15 things you don’t know about Abby Schnurr Mongkonrob, BIST volunteer of the year, survivor / thriver category

Meet Abby Schnurr Mongkonrob, winner of our Volunteer of the Year, Survivor / Thriver Category!

Abby is someone who is always willing to help out with anything and everything we need, from being an amazing photographer at our 2017 5K Run, Walk or Roll to co-curating our Expressive Art Show for the past two years. When she’s in the office or at a program, you know she’ll lifting the spirits in the room by cracking jokes or offering an empathetic ear to anyone who could use it.

Congrats Abby – it’s volunteers like you who help make BIST strong!

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Abby on a BIST Community Outing to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2017

16 things you don’t know about me in 16 words or less: I’m a teacher, TV actor, digital music producer, artist, photographer, graphic designer – the list goes on!

I was brought up with good family values: treat everyone equally, respectfully and kindly. I instilled these things in my students as a teacher and this is what I act now as a TBI Survivor and volunteer.

The reason I began volunteering for BIST was: the group of ladies [on staff at BIST] gave me hope. Hope and meaning like I mattered. I didn’t quite understand my TBI for the longest time. Being around others around who shared the same experience urged me to help them while I was also unexpectedly helping myself in the process.

I found support with BIST but also enjoyed engaging with other survivors through their outings and activities, especially the creative arts which I guess is the teacher side of me coming out. My old self resurfaces once in a while when I am with BIST and that is a good feeling.

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Abby strikes a heroic pose with her family at the 2017 5K Run, Walk or Roll

If I could pick any job in the world, I would be: A well-known actor, but not famous. Just well-known. I don’t like the spotlight on me, I like to choose when to be in the spotlight. Also music producing is something I’d like to get in to.

I have an (irrational or otherwise) fear of:  not being in control. Being alone. Death, I think about it every day. Not being able to control my suicidal ideations, which are part of my TBI linked with mental health struggles.

I don’t like snakes but I really like spiders.

My greatest assets as a volunteer are: I’ve been told I’m funny and quirky. Effective communication with other TBI survivors, patient, friendly and helpful. I feel the need to help to take care of them, it’s the teacher in me.

My friends would describe me as: Quirky, a big kid, funny, kind and unpredictable.

If I could invent a super power, it would be: to record our dreams and watch them on TV. Maybe they already have that. LOL. But it’s pretty cool anyways. You can learn a lot about yourself in your subconscious existence.

What inspires me most about BIST is: taking part in the events and feeling appreciated and needed.

If I won $1 million dollars I would: keep it for myself! Give some money to my family, because my parents are always there and so is my sister, no matter what. I would buy my husband and myself a food truck because my husband wants to sell Thai food. I would open a tranquil coffee shop. I would try and help the homeless because I know how to feels to be in poverty.

My personal hero is: any child or adult survivor of an injury, addiction, abuse, mental health, illness or disease that they have conquered or are in the process of conquering.

 My celebrity “crush” is: David Tennant, I think he’s brilliant. I also like Chris Pratt and Noami Watts.

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My favourite BIST event is: going to the movies! And the yearly art show, this is my second year co-curating.

A quote/motto I try to live by is: treat others as you would like to be treated – Karma!

If I could volunteer anywhere in the world I would: volunteer for Make a Wish Foundation, go to Disney World with the kids.

One time, as a kid, I:  had a radio show in my basement with friends and cassette tapes, the good old days. I won a spot on a 107.9 morning show with Anwar Night and Larry Silver when I was in grade six. Anwar Night was cute, he’s a weather guy now.

I am most proud of: my husband, for moving all the way from Thailand to support me and take care of me.

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Abby and her husband at our Holiday Party in 2015

My favourite BIST moment from this past year is: when Spider Man came to High Park on picinic day – I felt like a big kid!

 

 

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How being buried in an avalanche led to yoga teacher training: Michael Levine

BY: MERI PERRA

Tuesday, March 19, 2013, an adventurous ski getaway in Whistler, B.C. changed the course of Michael Levine’s life forever. A Class 2 avalanche struck while Levine, along with his brother and a friend, were hiking up the back side of the mountain in the backcountry of Whistler Blackcomb. Levine’s friend and brother escaped relatively unscathed, Levine at first did not.

“I was fully buried under four feet of snow,” Levine said.

Beginning the search, both his brother and friend were miraculously able to locate him and first discovered his snowboard boot, Levine’s brother and friend were quick to react and shoveled him out, to find him unconscious and non-breathing.

“They went to clear my airway and found my mouth was full of snow,” Levine said. “They [shook me] and moments later, I began breathing on my own.”

The Whistler Avalanche search and rescue Team helicoptered into the area to rescue Levine, his brother and friend. They were then transported to the Whistler Health Care Centre, where the life-saving rescue made the news.

Diagnosed with a concussion at first, Levine took a flight back to Toronto a mere two days after the accident. He showed up for work that week, as a financial adviser at a downtown Bay Street firm, where his Branch Manager immediately recognized something wasn’t right with his health.

“My eyes were completely blood shot, I had headaches and sensitivity to screens, light and noise,” Levine said.

So began Levine’s journey to recovery. In fairness, Levine says, not many health practitioners treat avalanche survivors in Ontario, and many did not know what to do. He was determined, trying to find the right care until he started treatment at the David L. MacIntosh Sport Medicine Clinic at the University of Toronto. It was at the MacIntosh Clinic where Levine learned he had sustained an anoxic brain injury due to lack of oxygen to the brain, in addition, to his concussion.

“The recovery was extremely challenging for the first two years,” Levine, who says he has not taken any prescription medication or over-the-counter pain medicine since his injury. “I was advised by my doctors to take a leave of absence from work which started out as three months, then turned into six months, and then it ended up being a year and a half.”

Skiing in the backcountry is at your own risk and adventure seeking skiiers are strongly suggested to proceed with caution. Levine, his brother and friend were experienced and equipped adventurers prepared for the day.

Whistler, appeared safe and enticing despite having variable weather patterns that week, and Levine was capable and adaptable to the conditions when the event occurred. Doctors said his health beforehand helped him survive and recover, initially, as well as he did.

Levine had no choice but to adapt to this new way of life. His exercise routine had to change. Elevating his heart rate put too much pressure on his brain. Socializing and working became a much slower pace than he was used to. He limited his workout routine to gentle yoga and the stationary bike. He had to give up weight lifting for over a year. He dealt with short term memory loss, fatigue, lack of energy and continued to experience sensitivity to light and noise.

Levine says the multidisciplinary team at the Toronto Rehabilitation Clinic, where treatment included occupational, physical and speech therapy moved him to the next level of his recovery. Cranial Sacral Therapy, Levine says, got him even closer to the final recovery stage and it became a significant part of his ongoing support to improve his health.

“I knew what I was capable of before the accident,” Levine said. “Now I had to learn to adapt to this new way of life. I had to really listen to my body and if I really don’t have any energy I had to say no to people or events. It was a learning experience.”

Levine says it wasn’t ‘just one thing’ that helped with his recovery. Talk therapy was also an important component to my recovery during the second phase. Not to leave out the fact that food is medicine for Levine and he focused on nutrition and supplements.

Levine says recovery from a brain injury also became a chance to find his true purpose and reevaluate what is important in his life. He took a detour from the financial world for two years and worked as a stylist in the menswear industry. This allowed him time and space to reflect, heal, reorganize and prioritize.

Today Levine is back in the finance office, working full time developing a business with a team. He is mindful of his time management balancing work, social, rest, exercise, and achieving optimal health and well being in today’s fast pace environment. And congratulations to Levine he has just completed the 200 hour yoga teacher training at YogaSpace.

“Yoga has been a part of my life for the last seven years,” Levine said. “It’s a great way for me to give back, and share with others in the community.”

You can catch Levine’s community class at YogaSpace this Sunday, January 28 and on Sunday March 11 at 8:45 a.m. on both days. He’ll also teach at the Attic at Lululemon (318 Queen West) on March 17 at 3 p.m. The cost is $5, and all levels are welcome, Levine says he teaches a strengthening flow class, which is open to beginners and more experienced.

We have a hunch a lot more is coming for this ABI thriver, especially for you yogis out here.

“I’d love to customize a [yoga] sequence for ABI survivors,” Levine said.

Sounds  nama-awesome. 

Yoga Space

148 Ossington Avenue |Toronto, Ontario, Canada | M6J 2Z5


Meri Perra is the Communications Coordinator at BIST.