Lessons in isolation and generosity from the survivor of a traumatic brain injury
OTTAWA -- "Believe in me. I do." Those are the words Jodi Graham lives by.
Fourteen years after a horrific car accident that left her with a traumatic brain injury, Jodi continues to defy all prognoses and show signs of improvement.
“MY LIFE IS CHANGED BUT FAR FROM OVER!! I make it my full-time job to fight my way back from the deficits I now have. I'm labelled a "non-verbal functioning quadriplegic ....WHATEVER!! I'm recovering slowly but surely AND I BELIEVE IN ME!!”, Jodi shares on her website, communicated to a family friend, with the help of special software.
Jodi was not expected to survive. If she did survive, her family was told she would live in a vegetative state.
Years after the accident, she defied all odds by taking her first steps.
“Some days it's a harder motto than others. The believe part can be challenging. When my body doesn't do what my mind's telling it to do - believing's hard.” Jodi explains through the software.
“I was an athlete before my accident at 24 and was told I was a really good one. Soccer was my game. I was used to being able to control my body with my mind. Not so much anymore - but it's better than it was - and I work at it, becoming even better and I work at believing.”
Jodi was on her way to coach a practice game the night of the May 2006 crash. She was in a vehicle, turning left, when the car was T-boned by an SUV. Jodi bore the brunt of the crash.
“Doctors thought I was going to die. I didn't! The doctors thought I'd live out my life in a vegetative state. I'm not!”
“I never underestimate the power of love and prayer from family and friends,” says Jodi’s mother, Cheryl Graham.
“Jodi has damaged almost every area of her brain so the prognosis was that if she ever did come out of the vegetative state, which they doubted, she would do far better physically than cognitively. Both frontal lobes are damaged. Her slow and steady recovery has been amazing for us, and people who are close to her. She has so many people in her court.”
Cheryl is her daughter’s primary care-giver and has been the most incredible source of strength and “belief” along the way.
She also acts as her voice.
This is Jodi’s description: “My mother and I developed a sign language of our own to communicate, but sometimes she has to guess and then my 'Me' becomes my Mom's interpretation of me. She knows me well and always has so her interpretation is likely the closest of anyone's, but it isn't necessarily always me. But that's what happens - others interpret who they think is me - not everyone can still see 'Me' - and that scares some people. They feel awkward and it's hard - for both of us."
When Cheryl speaks for Jodi, she ensures she conveys Jodi’s incredible wit.
"She has never lost her sense of humour."
With humour and tenacity, Jodi reminds us we can all help others despite our challenges and obstacles.
Cheryl Graham says this pandemic has given many people a sense of isolation for the first time.
"For them it’s for the short term. For people with for traumatic brain injuries, it’s for life," she says.
She says Jodi has found it particularly difficult because all of her routines were interrupted.
"Jodi was out a lot. She went to multiple therapies every week. It was like a social system to her. With no inside interaction with anybody but her parents it’s been a challenge," Cheryl says. "People with traumatic brain injuries they tend to be isolated to begin with. Friends move on. Often people feel a bit guilty."
Jodi and Cheryl suggest reaching out to those who are alone and isolated.
"Pick up a phone, send an email, or send a text. If you can do it virtually just reach out to people that are isolated all the time.”
Fundraising for the Ottawa Food Bank
As a self-described, “news junkie” Jodi was alarmed hearing of the increased need at The Ottawa Food Bank.
Cheryl explains Jodi’s concerns.
"She figures there must be a lot of traumatic brain injury survivors that don’t have the support that she has. It’s her way of helping them out and giving them hope and getting the word out," Cheryl says.
"It breaks her heart to think of so many unsupported individuals who are facing even more challenges through this pandemic. She is an athlete so she started training on a side-by-side bike and raise money for the Ottawa Food Bank."
To raise funds for the Ottawa Food Bank, and awareness of traumatic brain injury, Jodi plans to ride her side-by-side bike to raise funds for the Ottawa Food Bank. She is looking for volunteers to help. The ride will take place on August 22, from 9:30 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. at Fire Station 21, 300 Woodroffe Ave.
Jodi’s commitment to educating on life with traumatic brain injury is explained through her foundation.
This year Jodi’s main goal was walking a lifelong friend down the aisle at his wedding. That wedding was postponed due to COVID. Now Jodi is happy to focus her attention is on filling the aisles, and shelves, at the Ottawa Food Bank, and the hearts of those who feel they are alone, with a reminder that someone who “believes” in herself, also believes in them.