Volunteer of the Year Award 2014

by Richard Haskell

April 6-12 2014 was National Volunteer Week in Canada, and in searching online for a few quotations regarding volunteers and volunteering, I quickly discovered there are more than I ever thought possible, all of them written over a long period of time, and by people from all walks of life.  I found it difficult to choose one that I felt summed up the whole essence of volunteer work, but one I particularly like was penned by the American physician and writer Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew.  It states:

“Volunteers do not necessarily have the time; they just have the heart.”

Another one, perhaps more thought provoking, but bearing no accreditation goes:

“Don’t ever question the value of volunteers. Noah’s Ark was built by volunteers; the Titanic was built by professionals.”

However we choose to describe those who willingly give both their time and energy for a cause, volunteers are the backbone of any non-profit organization.  And like other non-profits, BIST has been fortunate over the years to have a large number of individuals who consistently go “above and beyond” furthering the cause of brain injury awareness and support in many different ways.

In recognition of these individuals, BIST introduced the Vetter Volunteer of the Year Award in 2012, named in honour of Esther and Alfred Vetter whose son suffered a brain injury many years ago. Together the Vetter’s have been a dominant force in brain injury awareness- Esther is the founding Executive Director of the former Head Injury Association of Toronto.

The first two recipients of the award were Ian Bowles in 2012 and Colleen Boyce in 2013, chosen for their hard work, dedication and commitment to BIST. More information about Ian and Colleen can be found at www.bist.ca/volunteer-year-award.

This year, four people have been nominated: Ruth Fernandez, Beverlee Melamed, Celia Missios, and Cora Moncada.

Ruth has been singled out as one of the key volunteers on the Mix & Mingle Committee, and during the last four years, has helped both BIST and OBIA raise close to $400K. Beverlee has been a Co-Chair of the Volunteer Committee, and has always maintained a perfect attendance record. When a former ABI survivor and committee member became ill, Beverlee made a point of checking in on her and reported back to the committee.  A newer member of BIST, Celia is currently a Mentor in the Peer Support Mentor Program and has represented the organization as a survivor member on the panel of the Brain Basics Trainings programs. She also took part in the annual run last fall, raising the most money individually.  Cora was one of the founding members of the BIST board and was a key player in developing much of the current infrastructure. She was one of the three people who initiated the annual run and continues to put a great deal of work into the event to make it such a great success.

Personally, I’m glad it’s not up to me to decide a winner among these four women; I’d be hard-pressed to choose. Quite clearly, ALL of them are winners and all deserve our thanks and our heartfelt congratulations though their generosity of time, their dedication and their continued involvement with BIST.

BIST Volunteer Appreciation night is on Monday April 28th at 6:00 pm at 40 Orchard View Blvd in Room 200.

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Brain dancing with Annemarie Cabri

annemarie1-1At a BIST community meeting last month, Annemarie Cabri, founder of Cabri Creative Dance, led BIST members through the steps of “BrainDance.” She took part in a Q&A with BIST to explain the benefits of dance for our brains.

BIST: Can you describe what “brain compatible dance” is?

Annemarie Cabri: A brain-compatible dance class is a method using 10 basic principles developed around the neuroscience findings of how the brain learns best.

One of the principles is that we physically ‘DO’ the lesson for high-lesson retention and high engagement for all learners and abilities. A traditional dance class has a focus on learnt steps, teacher-driven delivery, with little directed exploration and self-found expression. These would be the opposite in a brain-compatible class where discovering self-expression, movement exploration, student-driven exercises and a multi-sensory environment are present.

In our culture we tend to separate things we do for our body, from things we do for our mind, and both from things we do for our soul or emotional health. A brain-compatible dance class can address all of these in one.

BIST: Has there been a proven benefit to dance for people with acquired brain injuries? Can you describe some of these benefits? What is it about dance that helps with brain function?

Cabri: Yes, dance that incorporates the work done by neurological reorganization has benefits for people who have been hit by a car, spinal cord injury, memory and cognitive problems, stroke victim, post traumatic stress, head injury from industrial accident and the list goes on from small children to people in their nineties.

Movement has benefits to better learning as described here :

‘Every time we move in an organized, graceful manner, full brain activation and integration occurs, and the door to learning opens naturally. Howard Gardner, Jean Ayres, Rudolf Steiner, Maria Montessori, Moshe Feldenkreis, Glenn Dolamn, and many other outstanding innovators in the field of learning espouse the importance of movement to the learning process’ (Hannaford).

So once we are learning, we are living fully, are able to engage successfully, and keep our whole body healthy. This learning can take place in dance.

Click here to see Cabri teaching Brain Dance to students.

Dance taught in a brain-compatible method combined with BrainDance goes one step further, helping with brain function as it can address issues in the lower brain, mid-brain and upper brain. Our lower brain function controls circulation, respiration, breathing, heart rate, wake and sleep patterns which can be improved with dance. The mid-brain is known as the emotional and social brain, stimulating or inhibiting activity in other parts of the brain. Dance helps with this stimulation or control of stimulation increasing emotional social intelligence. Memory is also increased in dance which is governed by the hippocampus in the mid-brain. The upper brain among other things will be exercised in creativity, problem solving, verbal expression and planning all found within a brain-compatible dance class.

BIST: Is this a routine you recommend people do everyday? Can it be done on their own?

Cabri: Yes, BrainDance is the sequence I do in every class at the beginning, taking us through a full-bodied movement series that benefits brain activation. The BrainDance is a rich multi-layered warm-up that sets the tone for the entire brain-compatible dance class. The video is somewhat flat and two dimensional (which is not so brain-compatible) and not very full-bodied, but gives people the wording and basics. People attending my workshop might remember we started our BrainDance on chairs and then moved all around the room including some partner work.

The BrainDance was developed by Anne Green Gilbert as well as brain-compatible dance education.

You can do the BrainDance once or many times a day to boost and awaken or settle and de-stress activity to the brain. I know these are complete opposites but such is the case.

To benefit further of course would be to do the BrainDance in a brain-compatible class where group work, on-going variations, tactile stimulation through the use of props and partner work is explored. Anyone with a brain injury of any kind would do well to learn the BrainDance on the floor version.

I am passionate about why this method touches people in a way that many exercise and therapy programs do not.

I love seeing in my classes the power of quality arts education where the sciences meet the arts.

Find out more about Annemarie Cabri at her personal website.

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Online dating: first impressions and safety

shannyShannon Tebb is the Toronto-based dating and relationship expert, matchmaker and life coach behind Shanny in the City. She has been interviewed by publications including the CBC, Huffington Post Canada and Metro. Tebb took part in a Q&A with Torontobraininjuryblog to address the benefits and pitfalls of online dating.

BIST: Is online dating a good way for people who are shy or lacking in self confidence to meet people?

Tebb: Online dating allows people to write their story through a bio and picture. For someone suffering from a brain injury, online dating might be a better option than attending social events such as speed dating, because they can search through profiles in the comfort of their own home.

For those that may be shy, online dating can be the best route. They have the opportunity to write a successful bio and have the option to correct errors. With face-to-face interaction, they only have one opportunity to leave a lasting impression. Individuals can fumble their words, get nervous and not handle the interaction well. Through online dating, they get the chance to respond to messages on your time.

BIST: Once someone is ready to try online dating, what can they do to ensure they are making a good impression with potential mates?

Tebb: A person who is ready to online date must be aware of the pros and cons. They may not get a lot of personal messages, which can affect their confidence. It can also be a lengthly process and very time consuming looking through all the profiles. On the other hand, it’s an opportunity to brush up on their decision-making skills by having various profiles to choose from. Seeing a range of singles online can generate excitement and give hope for the future as they can identify with other singles that are experiencing difficulty meeting others.

In order to put their best foot forward they have to practice honesty throughout the entire process. They should write an honest bio, showcase their personality and positive qualities and include updated photos. . If they are having difficulty describing the person they are, a close friend/family member can help add to their bio.

BIST: Do you think someone who has an acquired brain injury needs to list that on their profile? When would be the right time to share that with someone?

Tebb: Someone with ABI does not have to include that in their bio as it is very personal. Most people will either email or chat before they meet in public so it can be determined then if it’s worth telling their date. If the interaction is a positive one, and the person feels that a possible relationship can develop then they will know when the time is right. Telling someone you have an ABI demonstrates that you have built a level of trust and comfort.

I’d say that by the third date, this should be something that is discussed, before things progress further.

BIST: What steps can people take to stay safe while online dating?

Tebb: In order to avoid getting into a dangerous situation, people should source out a second opinion about someone they have met online if they are unsure. To be safe, they should not give out personal information such as their last name, address, and place of employment early on.

Always agree to meet in a public place and let a friend know where you are going as well as the time and who you are meeting. Block and report anyone that is sending inappropriate messages to your email inbox. Listen to your inner gut and if something doesn’t feel right, then stop the correspondence.

Having an ABI should not limit your chance of finding love. Test out what works for you whether it’s online dating, being set up by a matchmaker or another option.

BIST: Thank you.

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Nutrition and brain injury


Photo courtesy of tiverylucky at freedigitalphotos.net

Like many who read this blog, I’m a traumatic brain injury survivor: my car accident was now almost thirteen years ago. The coma that was the result of that accident lasted over six weeks, but I remember waking up like it was yesterday (one of the few things that stuck in my memory). A lot of the therapy that followed was intense and frustrating, and when it was done, with each stage I moved forward on a progression toward healing. One aspect that I remember very well, and which has influenced me to this day, is one that involved diet and nutrition. Since March is Nutrition Month, I thought this would be a good subject.

After six weeks in a coma, my body had not been able to maintain a lot of my muscle mass. At 6’3” (180cm), I probably weighed 120lbs (55kg) at my minimum. I was a rake. I’d not eaten in over six weeks. I had a stomach tube that allowed the nurses to pour nourishment into my body. I was on a number of prescriptions and they also gave me a multivitamin. My favourite nurse would grind up the mixture and pour it in to my stomach. We used to joke about how that was much better than swallowing the pills.

I continue some of those vitamins and minerals to this day: and although I believe they help me feel good in general, that is not related to my brain injury. There is no such thing as a supplement that will help with TBI or concussions. It’s important to have the necessary allowances, but there is nothing that will make a brain injury heal faster. Several companies have made such claims recently, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has responded with a consumer alert (FDA, Dec 2013). “We’re very concerned that false assurances of faster recovery will convince athletes of all ages, coaches and even parents that someone suffering from a concussion is ready to resume activities before they are really ready,” says Gary Coody, FDA’s National Health Fraud Coordinator. Good nutrition is always important, but in healing a brain injury time can be a most important factor.

It is also important to establish limits. Certainly it was nice to lose a lot of weight in my coma, and it was wonderful to be able to eat… and to be encouraged to eat… anything I wanted to put the weight back on. My body responded and I added dozens of pounds (and dozens of kilos!) over the next few months. I approached my “ideal” weight… and surpassed it. Only well after my discharge was I able to establish the discipline with both eating and exercise that allowed me to lower my weight. I believe that discipline also helped with my general healing from the accident, since it helped me to better control my thoughts and desires.

Overall, it seems that nutrition for TBI survivors is much the same as for other members of the general community. But I would say that it’s important that we adhere to a healthy lifestyle, since any difficulties we have with our health can be exacerbated by our injuries.

G. Ian Bowles is a volunteer with BIST.

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Understanding Biofeedback


Doctors Michael and Lynda Thompson

By Mark Koning 

Imagine being able to see the activities of your brain. To see how your brain waves look and react to things such as your speech, your skin temperature, your breathing and your heart rate.


Doctors Michael and Lynda Thompson gave a presentation at a BIST meeting last month about biofeedback and introduced those in attendance to their ADD Centre.

The goal of the centre is somewhat complex but also fairly simple – to assess brain injuries, derived from concussions, and then offer treatment through the aid of Neurofeedback; measuring brain speed and looking at brain maps. They focus on the attention, the executive (personality) and the biochemistry of where an individual is at and where and how they can improve.

Mild concussions are not always picked up by an MRI, and the sad fact is, that once you get one concussion, you are more likely to receive a second. The biggest problem we face with brain injury, as most of us with one already know, is that a brain injury does not necessarily have any physical signs; it can be and usually is invisible to the naked eye.

After an injury occurs, certain brain cells may not connect and the process of learning slows down, or the opposite happens, where too much connecting takes place because we work ourselves too hard to keep up. This is where the ADD centre comes into play and offers help in re-training the brain to find a solution. Visit the website www.addcentre.com for more information.

Whether you go with their offered training or just spend some time reading about what they say and do, you’ll come away from it with a new appreciation of what even an injured brain can accomplish. We can re-learn and grow with any situation or opportunity presented to us. Like they say on their website, “You can’t change the wind, but you can adjust the sails.”

bist3During this presentation it was most interesting to take part in a breathing technique that helped turn feelings of frustration, confusion, and worry into calmness and focused thoughts. While this technique was being practiced by the audience, a volunteered participant had herself hooked up to a computer via three small electrodes (one on the scalp and one on each earlobe) and we all got to view on a large screen how her brain waves were reacting.

It is always nice to learn about programs and services that are there to engage and offer help. We are all capable of overcoming a lot on our own, but sometimes we need a little push or guidance. Doctors Michael and Lynda Thompson, at the very least, allow us to expand our choices.

Mark Koning is a member of BIST.

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The Paralympics: athletes with a challenge


Frank Bruno.

By Richard Haskell

How many of you sat with your eyes glued to the television for two weeks watching the events of the 2014 Winter Olympics unfold? If not, did any of you have more than a passing interest in the event and watched at least some of it? No matter how you may have felt, it was a roller-coaster ride for many Canadians, 14 days of joys and a few disappointments. And it wasn’t just about the golds, silvers and bronzes, even though they were a big part of it. How could we ever forget the great acts of kindness, such as speed skater Gilmore Junio giving up his place for Denny Morrison, who went on to win silver. Or cross-country ski coach Justin Wadsworth, who came to the aid of Russian skier Anton Gafarov.

With all its hype and glamour, it may be easy to forget that there’s another Olympics being held in Sochi, maybe less well known, but in no way any less important – the 2014 Paralympics, opening in Sochi tomorrow. The Paralympic Games had their origins in post-war Britain, when a doctor by the name of Ludwig Guttman organized competitions for a group of 400 British veterans with spinal cord injuries. During the past sixty-five years, it’s grown into an international multi-sport event involving athletes with a wide range of physical and intellectual disabilities.

History and Background

Shortly after the initial games were held in Britain, a similar event was organized in – of all places – Toronto – where different disability groups were added. The name was originally an amalgamation of the words “paraplegic” and “Olympic.” Nevertheless, since that initial connotation, the term now stems from the Greek παρά, parámeaning “beside” or “alongside,” an indication that the games take place immediately following the Olympics – and since 1988, have used the same facilities. The first official Paralympics were held in Rome in 1960 and featured 400 athletes from 23 countries – a considerable contrast to the 2004 event in Athens, which featured more than 3,800 athletes from 136 countries. The games are governed by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), a non-profit global governing body founded in Dusseldorf, Germany in 1989 and whose mandate is “to enable Paralympic athletes to achieve sporting excellence and inspire and excite the world.”

There are currently six classifications of disability which apply to both the summer and winter Paralympics. These are:

Amputee: Athletes with a partial or total loss of at least one limb.

Cerebral Palsy: Athletes with non-progressive brain damage, i.e. cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, stroke or similar disabilities affecting muscle control, balance or coordination.

Intellectual Disability: Athletes with a significant impairment in intellectual ability and limitations in adaptive behavior.

Wheelchair: Athletes with spinal cord injuries and other disabilities which require the use of a wheelchair in order to compete.

Visually Impaired: Athletes with varying degrees of visual impairment ranging from partial vision, to total blindness.

Other Categories: Athletes with a physical disability that does not fall under any of the five divisions such as dwarfism, MS, or congenital deformities such as those caused by thalidomide.

The Canadian Connection

Canada has taken part in every summer and winter Paralympic Games since 1968. That year, the games were held in Tel Aviv, Israel, where 22 wheelchair athletes participated among 750 from 29 countries. Among those who were instrumental in securing funding for Canada’s participation was Dr. Robert F. Jackson, a Toronto orthopedic surgeon who later became the first President of the Canadian Wheelchair Basketball Association, and was one of the founders of the Canadian Paralympic Committee.

The first Paryalympic Summer Games to be held in Canada took place in Toronto in 1976. Shortly after, the Canadian Government granted funding for the development of sporting opportunities to those with disabilities, and Canada has continued to be a leader in the Paralympic movement.

Many Canadian brain injury survivors have particularly distinguished themselves at the Paralympic Games. Among them is equestrian Judy Schloss, who suffered an ABI as a result of an automobile accident that left her in a three-month coma. She returned to riding after rehabilitation, and took part in the 2012 Games in London as a member of Canada’s Paralympic equestrian team.

Frank Bruno

Someone else who particularly shone in the Paralympics is ABI survivor and BIST member Frank Bruno. In 1986, Frank suffered a severe accident at work, falling 20 feet and fracturing both sides of his skull. He was in a coma for three weeks, and initially, his doctors gave him little chance of recovery. Yet Frank had been an accomplished athlete up to the time of the accident, and despite initial paralysis, he underwent several weeks of therapy and was soon able to walk on his own, much to the amazement of his doctors and therapists.

In 1987, a classmate who worked at the office of Sport for the Disabled Ontario (now Parasport Ontario) asked him if he was interested in taking part in sports again. Because walking itself was proving such a challenge, he declined, but a year later decided to try it. Frank started competing in 1988, and placed second in both the 100m and 200m Provincial Championships. The following year in Ottawa, he came in first, not only in the two races, but also in the long jump and the shot put – impressive results from someone who was not expected to recover at all.

In 1991, the Paralympic Organizing Committee invited him to participate in the “test meet” in Barcelona, Spain. There, he ran in the 200m and the 400m events, winning gold in both and beating the world record in the 400m. He enjoyed great success again the following year during the Summer Paralympic Games, where he won golds in the 100m, 200m, and 400m sprints and set two new world- and Paralympic records, and a Canadian record. The 200m record was unbroken for eight years, and the 400m, for five years.

He took part in only one event in the 1996 Paralympics-  the shot put –  and despite a  tonic -chronic seizure that greatly hampered his training, he placed a commendable fourth.

In August, 2004, Frank was asked to help build the soccer program for the Canadian Cerebral Palsy Sports Association with the aim of qualifying for the 2008 Summer Paralympics in Beijing, China. Further proof of his reputation came in 2010, when he was awarded the King Clancy Award, and again in 2011, when he was inducted into the Durham College Sports Hall of Fame.

To what did he attribute his tremendous success? Not only years of training, but also his  coach Faye Blackwood, his therapist Joy Gilbert, and his entire  family. As he explained, the athletes compete only for a two-week period, but the effort that goes into those fourteen days is the result of training for years leading up to the games. Frank went on to say that competing can be cruel:

“ …You only get one chance at your event…..if you do well you move on….if you struggle (and fail) you are eliminated……even if you have been doing great in all your training………it only takes a miscue of any kind…”

Nevertheless, he’s pleased that the Paralympics are receiving so much more recognition than they were when he was competing. Back in the early 1990s, the games had very little coverage. At that time, very few, if any, would show up for press conferences, and there was only one person conducting interviews for all sporting events. Now there’s coverage by television, radio, print and social media including live coverage on CBC.

The Paralympics – like their regular counterpart – can be exhilarating, demanding, uplifting, devastating and full of joy – but also full of disappointments. Whatever emotion they produce on the part of either participant or spectator, the games provide a marvelous opportunity for those who happen to excel at athletics, but also happen to be physically or mentally challenged in some way.

People like Judy Schloss and Frank Bruno set goals for themselves and demonstrated what they could accomplish despite having suffered a brain injury. Each person is unique and each has something to offer – long may the Paralympic Games exist to offer fun and competition to those who are already face challenges every day.

Richard Haskell is a volunteer with the Brain Injury Society of Toronto’s Communications Committee.

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Helen keller Quote

Written by Mark Koning

We all have our special talents in life; things that we are good at. Some people have these skills from the day that they are born; others acquire them at later stages in their life. We all grow and learn through school and our experiences. All experiences! So yes, I say some of these abilities that we come to own are born out of our acquired injuries. Everyone’s injury is different, and therefore, so too are their abilities.

Is there always going to be a guarantee that new developed skills will rise from the ashes of tragedy? Not necessarily. Sometimes there is simply a return to pre-injury talents; sometimes there are losses. But believe it or not, sometimes there are improvements.

My best example of this is me and my experience with my own brain injury. However, since the viral infection that stormed into my brain and gave me my injury occurred back when I was six years old, it is hard for me to determine if any of my well developed skills are new. But in a way, I do believe that a lot of my abilities are because of my brain injury.

Imagine that, abilities because of a disability.

  • To help with my memory I am cognizant of taking detailed notes, staying focused, and keeping things organized.
  • I have a strong work ethic because I see importance behind every task that needs to get done.
  • I am more aware of what I am doing and therefore do not take anything for granted.
  • I see the value in life and therefore keep an open mind to any given situation.
  • I am patient and I hope for the same in return.

I have many other skills under my belt, but these are some of the key ones that I feel my injury and lived experience through it, have brought forth.

Having worked for three years as an Administrative Coordinator for a not-for-profit organization that advocated on behalf of job seekers with disabilities to employers, I can also share with you these facts:

**A US Chamber of Commerce study revealed that workers with disabilities had an 80% lower turnover rate.

**Studies show that on the average, individuals with disabilities have better attendance rates than their non-disabled counterparts.

**A current study recently completed by the DuPont Company support the findings that workers with disabilities performed significantly higher than their counterparts without disabilities in the area of safety. These studies included people in professional, technical, managerial, operational, labor, clerical, and service areas.

**More often than not, the worker with a disability brings additional diversity into the workplace. For example: Someone who has a learning disability may develop a filing system based on colors in addition to words that increases efficiency and ease of use.

**Myths about Hiring Persons with Disabilities – http://www.onevoicenetwork.ca/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/Myth-Busters-ENG.pdf

Many people, including family, friends, colleagues, employers, even survivors, tend to focus on the loss that follows brain injury. There is loss, I am not going to say otherwise; for some more so than others. Like I referred to above, all individuals and the extent of their brain injury is different. And for most survivors there is often a need to work a little extra hard; hard at recovery; hard at keeping up; hard at life in general. But focusing on only the loss is pointless. Focusing on the recovery, the drive, and the gain, that is what’s important. Because just as there is loss, there is also gain.


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