Sharon Wells and her daughter Sharon, also Wells, wore matching pink shirts as they sat at the Owl Street Cafe, each with a grey head of hair cut short so they are indistinguishable from behind as long as they are standing still.
Over the course of an hour, both Sharon and Sharon moved from laughter to tears and back again as they explained how a traumatic brain injury daughter Sharon suffered at 15, after being hit by a car, has drastically changed their lives.
“Her brain is shrinking, there are more nerves dying, it is, as (the doctor) put it to me, ‘it’s not going to get any better’,” Sharon said, wiping away tears. “You get up and put one foot in front of the other.”
Daughter Sharon listens and understands all that is said around the table, but she cannot respond except in a few short words, animated facial expressions and emotion. There have been moments, says mom, when Sharon has spoken full sentences.
“I’ve had Sharon walk up a set of stairs, turn around and tell me ‘I’m a prisoner’,” she said, pointing to her head. At the mention of this memory, daughter Sharon bursts into tears. The two comfort each other as they relive the difficult moments in their 36 years living with brain injury.
“You don’t want to cry, you’re going to get your glasses today. You want to have pretty eyes for your glasses,” mom comforts. Sharon hopes getting her daughter glasses will alleviate some of the difficulty she has seeing things up close.
Sharon’s injury is remarkable in many ways — mom Sharon said she was the first person to survive with a severe closed brain injury at the time of the accident in 1982. She spent six weeks in a coma, opening her eyes and coming out of the coma on her birthday March 31.
“She couldn’t talk at that time, she couldn’t hold her head up,” she said. “She had absolutely no control at that time, and it took eight months before she talked. First word was mom…I had to teach her how to eat, I had to toilet train her again. All the basic things you do like if a baby was growing up.”
Some things about Sharon’s personality have stayed the same. She loved colouring as a young person, she still colours and loves art. She is a fan of jewelry, sporting a multicoloured necklace in the shape of a butterfly and two rainbow heart-shaped earrings. “We have oodles of bracelets,” Sharon said.
Her fussy nature has also stayed the same. “If I put one set of earrings in the wrong place, she’ll go in there and check it out,” Sharon said, adding her daughter will move these back in place and come out of her room to wag her finger at mom.
But other than these traits, Sharon said her daughter now age 51 is never going to improve. It’s a hard truth to live with, she said.
“Each year, I lose more and more, I’m getting to a point where the wheelchair is going to be there all the time,” she said, adding her house is arranged so she can walk around with space in between.
Sharon said awareness is lacking among the general public about brain injury. This is made more difficult by the fact that no two brain injuries are alike, hence treatments and support services need to be different.
“I think there should be more advertising of it, myself, that brain injury is a problem. There are many brain injured in B.C.,” she said, with daughter Sharon concurring, “oh yeah.”
“You hear about it but that’s it. It doesn’t mean anything until it happens to you,” Sharon added. “It can be from alcohol, it can be from a fall, it can be from a car accident, it can be from a stroke. Anything that damages the brain.”
When asked what kind of services she wants to see for her daughter, she said she has been doing it so long on her own. She doesn’t want others showering her daughter, which Sharon doesn’t want either, and she prefers to do most of her care on her own except for a few weeks of respite care every few years.
The two recently raised $1,700 for an awareness walk held June 16 in Abbotsford for the Fraser Valley Brain Injury Association. Sharon said she is really grateful for the support from those in Hope who donated.
Sharon still spends two hours twice a week at the Owl’s Nest in Silver Creek, beside the Owl Street Cafe, where the association’s community leisure program runs.
The program’s activities in Hope are currently in flux, Sharon said, with the departure of a beloved art teacher. They are currently offering movie and game days, and Sharon spoke about the possibility of bringing someone in to teach exercise.
Sharon also extended the invitation to talk to people going through what her and her daughter have been dealing with for 36 years. “Because I’ve been through it.”
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