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Kentville event to kick-start conversation about helping brain injury survivors, families

The Valley Chapter of the Brain Injury Association of Nova Scotia (BIANS) was once very active. One initiative was introducing a mascot, Skully. Past president Jake MacDonald of Wolfville is pleased to see the re-introduction of the Inroads Program but says government support is needed. - File Photo
The Valley Chapter of the Brain Injury Association of Nova Scotia (BIANS) was once very active. One initiative was introducing a mascot, Skully. Past president Jake MacDonald of Wolfville is pleased to see the re-introduction of the Inroads Program but says government support is needed. - File Photo

KENTVILLE, NS - It’s time for the community to engage in a wider conversation about brain injuries.

The Brain Injury Association of Nova Scotia (BIANS) and the Valley Community Learning Association (VCLA) are partnering to hold an evening of coffee and conversation about issues surrounding brain injuries. The purpose is to build community support for brain injury survivors and their families.

BIANS executive director Leona Burkey will make a presentation on current issues surrounding brain injury care in the province and a new model for peer support and discussion.

Roz Speed will introduce the Inroads Program, a community and cognitive skills based program developed with and for brain injury survivors. This is a BIANS program being offered in partnership with the VCLA.

Annapolis Valley Brain Injury Support Group chairwoman Connie Webster said she’s been hoping to resurrect the Inroads Program since the closure of the BIANS Valley Chapter several years ago.

“When I had the opportunity to talk to Peter Gillis from the VCLA, I made him aware that I felt that there was a real need in the Valley again for the program to be up and running,” Webster said.

Webster had great success with the Inroads Program after suffering a brain injury in an accident in 1991, learning to read and write again.

“It saved my life,” she said. “It helped me a great deal.”

Webster was living six months of the year in Nova Scotia with her son and six months in Alberta with her daughter. The success she achieved through Inroads meant that she could move back to Nova Scotia and again live in her own home.

After being involved in another accident two years ago, Webster lost ground with her reading and writing skills. She said not having the Inroads program to attend led to her computer skills slipping as well. She said repetition, routine and consistency are important to people with brain injuries.

Webster is thankful to have the program available once again, running on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 9 a.m. to noon at the VCLA offices in Kentville. When asked what she wanted to get out of it, she said companionship and focusing on putting some order back into her life.

Jake MacDonald, past president of the Valley Chapter of BIANS, said their motto was to help survivors become the best they can be, whether it’s to brush their teeth, comb their hair or go to college.

He said programming is a necessity. The BIANS Valley Chapter’s Inroads Program helped a lot of brain injury survivors. MacDonald said he worked for 15 years, volunteering a minimum of 32 hours a week. Sometimes it was more than 100 hours.

However, many of the volunteers burned out and with a lack of government support, the program stopped running.

“That was our biggest thing, that most of our time was spent raising money to operate the Inroads Program, along with our educational program,” he said.

MacDonald said it could also become overwhelming listening to the pleas of survivors looking for help and a place to go when there is nowhere to send them.

He said we have the world’s best neurosurgeons but after that part of the crisis is over, there’s little help available. There is outpatient support is available in Halifax but that doesn’t help survivors living in Yarmouth or the Valley.

He said family members of survivors often find themselves in the role of primary caregiver, which can become incredibly stressful with little to no assistance.

MacDonald and Webster agree that there is a strong need for government funding and support for programming to help brain injury survivors and their families.

MacDonald said it was tremendously uplifting to hear from Gillis about partnering with BIANS to re-establish the Inroads Program. The BIANS Valley Chapter made a lot of headway on the education front when it was operating and they enjoyed great community support.

They introduced a mascot, Skully, an armadillo who in spite of his hard shell suffered a brain injury while skateboarding without a helmet. The character was relatable to children and helped with education and awareness efforts.

The coffee and conversation event takes place at the Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC) Kingstec Campus in Kentville on Dec. 7 from 7 to 9 p.m. Participants are asked to check in at the front desk at the main entrance.

For more information on the initiative, contact Burkey at ed@braininjuryns.com or Speed at rozspeed57@gmail.com.

Kirk.starratt@kingscountynews.ca

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