Brain Injury Association chapters exist throughout the province and all of them work under an umbrella organization known as the Brain Injury Association of Canada. Brain injury can happen to anyone, and it is the leading cause of death and disability for Canadians under the ager of 40. Almost 1.5 million Canadians live with ABI.
'It keeps me connected': brain injury program a godsend for Fort Erie man Social interaction only part of what agency offers clients
NEWS Feb 05, 2020 by Richard Hutton Fort Erie Post
Life changed in a moment for Roger Rohm.
On June 2010, he was living in Kitchener, working as a drywaller when he was felled by a brain aneurysm. Fortunately, his boss was nearby and was able to get him to the hospital.
But that day was also Rohm’s last day of work. The aneurysm left the now 52-year-old with an acquired brain injury. He moved to Fort Erie to be closer to family.
“Every day feels like Saturday,” Rohm says. “The days are too long.”
He has been a client of the Brain Injury Association of Fort Erie since coming to town in 2011. The services and programs provided by the association have made a big impact on his daily life.
“It keeps me connected. I get to interact with people.”
Rohm is one of 1.5 million people in Canada who are living with a brain injury, according to statistics from the Brain Injury Association of Canada. The cost is also staggering, the association says. The annual cost is $3 billion, with $1 billion of that in Ontario alone.
Rohm’s brain injury resulted in short-term memory loss.
“I have to plan my day out in a manner where I have all my p’s and q’s lined up. Sometimes I go out and when I get somewhere, I forget why I was there. It’s frustrating.”
That social aspect is just one part of what the Fort Erie agency offers its clients, says Donna Summerville, the association’s client and family support co-ordinator.
“We work with (clients) on an individual basis,” Summerville says. “Somebody may call us who is in crisis and needs help. One client can snowball with a lot of issues.”
The association came to be in 1987, known then as the Head Injury Association of Fort Erie until it became the Brain Injury Association of Fort Erie in 2017. It was founded by Jackie Denham and Shirley Athoe. Both women had sons who suffered brain injuries as the result of motor vehicle accidents. Both women remain on the board of directors for the association. In their first year, 40 families were identified as needing assistance. In addition to Greater Fort Erie, calls would come from Niagara Falls, Welland and Port Colborne.
Currently, the association — out of its office at 649 Niagara Blvd. — works with 173 “participants,” according to Summerville. That number includes the clients themselves, who make up 80 per cent of that number, and caregivers.
Some in-house programs offered by the association include cooking skills, peer support and physical fitness. From time to time, there will also be art, pet and music therapy sessions.
The association — one of 16 such agencies across the province — operates largely through fundraising efforts, a grant from the town’s bingo revenues and any other successful grant applications. It’s a lean operation, with a budget of $90,000 annually.
“Fortunately, we have our own building and we can run all of our programs here,” Summerville says.
There are only two paid staff — Summerville and program manager Becky Porter. Help is also available from college co-op students, something Summerville is very familiar with. She started out as a student when she was in her 40s and decided to go back to school.
“I came here on a placement and I stayed,” Summerville says.
There are many causes of brain injury, says Summerville. While Rohm’s injury was caused by an aneurysm, other things can cause brain injury such as a stroke, anoxia (a lack of oxygen reaching the body's tissues), cardiac arrest (causing a lack of blood flow to the brain), a foreign object such as a bullet, disease or tumours, severe shaking of an infant, stroke, drugs and most commonly, a blow to the head that may be the result of an automobile accident or being struck with a blunt object.
“Everybody is different,” Summerville says.
In addition to formal programming, the association helps clients with things such as paperwork they may need to fill out to apply for the Ontario Disability Support Program or help untangling issues that may arise.
The financial support is something Rohm relies on.
“Without that cheque, I’m finished,” Rohm says.
Anyone who wants to attend programs can do so, but Summerville cautions that the agency currently has a waitlist for services.
“It is up to the individual (or caregiver) to come and apply,” Summerville says. “We do have to do an intake for individuals who want to come to the programs."
The association also will hold events in June to mark Brain Injury Awareness Month. Last June, for example, the group handed out bicycle helmets they received as donations to children in the community.
For Rohm, meanwhile, the agency has made an impact on his quality of life.
“I was very social before,” Rohm says. “I still am.”
And despite managing to maintain his quality of life with help from the association, he still has his bad days.
“I remember I could have died. Sometimes I feel guilty. It’s survivor’s guilt.”
For more information on the Brain Injury Association of Fort Erie, call 905-871-7789 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.