Diana Campbell had been a registered nurse at Island Health for thirty-six years. She was the recipient of a science policy scholarship and had been teaching at a graduate level at both Athabasca University and the University of Victoria, which she’d recently put on hold while pursuing her PhD. That’s when her life was interrupted by a series of four car accidents.
“After each accident, I lost more and more function,” she explained. “I went from being extremely high functioning to perhaps being able to do anything productive for maybe an hour and a half per day.”
“I have major sensory issues. I have two pairs of glasses, one blocks blue light and the other is vision and that’s just so I can go outside. I have problems with hearing where everything sounds really loud and overwhelming. I have balance issues; I fall, but it’s not in the sense where I’m conscious of it at all times. In the last six months I’ve probably had three or four serious falls. I should probably mention chronic pain as well.”
Diana struggles visually to follow a calendar and make notes on the correct dates, and so she prefers to make bookings online because she can often orchestrate the booking system to send her a reminder ahead of appointments. From time to time things go awry, but Diana laughs good-naturedly at resulting confusion.
“I have trouble going across a screen. It’s funny, I went to Ireland a couple years ago and accidentally went to Germany on my way home! It’s because whatever I did when I booked my tickets, I accidentally hit the little button that said I needed to go to Germany! It’s laugh or cry really.”
Ryan Jones is a 27-year-old living in northern B.C. He works in seasonal labour and loves the outdoors, cooking and archery. He is also a survivor of a traumatic brain injury.
In May 2016, slippery roads in his hometown of Smithers, B.C. caused him to lose control of his car. The resulting crash and force of impact sent him into cardiac arrest.
First responders gave him lifesaving treatment but throughout that day his heart stopped for a total of 40 minutes, cutting off oxygen to his brain and causing a traumatic brain injury.
Ryan was airlifted to Vancouver General Hospital (VGH) the same day of his accident and arrived in a coma.
Doctors at VGH monitored his brain closely using an experimental device called a brain bolt. They drilled a hole through Ryan’s skull and fed two wires directly to the brain tissue, providing the doctors with real-time information on his blood pressure and oxygen levels, and ultimately enabled his brain to heal.
Ryan woke from the coma after six weeks and started a recovery process that included six months at VGH, then nine months at GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre in Vancouver. At 22 years old, Ryan had to re-learn how to walk and talk.
In British Columbia, 750,000 people are injured each year. 90 per cent of those injuries are preventable. Of those 750,000 injured, about 1,800 die from their injuries, and roughly 9,000 who survive suffer permanent disability and face an ongoing recovery process.
Ryan has made remarkable progress in his recovery, but still has challenges.
“Although Ryan had a great outcome, he is still affected by it daily,” said Ryan’s mother, Donna Jones. “Initiation of thoughts and follow through are big ones. He comes up with a lot of ideas of things he knows he should do and wants to do, but the thoughts don’t amount to anything and it’s very frustrating for him.”
Despite the daily challenges, Ryan leads an active life surrounded by family, and has an uncommon bond with a family pet. “I enjoy running with my parents’ dog as we are the same age based on my ‘first death” said Ryan. He also appreciates the value of building awareness of traumatic injuries.
In the face of all the hardship she has brooked, Diana maintains a positive outlook. Her grip on her sense of self is unwavering; “I think the main takeaway for me has been, even though I have all these challenges, I am still me. I’m still a person that’s worthy of care, worthy of respect, worthy of consideration.”
She has persevered in regard to returning to work on her PhD, albeit at a slower pace due to her resulting cognitive challenges. “I’m trying very, very hard to do some work on it but I can do maybe fifteen minutes a day.”
Another of her passions has persevered despite her injuries: “My goal is to be able to help other people through my experiences. That’s still my priority in life; as a nurse you help people all day long, and as a teacher, you help people. I would like to find a way to help people through all of this.”
“There’s a lot we need to learn about brain injuries and the trauma that comes from them,” says Campbell. “It’s really important to keep researching and keep trying to find ways for people to see improvement, and not to give up after the two year mark passed. I have surprised many of my health care providers by improving to the point where I have quality of life, and I think that’s what’s most important to everybody. Don’t give up on it.”
April 11 to 17, 2021, is Trauma Awareness Week in B.C. It’s a dedicated week to build public awareness of the impacts of traumatic injury and provide education of prevention strategies. It’s also a time to acknowledge survivors and their families who may be living with the physical and mental impacts of traumatic injury.
Do you know someone who has survived a traumatic injury? You can recognize them on social media with the hashtag #TraumaAwareBC.