Our miracle: my family shouldn’t have survived Carbon Monoxide poisoning


Seven years ago, Shelley’s family survived what should have been a fatal carbon monoxide leak in their house. She writes how her faith has helped her family survive and thrive in the seven years since.

Shelly Trammel standing outside her church
Shelley Taylor

In the blink of an eye, so many memories vanished. I wish I could have chosen which memories I could keep and tossed out the ones I wanted to forget. I know the memories which remain are what make me who I am today. I would be a different person right now breathing, talking, and living if I didn’t retain some of the things I lived as a child and as a young adult.

Valentine’s Day 2010 would turn into a complete game changer for my family, a day we will never forget. I’ve documented this day in words so if the day comes that the memory is gone I can always, reflect back on our second chance at life.

We were experiencing a Texas Winter and the six inches of snow which covered our town knocked our power out for three days. Fed up, on the third day we ran a generator out in the front driveway with the garage door and windows open. The Fire Chief later told us that the lack of wind and frigid air that day meant the gas settled into our home via the eave troughs instead of blowing away.

That night, my daughter, Taylor, woke suddenly to someone screaming her name. She jolted up in bed, tried to stand and quickly realized her legs wouldn’t hold her up. She fell to the floor.

Shelley and Taylor pose in their living room
Shelley and her daughter Taylor

From there, she crawled to her door and tried to stable herself but couldn’t and collapsed again, all the while having the frightening feeling of tunnel vision where you can’t really hear or see.

The thud of her fall woke me up and I ran to her. My then husband, Charlie, heard from the living room and he and I met at her doorway and found our daughter lying, lifeless and facedown. Not knowing what’s wrong with your daughter, when its too dark to even look her in the face is the worst thing I have ever felt.

Charlie was shaking her and trying to get a response. He sent me to get a flashlight that was on my nightstand. We were beside ourselves with fear. On my way to the bedroom, I started feeling as though I was losing control, and as the seconds passed I knew I had to let Charlie know something was seriously wrong with me. I had the flashlight in hand, and started running back to the hall, but the closer I got to Charlie, the further away he seemed. Everything was spinning out of control and I was losing awareness of where I was.

I knew if I didn’t make it back to him he wouldn’t know to come find me.  When I turned the corner to the hallway I collapsed face first without my hands or arms to brace me, falling onto the metal flashlight and cutting my forehead open, exposing the skull. Charlie was searching in the dark for the flashlight as it had rolled when I fell and I was trying to tell him I felt blood running down my face. Things were completely out of control.

Once he found the flashlight, with one look he said he had to get me to the hospital.  I said, “What is wrong with Taylor, doesn’t she need to go?”

Somehow in my head I knew she had started this whole ordeal and my mommy intuition kicked in. I was more scared for her than me!

Shelley Taylor poses for a selfie

Meanwhile, Taylor was drifting in and out of consciousness. Charlie managed to wake her, and told her she had to go get a towel to put on my head to help with the bleeding, which was now pulsing out of control from my head. We were all covered with my blood. How she made it to the bathroom to retrieve a towel is beyond any of our comprehension.

Immediately after she returned, Taylor lost consciousness again.  Charlie dragged her over and propped her on top of me, against the wall as I was having convulsions and banging my face into the floor.  My eyes were rolling back in my head, and Charlie yelled at me not to die on him.

Charlie called 911 and first to respond were the police. They used their flashlights and the first thing they saw were my bloody handprints in our hallway where I tried to stand, and Charlie covered in my blood. Needless to say, they turned their suspicions onto Charlie.

Shortly after the fire department arrived, and the Fire Chief began asking different questions. Charlie explained we were using a generator and immediately the Chief went to the truck to get the carbon monoxide detector. The truck was parked at the street and within steps of entering our driveway the readings on the detector began to rise quickly, so much that the Chief went back to the truck to recalibrate the device as he was not believing the high readings. Once again, walking in the driveway up to our front door the readings began to creep higher and higher. Upon reaching the door he called for his crew to exit the home and began to get Charlie, Taylor and our dogs out. A couple of paramedics were left inside with me to get me stable enough for transport to the hospital. Once outside, they realized that Taylor had “started” this whole incident and the firefighters told Charlie they wanted her checked out as well. I left by ambulance and Charlie and Taylor in his truck.

On route to the hospital, through nothing other than God’s grace, Taylor made some of the scariest and bravest phone calls she’s ever made to my sisters alerting them of what had happened and seeking their immediate help.  She was much too young to understand what was going on or what was wrong with her mom, she just knew they had to get there quickly!

Several firefighters went above and beyond the call of duty and stayed at our home to open windows and stay and watch our dogs for sickness and make sure they were in a safe place before leaving.

Once at Mansfield Methodist Hospital they checked mine and Taylor’s blood gases and they were “through the roof”. Worse, my daughter’s levels were much higher than mine.

They began preparing us to be transported to Dallas Methodist Hospital to get in their hyperbaric chamber. First my head had to be stitched up, 15 stitches total, and I had to have a CT Scan to make sure I was transportable. Then off we went, on the ice, Taylor and I in the ambulance, her sitting and me on a stretcher both with oxygen on.

Upon arriving at Dallas Methodist Hospital, a doctor explained the procedures for going into the hyperbaric chamber, which was difficult to understand considering everything. I must add that at some time after our arrival we found out that the family which had just been in the chamber all died, except the father!

I was terrified for Taylor and myself!  Taylor and I are both very claustrophobic, but we are survivors after our approximate three hour stay in the hyperbaric chamber.

Two Ambulance rides, one CT scan, two blood gases, two Hyperbaric chambers, 15 stitches and one concussion later, we survived!  Nothing says ‘I love you” like a brain injury on Valentine’s Day.

My sister, Kimberley, moved in with us for about a month. Physically I was trying to heal my head, but mentally I was left with a traumatic brain injury.  I started over with kindergarten flashcards, looking at an apple and saying library, and my friends and family completed most of my sentences. They scooped Taylor and I up and helped us heal.

My neurologist told me that people don’t survive what we went through and there really aren’t patients like Taylor and I.  He said he didn’t know how to treat me. I cried and he was visibly shaken. Through his honesty, he became a great comfort to me as I struggled with memory and cognitive skills. We became a little closer that day and I knew he had chosen the right career.

On another of my early visits, he took his hand and made a fist and began knocking on my forehead. He said the poison goes into your brain and destroys whatever it attaches to and we have no control over what functions it destroys or limits.

To this day, my short-term memory is horrible at times, and I’ve lost so many precious memories.

Taylor and I have a saying when it comes to trying to remember things, we just look at each other and say, “Did we have fun?”

The one who remembers says to the other, “Yes, we had fun!”

That’s all that matters. But, to be alive, in whatever capacity, is amazing!  I continue daily to deal with migraines, balance, breathing, vision, memory or the lack thereof. These are daily struggles for both Taylor and I.

I have fallen more times than I’ve stood, and had injuries that ranged from Band-Aids to orthopaedics visits. For six years, my greatest challenge was breathing, but now I struggle with a chronic migraine.  Right now, I am close to 100 days straight of my head hurting. Every day at some point I struggle to breathe and coughing has become my norm. Some days are better than others. Sunny days are my friend. On cold, wet days I lean on my faith for every breath I take.

The more I talk the worse my coughing gets and I talk so much for work. Recovery continues every day for me and Taylor and luckily her Dyslexic brain is used to accommodating skills and this continues to be her saving grace on a daily basis.  She is young, so strong, her faith is incredible, and healing has come differently for her, but memory and migraines are big battles for her.  I’d love for you to pray for her right now.

image2           Many days are challenging and bring a stream of tears but I try my best to remember that God knows the plans for me and Taylor.  He knew the breaths that would follow would bring challenge, He knew this, He knew.  Through it all, truly through it all I will trust Him.

God used this disaster to dissolve a broken marriage and link my life with the most amazing man, through merging tears, broken hope, and many answered prayers.

Taylor Trammell graduated in May with her Associates degree and will soon be an American Sign Language Interpreter. 

Shelley Taylor will publish her book, “With My Last Breath, I’d Say I Love You: When your FAITH and HOPE slip, GRACE wins every time” March 1, 201


8. Follow her on Instagram @shelleylovesTaylor


Why didn’t my bike helmet prevent my TBI?


15 per cent of the approximately 18,000 traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) that occur in a year in Ontario are a result of a cycling accident. Every year in Canada, over 11,000 people die as a result of a traumatic brain injury (TBI) – using the same 15 per cent – that’s over 1600 people in Canada who die as a result of a TBI caused by a cycling accident. 85 per cent of all cyclists’ deaths in Canada involve a brain injury.

A little over five years ago, I sustained a TBI while riding my bike. It was a beautiful spring morning, and I was riding my bike to work, as I had hundreds of times before. I remember leaving my home that morning, and then waking up in the emergency room at St. Michael’s Hospital, several hours later. I was told by the doctors in the emergency department that I had been knocked off my bike, hit the ground, passed out, and taken to the ER by ambulance. Several hours later I was diagnosed with a brain injury. To this day, I have no memory of the incident.

I was wearing a bike helmet, which I always did, but my helmet did not protect me against acquiring a TBI. I’d always wondered why, and recently I got my answer. I came across a TED Talk by bioengineer (and former football player) David Camarillo, who, along with his team at Stanford University, has been able to demonstrate what really happens to our brain during a concussion, and why bike helmets, and other sports helmets, such as football helmets are not designed to protect against concussion, but rather, they are designed and tested to determine how well they protect against skull fracture.

What happens to your brain during a concussion?

The standard thinking of what happens to your brain during a concussion is that the head moves, the brain lags behind, catches up, smashes into the skull, rebounds off the skull and then proceeds to run into the other side of the skull. This dynamic is repeated many times. This understanding of what happens to the brain during concussion suggests that the brain is damaged on the outer edges.

In his Stanford University lab, Camarillo and his team, with the aid of new technology, have looked closely at what happens to the brain when it is experiencing a concussion. Their investigations suggest that the current thinking about what occurs to the brain during a concussion is not entirely accurate. Firstly, he does not believe that the brain moves around as much as current wisdom suggests. Camarillo argues that there is very little room in our cranial cavity for movement, perhaps a few millimetres, and our cranial cavity is filled with spinal fluid, which acts as a protective layer. Secondly, he suggests that the brain does not move as a whole.

Football player with ball about to fall to the ground

Our brain is one of the softest organs in our body – the consistency of Jell-O – and as the brain moves around in our skull during a concussion, it is probably twisting and turning and contorting – the tissue is getting stretched. Concussion does not appear to be something that is happening to the outer edges of the brain, but rather it is happening somewhere much deeper, in the centre of the brain.

The Laboratory – The Stanford Football Team

To help Camarillo and his team better understand what is happening to the brain during a concussion they utilized a mouth guard equipped with sensors and a gyroscope, which most experts believe can tell us what happens to the brain during a concussion. When someone is struck in the head, the mouth guard records how the skull moves at a thousand samples per second.

The study’s laboratory is the Stanford football team, young men who regularly go out and hit their heads.  This allows for rich information to be obtained when the researchers extract the data out of the mouth guard.

When the data from the mouth guard, was combined with a finite element model of the brain, developed by Svein Kleiven in Sweden, it showed that the brain of football players, who have suffered a concussion does not smash around in the skull, as current thinking would lead us to believe, but rather twists and contorts. The data shows that the greatest amount of stretching occurs very close to the centre of the brain.

What’s there? The corpus callosum, the wiring which connects the left and right hemispheres of your brain. Camarillo believes that this might be one of the most common mechanisms of concussion, the wiring is being disrupted, which causes a disassociation between your right and left brain and could explain a lot of the symptoms one sees in concussion. This is consistent with what researchers see with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) – when the corpus callosum of a middle aged, former football player is viewed, and compared to an individual who does not have CTE, his corpus callosum is greatly atrophied.

Although there is a rapid transmission of forces down to the corpus callosum when the head is struck, it does take a certain amount of time. What Camarillo and his team believe is that if we can slow the head down just enough so that the brain does not lag behind the skull, but instead moves in synchrony with the skull, then we might be able to prevent this mechanism of concussion.

How can we slow the head down?

The most currently used bicycle helmet is constructed of expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam within a thin plastic shell. The EPS liner absorbs the force of an impact by deforming, while the outer shell increases the area over which the force is dissipates. The main considerations when designing a bike helmet is the size and stiffness of the helmet, which impacts how efficiently energy is absorbed. As a result of the materials used in constructing an EPS helmet, the size of the helmet has been limited to a few inches. This does not slow down the head enough to enable the brain to move in synchrony with the skull, rather than lag behind the skull. It turns out that air, in an expandable helmet would be the ideal mechanism for slowing the head down enough during impact, so that the brain moves in synchrony with the skull, rather than lagging behind.

woman wearing a skirt standing with her bike

It turns out that a company in Sweden called Hovding, is using the principle of air to give the wearer of their ‘helmet’ some extra space to prevent concussion. Hovding has created what is essentially the world’s first airbag for cyclists. The Hovding is a collar, worn around the cyclist’s neck, that uses advanced sensors, similar to the sensors used in the mouth guards described in Camarillo’s research above, that can sense the cyclist’s movement patterns and will react in case of an accident. The airbag will then inflate, fixate your neck and provide a shock absorption. In experiments conducted by Camarillo and his team they have found that the Hovding collar can greatly reduce the risk of concussion in some scenarios, compared to a standard EPS bike helmet. The Hovding is currently for sale in Europe and Japan, and is CE labelled, which means it complies with European Union safety standards, but not for sale in the United States, and alas, Canada.

In the US, bike helmets are federally regulated by The Consumer Product Safety Commission. The Commission has jurisdiction over the type of helmets they approve. The test they use in order to grant approval to a bike helmet is testing the helmets capacity to prevent skull fractures, not whether the helmet is likely to prevent concussion. In Canada, The Canadian Standards Association accredits organizations to certify that bicycle helmets meet certain standards, such as CPSC bicycle helmet standard, which uses the tests described above by Camarillo.

I contacted Hovding and asked about the availability of their helmet in Canada – alas, it is not available here. They replied that, at this time, they have not investigated helmet certification in Canada. So it might take some time to get my head into one!

Even so, any helmet is better than no helmet, so keep wearing whatever helmet you have, and wear it properly.


Modelling and Optimization of Airbag Helmets for Preventing Head Injuries,  published in The Annals of Biomedical Engineering in September 2016.

Since her TBI in 2011, Sophia has educated herself about TBI. She is interested in making research into TBI accessible to other survivors.

Without action, awareness does little


Nine years ago, I walked into an emergency room with very obvious signs of a concussion. Despite glaring symptoms, no one would even utter the word ‘concussion’. Doctors told me I had whiplash, which didn’t even come close to describing the traumatic brain injury diagnosis I was given six months later.

Hospital emergency room entrance

This year, I walked into the same emergency room, with very obvious signs of a concussion. Despite nine years of brain injury awareness in the media, in hospitals, in schools and in sports, my experience was no different.

What good is brain injury awareness if we don’t put it into practice?

April 2017 marked nine years since I acquired my brain injury. I experience symptoms every day and it looks like they are here to stay.  Like many others, I navigated the health care and education systems before brain injury awareness hit the mainstream. My family and I had to research and advocate for every bit of care I received. Even with a CT scan in hand, it was difficult to get doctors to believe, let alone treat my symptoms. This was before Sidney Crosby, NFL lawsuits and head injury protocols; the dark ages of brain injury.

This year, I learned that we are still living in the dark ages. Last month, I was hit in the head with a locker by accident at work. When my symptoms continued to get worse instead of better, I went to the same emergency room I went to nine years ago. It didn’t even cross my mind that I would be treated exactly the same as I was back then, this was the new era of brain injury awareness, right? Wrong.

locker room

There were three of us in the emergency room with concussion symptoms; the doctor barely looked at any of us and sent us on our way.  I returned to my family doctor, who has seen me do this concussion dance with the health care system before, and was sent to another emergency room. The second ER doctor told me what I was experiencing was impossible and seemed shocked when I dared to ask for WSIB forms to be filled out. Despite the blurred vision, noise sensitivity, nausea and fatigue he put a question mark beside the concussion diagnosis on my papers.

June is Brain Injury Awareness month in Canada and it’s a month I’m excited for and take pride in every year. Considering how prevalent concussions / brain injuries are, I think awareness is important for everyone,  but awareness isn’t enough.

Being aware is the first step but it is by no means the only step in preventing and responding to brain injuries. The next step is to put that awareness into action; this action is going to require effort and change by professionals and individuals.

It’s easy to say we are aware and be done for the day but if we don’t put in this effort for people with brain injuries, awareness falls flat and nothing changes. The very people brain injury awareness is supposed to be helping are failed all over again- stuck in the dark ages of brain injury.

The other piece of brain injury awareness that requires action to be effective is prevention. Awareness that leads to policies such as concussion protocols are great (if they are put into action and enforced) but this doesn’t lead to a decrease in people sustaining brain injuries. Brain injury prevention is going to have to come from individual change; with the increase in brain injury awareness, we know that a hit to the head can have lifelong impacts. With that being said, there is no excuse for deliberately hitting someone in the head.

Many brain injuries, especially sports-related brain injuries, are entirely preventable and occur due to individuals decisions. My brain injury stems from a youth athlete’s decision to use physical force instead of skill to win a basketball game. This is similar to Sidney Crosby, during the NHL playoffs he sustained another concussion at the hands of a player on the opposing team. It is very well known that Crosby has a history of concussions and another hit to the head could, at the very least, end his career. With the increase in brain injury awareness, we should be seeing a decrease in these types of injuries simply by individuals changing their behaviour.

Woman playing basketball

My hope for this Brain Injury Awareness Month is to move beyond awareness and towards action.  This includes a decrease in the number of brain injuries and better outcomes for survivors.

Alyson is 25-years-old and acquired her brain injury nine years ago. She graduated from Ryerson University and is a Youth Worker at a homeless shelter. In her spare time, Alyson enjoys writing, rollerblading and reading. Follow her on Twitter @arnr33





Feeling what you cannot see


As I lie in my bed I breathe in and out while staring at the ceiling. I can feel all of the bones in my body as I stretch myself awake. I rub the sleep from my pupils and rise to a seated position.

Five fingers;

Five toes;

I extend and wiggle.

I climb to my feet and slowly shuffle my way into the bathroom.

The mirror on the wall stares at me.

Two eyes to see with;

One nose to smell with;

A mouth full of teeth.

Mark Koning in a hoodie, looking down
Mark Koning

There are no physical scars or indentations on my head. There is no numbness to my face. My arms and legs have full motion, so there is no need for a wheelchair or use of any other kind of assistive device that can be seen. I know that not all injuries are the same, but still…

What is wrong with me?

Do they know what they cannot see?

Do I?

I feel the skin on my cheekbones and look toward the mirror with pretty clear vision.

I sometimes feel that part of me is forever hidden.

Shadowed; unseen.

Maybe it is not what they don’t see, maybe it is what they don’t understand.

While I may live with a brain injury, my brain lives without borders, and what I mean by this is that my limitations only go as far as I let them bother me. For me, one plus one may not always equal two, and what I need to do is come to the conclusion that this is alright. There is no shame in it. It hurts me to know that not everyone else can find this same reasoning.

Because of it though, I still often find myself waking up only to look into that mirror and wonder. What is depression supposed to look like? Is this chronic fatigue that I feel, this confusion and frustration, this struggle to retain information, this cognitive search for words that quite often get lost, this uncertainty that I am challenged with, the extra time I require and need to slow down, are these things real? Are these things a result of my brain injury?

But I know the answer to these questions. And even though it is a continuing struggle between what I feel and that which cannot be seen, I know. I know of the strength and of the beauty and of the patience. I know of the possibilities, the potential, and the greatness that lies within. I know that if you only allow your eyes to see, you can end up missing out on a lot.

During Brain Injury Awareness Month this June, Mark Koning is donating  50% of the proceeds of his book, Challenging Barriers and Walking the Path to BIST! Contact Mark over Twitter or Facebook.

#areyouaware: Meet BIST’s Amazing Brain Injury Awareness Month (BIAM) Committee


Volunteer Appreciation Week is just around the corner – and we at BIST have been using the month of April as an opportunity to congratulate the winners of our Volunteer of the Year Award: Christiane Kokko (Caregiver Category) and Rob Ashe (ABI Survivor / Thriver Category). Stay tuned next week when we announce the winner of ABI Ambassador Category!  In the meantime, find out more about the hardworking members of our Brain Injury Awareness Month (BIAM) Committee below!

Member of the 2017 BIAM committee
Members of the 2017 BIAM Committee: (L-R) Tonya Flaming, Kelly-Anne Rover, Jordan Assaraf, Meri Perra, Matthew Chung, Celia Missios, Colleen Boyce and Joe Pileggi Missing: Alex Piotti (chair), Ian Bowles, Ian Furlong, Miranda Hong and Vivian Ng (on leave)  

At our last meeting, BIAM Committee member and long time BIST volunteer Colleen Boyce mentioned, “I have a display of Brain Injury Awareness events going back to 2000 in my basement, would BIST like to have it in the office?”

Colleen said that just after committee chair Alex Piotti handed over a DVD of a BIAM event from fours years ago she ‘happened’ to find amongst her stuff. Take away: you know you’ve got a committed group of volunteers when members of the committee literally carry the history of the work with them.

Colleen said her reasons for sticking on the BIAM committee all this time have stayed the same, “The goal at the time and still is awareness and for me personally to give back to the community and the brain injury industry. I did and still feel you need to talk the talk and walk the walk!”

(top L-R) Vivian Ng (third from left) and volunteer Rob Ashe (in blue #areyouaware shirt) at Sunnybrook Hospital in 2016; (bottom L-R) Alex Piotti, Ian Furlong and volunteer Mychal Reeves in 2016

There are several BIST committees, and all of them are where work crucial to BIST happens, our major fundraising events such as Birdies for Brain Injury, the 5K Hero Run, Walk and Roll and the Mix and Mingle would be impossible without these volunteers. Simply put, without volunteer hours, BIST would not be where we are today.

Enter the BIAM Committee, where some members such as Boyce (who was the founding chair of BIST in 2004) has been involved since 2000, before BIST existed.

Throughout this time, the committee’s work has expanded from throwing Brainstock events at Nathan Phillips Square (check out none other than Mr. Ben Mulroney as our special guest in 2012) where members of the ABI community would gather, snag some swag and celebrate the strength of brain injury thrivers / survivors in the heart of Toronto.


Committee member Tonya Flaming helped organize Brainstock events after joining the BIAM committee (because a colleague told her it was ‘fun’) in 2009. Jordan Assaraf, currently a BIST board member, has sat on the committee for three years. New-this-year members such as Celia Missios (also a board member), Matt Chung (a former Communications Committee member) are contributing new ideas and energy to the group, as is Kelly-Anne Rover who replaced her colleague and long-time BIAM Committee member Leslie Allen this winter.

Joe Pileggi, director of client services at Thomson Rogers has been active on the BIAM committee for years. He and Thomson Rogers partner Ian Furlong ensure the committee has meeting space in the Thomson Rogers boardroom, including free coffee and doughnuts as a bonus. (Legal assistant Esther Wiik helps a lot with this part!) Joe is also responsible for giving the committee free access to professional design services through Lime Advertising for BIAM’s print materials.

Super BIST volunteers Tonya Flaming and Frank Bruno at a TTC Brain Injury Awareness campaign in 2015.

BIST Volunteer of the Year winner in 2012, Ian Bowles, joined the committee six years ago, he says partially as a survivor representative, but also because he was interested in ‘reaching out to people who do not know the implications of brain injury.’

Members of the BIAM Committee at Brainstock in 2013, (bottom right) Ian Boyles wins BIST Volunteer of the Year award for his work on BIAM and the Communications committee in 2012. 



In 2014 and 2015, the committee, along with dedicated BIST members, went into the TTC during June to distribute brain injury awareness messages.

Last year, the committee invested in ads in the TTC and held awareness booths in Toronto hospitals.

Screen Shot 2017-04-20 at 12.14.41 PM
Screen Shot of areyouware.ca


areyouaware logo

In 2014 and 2015, the committee, along with dedicated BIST members, went into the TTC during June to distribute brain injury awareness messages.

Last year, the committee invested in ads in the TTC and held awareness booths in Toronto hospitals.

Former BIST executive director, Michelle McDonald and BIAM committee member Vivian Ng at the TTC in 2015
Former BIST executive director, Michelle McDonald and BIAM committee member Vivian Ng at the TTC in 2015

The switch to focussing on social media and the #areyouaware message worked, and in 2015 the committee won an award from the Ontario Brain Injury Association Advisory Council for their work:

Brain Injury Awareness Month Committee
The Ontario Brain Injury Association’s Advisory Council award, proudly displayed in the BIST office with #areyouaware material from previous years above.

This focus is continuing in 2017, so be on the look out for brain injury awareness booths in Toronto hospitals in June, our booth at Pride Toronto  and another great social media campaign!

And thanks to all BIAM Committee Members (past and present) for their hard work!


Meri Perra is the Communications and Support Coordinator at BIST – she feels very lucky that she gets to work with so many amazing people at her job – including this committee!




Meri Perra

Communications and Support Coordinator

Brain Injury Society of Toronto (BIST)

Songs to celebrate ABI strength + thriving


“Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without.”

– Confucius

Human beings are emotional and irrational creatures. We’re guided by the heart, and we respond emotionally to the sounds that music creates.

According to a paper presented at the University of London, music can even affect our perception of visual images.

The role of music in brain rehabilitation therapy has undergone some significant changes as a result of new information gathered from research into music and brain function. Because music is a highly-structured auditory language, one that requires perception and cognitive motor control, researchers have now found it can be a vital way of retraining and re-educating an injured brain.

For example, people who have suffered an ABI often have difficulties regaining speech, particularly if the trauma happened on the left side of the brain, the side that controls speech and comprehension. Music areas are located on both sides of the brain, and music can be used to bypass the language channels that have been damaged. This “backdoor” approach has been used to teach those suffering an ABI or a stroke to regain their control of speech, often by means of singing familiar songs.

Therapists and physicians now use music in rehabilitation in ways that are not only backed up by clinical research findings but also supported by an understanding of some of the mechanisms of music and brain function.

In 2011, American congresswoman Gabby Giffords suffered an TBI after an assassination attempt on her life. Five weeks later, she was experiencing a challenging time relearning how to talk as she attempted to recall words for certain objects. A therapist implemented a program of music therapy and from then on, her progress skyrocketed. Nineteen months later, in September 2012, Gabby was able to walk on stage at the Democratic National Convention to address the delegates. And just two months after that, she met her assailant face –to- face in the courtroom where he was sentenced to life imprisonment.

The power of music in brain injury rehabilitation is two-fold –

  • It provides unconditional emotional support and enjoyment for an ABI survivor
  • From a medical perspective, it’s proving to play a significant role in the healing process of brain injuries.

Songs that instill a sense of strength and survival take on a special meaning for those with the affects of brain injury.

Here’s a list of 15 – in no particular order – with just this theme – compiled especially for Brain Injury Awareness Month – ENJOY! 

Heal the World – Michael Jackson

From Michael Jackson’s 1991 album Dangerous, the uplifting Heal the World was the song he was most proud to have written.

Carry On – Olivia Holt

This song released in 2014 by actor and singer Olivia Holt explains that life is full of challenges and that we must make the best of them by simply carrying on.

It’s Gonna be Alright – Sara Groves

This song by American contemporary Christian singer Sara Groves was included on her 2005 CD Add to the Beauty, its lyrics offer words of reassurance to those facing hard times.

The Climb – Miley Cyrus

Written for the 2009 film Hanna Montana, The Climb focuses not only on overcoming adversity but recognizing the merit in dealing with struggle. Try not to get too distracted by Cyrus’ back-in-the-day G-Rated appearance.

 Hall of Fame –The Script ft. will.i.am

The lead single from The Script’s third studio album #3, Hall of Fame also features hip-hop artist will.i.am and focuses on following dreams and achieving greatness in yourself. 

Don’t Give Up – Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush

Inspired by the depression-era photographs of Dorothea Lange, Peter Gabriel wrote this song in 1986 and recorded it with Kate Bush for his CD So.

Ain’t no Mountain High enough- Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell

This classic from 1967 with Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell relates the timeless message that having a special person we can depend on is paramount. 

Brave – Sara Bareilles

Written by the American singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles, Brave appeared in her fourth studio album The Blessed Unrest and deals with having enough courage to say what you think and the importance of being yourself.

Hey World (Don’t Give Up) – Michael Franti & Spearhead

Musician, filmmaker and humanitarian Michael Franti wrote this song about holding on in hard times and remembering that all things are possible.

 So Small – Carrie Underwood

So Small was the first single from Carrie Underwood’s second studio album, Carnival Ride, released during the summer of 2007. In her own words, “it’s a feeling song on how people invest so much of their time and energy into things that aren’t really important, and how they don’t really realize it until it’s too late.”

Go the Distance – Michael Bolton

Written for Disney’s 1997 animated feature film, Hercules, Go the Distance focuses on reaching a goal while facing obstacles and the power of persistence.

Don’t Stop Believin’ – Journey

Journey’s classic anthem from 1981 relates that no matter how difficult the circumstances we may find ourselves in, the solution is simple – never give up!

Not Afraid – Eminem

This 2010 release by American rapper Eminem contains a defiant message urging us to take a stand no matter how difficult the odds. 

You Gotta Be – Des’Ree

Written by the singer with the track’s producer, Ashley Ingram, You Gotta Be was the first song on Des’ree’s 1994 album I Ain’t Movin’. New York critic Stuart Elliott described it as “an infectiously sunny tune about the affirmative powers of self-confidence.”

When You Believe – Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston

Written by Stephen Schwartz for the 1998 animated feature The Prince of Egypt, When You Believe was recorded by Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston for the end credits. Its powerful message is simple – miracles can occur if you simply believe in them.


June is Brain Injury Awareness Month

Eat your GREENS this Brain Injury Awareness Month!


Brain Injury Awareness Month is here – and to celebrate ABI awareness and help us get our green veggies on , our columnist chef Janet Craig has written a super-green salad recipe for us to enjoy.

(Because green is the colour of brain injury awareness!)

asparagus, fiddle head and pea salada



1 bunch of asparagus cleaned & cut into diagonal pieces

2 cups frozen peas, thawed

1 to 2 cups fiddleheads, fresh or frozen

1 bunch of green onions cut into diagonal slices

  • If you want to add protein the a cup of Feta cubed is nice


1 lemon, zested & juiced

1/3-cup vegetable oil

1 tbsp Dijon mustard

salt & pepper to taste

1-tablespoon tarragon vinegar (or use 1 tsp dried tarragon & 1 tbsp white wine vinegar)


  1. Steam asparagus and fiddleheads (if peas are fresh add them) on high 2 minutes. Plunge into bowl of ice to blanch.
  2. Mix all vegetables into glass bowl.
  3. Mix up dressing and pour onto salad.

Chef Janet Craig recipes are simple, healthy, delicious and ABI friendly.  You can find out more about her HERE.

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