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Every so often in life we are met with an individual who stands out above the rest, amazes us with their determination and inspires us with their grace. For me, Chris is one of those people. Although I have only known Chris for a fraction of the time that his family and friends have, I have been amazed and stricken by his ability to persevere. In my life there have been times where I have aggressively allowed myself to delve into my own personal pity party, the poor me version of this is NOT a wonderful life, then I met Chris. There have been times when I have had more than my share of frustrations at work and wanted to give up, then I met Chris. There have been times when I wanted to believe the world was full of unkind, superficial people, and then I met Chris. I met Chris and realized just how fortunate I am and how I have absolutely no right or reason to feel how I do. On the contrary, Chris had every reason to want to give up, and didn’t, every right to hate this world, and doesn’t, justification for wanting to die, and didn’t, he chose to live and choosing life is what this story is about. This journey of heartache, journey of challenge and this journey of triumph unexpectedly began ten years ago on a calm winter’s day in Ontario.

Imagine, you have a good life, a caring family, a career you enjoy, supportive friends and a healthy social life then, without warning and in mere seconds, your life is changed forever. For Chris, this is exactly what happened, what once was, will never again be. For the rest of Chris’s life, he will be different than he was before the accident.

This isn’t a story of despair and sadness but rather a story of success, accomplishment and learning the true power of determination.

This is how it happened: On January 29, 2000, Chris was enjoying an evening snowmobile ride with some friends when they briefly stopped on the lake. Unexpectedly, out of seemingly nowhere, a third snowmobiler traveling approximately 80 miles per hour came along and crashed into the back of Chris, throwing him nearly twenty feet. To say Chris’ injuries were monstrous would be an understatement. Being that the accident happened on a lake, it took hours to get help. Miraculously, Chris held on long enough for help to arrive. Although Chris was conscious at times, thankfully, he has no memory of this accident. When Chris finally made it to the hospital, he was read his last rights because he was supposed to die. Chris’s parents were contacted, arrived at the hospital and faced a horror that parents should never have to face; they were asked to make the decision to donate Chris’s organs. It appeared that the doctors had given up on Chris because the odds said he would die, but Chris didn’t die, instead he fought to live. Thankfully through family intervention, Chris was relocated to a hospital in Toronto and underwent surgery on his skull. Chris survived this surgery and others, he survived his coma, he survived his broken leg, broken ribs, he learned to run again and he re-learned word association, ultimately, he learned to live again. Not only did Chris learn to live again but he learned to live by the unwritten rules of life with a brain injury…and yes, at times Chris challenges those unwritten rules. There are many stereotypes that go along with brain injury, some accurate and some inaccurate. We often hear about the cognitive deficits and the inabilities of the brain injured individual, but what about the enhanced abilities and strengths of the brain injured individual. Chris will listen to what is “supposed to be,” for an individual with a brain injury but then he will make his own decision on what “will be” for him. Chris has many enhanced abilities and strengths, so many that he may not have even discovered all that he is capable of accomplishing. I encourage anyone living with a brain injury to find those enhanced abilities and strengths, because they are there and they are plentiful.

As with most individuals who suffered brain trauma, Chris will always have a brain injury, but Chris’ story is not at all about a disability but rather about his abilities. Chris is independent and lives his life by doing the most that he can. Although Chris does seem to benefit from encouragement, he is very reluctant to ask for help from others. Chris is determined to make it in this world, on his own. Chris has lived ten years since his accident and although at times unsure and concerned about where his life is headed, he is determined to live life to its fullest. What seems to become difficult and frustrating for Chris is helping those around him to understand that his fullest is different than what others fullest may be. Chris’s priorities and definition of living to the fullest is different but not by any means meaningless.

For most, living with a brain injury can be exceptionally hard when it comes to dealing with and relating to others. One reason for this may be because others do not always “see” the injury, almost like the cliché, “out of sight, out of mind.” Additionally, others do not always understand the internal frustrations or the adjustments that have been or need to be made by the individual with the brain injury.

What is often times missed is the fact that those relating to and interacting with the brain injured individual need to make adjustments as well, there is often a need for understanding and patience while we too learn to live again.

This need for patience and adjustments is not by any means a negative towards the brain injured individual, it is simply a need for everyone to understand that all people are different and learning styles and communication styles may vary, brain injury or no brain injury. Chris has done an amazing job learning to adjust what he needs to in his life; it is often the world around him that at times refuses to or is unable to understand. Is the world that far behind understanding brain injuries or is Chris simply that much further ahead?

I have worked with individuals with brain injuries for several years; I even thought I knew a great deal about brain injuries. Through knowing Chris I have learned two things; no two people are alike and I do not know as much as I thought I knew. I write this for two reasons, to inspire others in a similar situation and to thank Chris for helping me to have a better understanding of brain injury. Chris has helped me to appreciate what I have because none of us truly know when our world may drastically change. Thank you Chris for helping me to realize that no matter what happens in life; you can do whatever you want to. If you don’t like your reality, work as hard as you have to in order to change your reality. If you have to change your approach to life, regardless of wanting to or having to, rest if you must but never, ever give up. With the odds heavily stacked against him, on January 29, 2000, Chris didn’t give up, Chris chose to live.

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