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Oshawa woman shares story of recovery from traumatic brain injury

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Oshawa resident Christie McLardie and the Town of Ajax's public and strategic affairs manager suffered a brain injury two years ago and is sharing her recovery story and talking about the impact the injury has had on her life. She recently shared her MRI photos on Twitter because she said she was
Oshawa resident Christie McLardie and the Town of Ajax's public and strategic affairs manager suffered a brain injury two years ago and is sharing her recovery story and talking about the impact the injury has had on her life. She recently shared her MRI photos on Twitter because she said she was "tired of people judging". - Sabrina Byrnes/Metroland

OSHAWA — An Oshawa woman who suffered a traumatic brain injury two years ago during a softball game is sharing her story in hopes of fostering better understanding for people who have experienced similar injuries.

Christie McLardie’s life changed on Sept. 15, 2016. At the time she was working as the manager of public and strategic affairs for the Town of Ajax and she was participating in a social work event, a softball game played at the Pan Am ballpark in Ajax. Her team had made it to the finals and McLardie was in the rover position right beside the pitcher when she was hit by a line drive, a direct high-speed impact.

“I was hit on the right side of my head — I don’t remember much and a lot of traumatic brain injury people don’t remember immediate times (before the hit) — but what would have happened is as that line drive was coming and I knew I wouldn’t be able to react and catch the ball so I must have turned my head and as I turned my head the line drive hit me smack in the temporal area of the right side of my brain.”

McLardie immediately fell and staff called 911.

“What happened that was visual for the paramedics to know that it was serious was when they came is I had lost my speech and I couldn’t feel my left hand and I couldn’t feel the left side of my face.”

Based on those symptoms she was rushed to the Ajax hospital where she was assessed and then immediately transferred to St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, a trauma centre.

McLardie underwent surgery, a craniotomy where they took a portion of her skull bone to address brain bleeding including two hematomas and to remove shattered bone fragments. A portion of her skull, the size of the palm of one’s hand, was replaced by titanium and she ended up with 70 staples on her head when she came out of surgery.

As a result of her injury she had significant weakness on her left side resulting in difficulty walking and her speech was slurred and hard to understand. Cognitively she could understand what was happening.

“I was slow, but Christie was there, I was just a lot slower,” she said. “What was not there and is still not here today is a lot of my ability to process information, you can talk to me fine and I can answer you right back but if I had to read something and tell you about it, it’s different because I’m taking in that information.”

McLardie would spend about six weeks in hospital, the majority of it at Bridgeport Active Healthcare, a Toronto rehab hospital followed by three months as an outpatient at Lakeridge Health’s Ambulatory Rehabilitation Centre at Whitby hospital.

“On a daily basis I have to have naps, I’m still tired to this day, I’m going to therapy three times a week — that’s physical therapy — I still do occupational therapy,” she said, adding she’s not driving due to the medication she’s on. “On top of that, I still have fractures that haven’t fused in my skull, so there’s a lot of pain I have in my head.”

She’s received support from the community, including neighbours and members of the sports community as well as her family including her mother who has travelled from Nova Scotia to act as her primary caregiver for the past two years.

Emotionally, it’s been a long journey.

“You’re in shock for a long time, that shock turns to complacency and you feel like this is it,” she said. “Then you go into that anger mode, why is this happening to me and then you go into a mourning so it’s like you mourn the old self, and then after that — and this is where I’m at right now — I’m into acceptance and that journey to acceptance has taken me to almost two years.”

When McLardie’s injury occurred she was successful professionally, busy with athletics with her two sons and on the cusp of turning 40.

“I was in a great spot turning 40 and when you go through what I did, you mourn that because you think that that can’t happen again, I mourned that Christie,” she said. “You begin to see you have to let that go, you have to let that Christie go and you have to realize you are who you are now and you can be just as successful if you have acceptance of what your current deficits are and I clearly know what my current deficits are.”

McLardie is not alone.

Linda Lowery, chairperson of Heads Up! Durham a community organization focused on awareness and prevention of brain injuries, explains that brain injury is the number 1 cause of death and disabilities in people under the age of 44 in Canada and 30 per cent of all brain injuries are suffered by children.

Brain Injury Canada estimates 1.5 million Canadians have an acquired brain injury. The most common causes are car accidents, as well as falls, sports injures and assault.

“Acquired brain injury is a greater incidence than spinal cord injury, breast cancer and HIV-AIDS combined annually,” said Lowery, whose son suffered a traumatic brain injury in 2008 after he was hit by a vehicle while long boarding.

Heads Up! Durham works with local school boards and the health department to raise awareness including conducting concussion awareness sessions.

McLardie is ready to share her story and is looking to reach out to others who have suffered similar injuries. She’s also discussing the challenges she continues to face.

She hopes to go back to work soon, first on a part-time basis and said she has received great support from the Town of Ajax, her employer, and WSIB and she will be returning with a new perspective.

“In my workplace accessibility and disability issues were so important and so forefront and sometimes you really didn’t get it or understand it, but when you’re in this situation you finally get it.”

She recently met with a young boy who suffered a stroke who is going through many of the same things McLardie went through.

“Now you’ve gone through this and you can communicate this and share this with people, you can help people, I was always that person anyways but I think now I have something very concrete and very special to share,” she said.

This article originally appeared on the Durham Region and was  reprinted with the permission of the writer Reka Szekely

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