many people have brain injuries in this area right now or how many clients you have?
Anna Jurak 24:58
I know how many clients we have. I mean, when I say how many clients we have now, it evolves all the time. Like, for instance, some people come into our program because they’re drop-ins. You don’t have to sign up for a membership. You don’t have to do anything. You just come and go as you feel ready. We have about 170 clients at this particular moment. So how many in the city have brain injury? A lot! Let’s say, more than you probably realize.
Phil Peck 25:24
So, one of the things I’d like to ask you is how do people find your services?
Anna Jurak 25:28
They can contact us by telephoning (519) 981-1329, or they can go on our website www.biawe.com. Great news. We are the first and only Brain Injury Association in Ontario, to have this our website completely accessible to all neurodiverse cities. If you have difficulty reading, you can make the print bigger. Or you can put a background on it, in a different colour. If reading is totally out of the question, you can highlight what you want and it will read to you. It’ll read it out loud, word for word. It will describe pictures. It’s absolutely amazing.
Phil Peck 26:26
I hope that helps a lot of people.
Anna Jurak 26:28
I hope so. We certainly don’t want people to go to our website and going ‘Oh Jeez’, I can’t read it or don’t understand it. They can. That way they’ll know everything that we do.
Phil Peck 26:38
Anything else you want to add before we go?
Anna Jurak 26:40
A lot of people don’t know about us and what we do, in that we can help. So, if you do know somebody with a brain injury, you may want to suggest that they call us and just find out if there’s anything there suitable for them. And help them through this, this journey that they’re on.
Phil Peck 26:56
Terrific. Thanks very much for coming in today, Anna.
Anna Jurak 26:57
Oh, you’re welcome. Thanks for having me.
Phil Peck 27:00
Appreciate your time. Anna Jurak is Executive Director of the Brain Injury Association of Windsor and Essex County.
So, Jacqueline, you get help at home from your daughter. What does she do to help?
Jacqueline Christmas 27:11
Oh, she does everything. Yeah, as my daughter, Holly, is a Godsend. She helps me with the house. She helps me make the perogies too. She’s got her hands right in there. And she’s happy to do everything.
Phil Peck 27:34
If you meet someone else who has a brain injury, what kind of advice do you like to tell them?
Jacqueline Christmas 27:41
Number one, I ask them, if they’ve been to the Brain Injury Clinic? I ask about their brain injury. We talk about their history. And they can relate to me. They can talk to me about this because they know what I’m going through.
Phil Peck 27:59
Being able to share with others, is comforting?
Jacqueline Christmas 28:04
Phil Peck 28:05
And also helps with other people, increase their understanding?
Jacqueline Christmas 28:10
Yes, definitely raising awareness. That’s the biggest part of my goal of doing all of this.
Phil Peck 28:20
And thank you very much for sharing your time with us today.
Jacqueline Christmas 28:24
Phil Peck 28:25
You can find more about Jacqueline’s group, Brain Injury – Making Miracles, on Facebook or on the web at bimm-disability.ca.
Our thanks today as well to Dr. Anne McLachlan at the Acquired Brain Injury Program at Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare and to Anna Jurak from the Brain Injury Association of Windsor and Essex County.
Together you’ve led us to a better understanding of the problems caused by head injuries and how people who have acquired brain injuries can be helped to live a fuller life.
I’m Phil Peck. Know who you are, decide where you’ll go and choose a life worth living. This was better together. I appreciate you being with us.
Again. Thanks to Dr. William McCrae for sponsoring this podcast. Mr. McCrae is the former Director of Education with the Windsor Essex Catholic School Board.