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B.C. woman battling brain injuries and public misperceptions

Chemainus resident wants to raise awareness after being repeatedly mistaken for being drunk
Barbara Allen is happy in her life in Chemainus. She just wants her existence and community service acknowledged and to encourage others dealing with brain injuries by making herself known. (Photo by Don Bodger)

A B.C. woman who suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) in her 20s says she’s saddened and tired of being mistaken for being inebriated.

Barbara E. (Red) Allen, now 59, was just 27 years old when she was a passenger in a fatal car accident caused by a drunk driver in Peticodiac, New Brunswick.

The drunk driver walked away. Allen’s driver, Tom, died at the scene. Allen had to be cut from the car with the Jaws of Life. Her brain injury resulting from the accident was compounded by a punctured lung and facial injuries that required plastic surgery.

The injury, in her words, initially reduced her to the capabilities of a three-year-old inside and out. A long and arduous process “where I had to learn how to walk and talk again,” gave Allen some of her life back, but she never fully recovered from the brain injury and never will.

“I was unconscious for nine days,” she said. “I’ve been dealing with this disability for 30 years now.”

The pain of those injuries is still felt, but it’s the misperceptions they sometimes create make it even harder to cope.

Now living in Chemainus on Vancouver Island, Allen says she’s been stopped by police in the middle of the day and asked to take a breathalyzer test because her speech and appearance is such that people often think she’s been drinking. She was once pulled over for a mistaken interpretation of dangerous driving after a woman spotted her at a traffic light.

She doesn’t wish to vilify the RCMP who are only doing their jobs, but she’s been mistakenly thought to be inebriated three times in recent years and been questioned while trying to make liquor store purchases.

“I am simply wanting to raise awareness of invisible disabilities and asked to be respected for myself and my community efforts,” Allen said.

Related story: MacGregor introduces bill to improve traumatic brain injury prevention and treatment

She has a lot going on in her life and tries not to dwell on those things, but it’s always a challenge. Even this long after her accident, Allen doesn’t take anything for granted.

She took 10 courses and spent three years working toward becoming a personal trainer. And she’s not letting anything get her down despite some annoying obstacles.

She would just like people who might not know someone’s circumstances to show a little more compassion.

“I’m feeling blessed to be able to walk and talk again,” she said. “I’m working out like crazy.”

Allen hopes some understanding of her life will help so that she can continue to participate within the her community. She recently joined the Cowichan Brain Injury Society and that’s helping herself and others with like minds to cope.

“I think I’m a better person than I was before. It’s a life lesson you don’t wish on anyone. But I’m here now.”

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Barbara Allen sports red hair and cowboy boots that often leads to misconceptions about her. (Photo by Don Bodger)

Don Bodger

About the Author: Don Bodger

I've been a part of the newspaper industry since 1980 when I began on a part-time basis covering sports for the Ladysmith-Chemainus Chronicle.
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