Two young Ottawa-area men are rebuilding their lives, after separate car crashes left them with traumatic brain injuries. It's a long road to recovery but a unique centre in Ottawa is helping them navigate that road at their own pace. That these young men have survived their injuries is a miracle in itself.  Now the works begins, at a residential rehab centre to help them learn to live again.

The Robin Easey Centre is a regular house in an ordinary neighbourhood but it holds extraordinary hope for 20-year-old Andrew Jurgens.  So grateful is Jurgens for the rehab house that he wrote a song about it.  

‘It means something to mean,’ Jurgens says, ‘I want to get back to my life.’

Jurgens’ life changed last July after a head-on crash on Highway 31.

‘You might be able to see there's a dent here on my head,’ says Jurgens, as he touches a deep scar on his forehead, ‘I broke my skull, broke my femur and got brain damage.’

No one knows more about how life changes after a brain injury than Robin Easey, for whom the residential rehab centre is named.

Easey was an Ottawa police officer, responding to an armed robbery in the Bayshore area in 1984 when he was shot in the back of the head and suffered brain damage. In the 80's, this kind of rehab centre didn't exist and patients would have to travel as far away as Texas for help.

That help can involve simple skills like learning to cook again.  21-year-old Nan Zhang was a university student at London’s Western, on a trip to Cuba a year ago, when he was struck by a car. 

‘After the accident, I thought I could go back to Western and resume my life,’ says Zhang, who is staying at the Robin Easey Centre, ‘Since living at the centre, it has shown me my difficulties of like simple stuff.’

Zhang says university may no longer be an option for him after his brain injury, but he hopes to enroll at college this fall.

he Robin Easey Centre is an extension of the Ottawa Hospital Rehab Centre Acquired Brain Injury Program, a unique home away from home.

As many as 6 patients can live there at a time.  Another 40 or so receive outreach care to help them get back to everyday living.

Dr. Mark Ferland is a neuropsychologist for the centre, ‘We have people who come to groups here who are 6 or 7 years post injury,’ he says, ‘and this place still provides a beacon, a source of support for them.’

It is a beacon that Andrew Jurgens hopes will soon bring him home.

‘I want to get back to life,’ he says, as he plays his guitar.

Robin Easey is a regular visitor, by the way, to the facility  and an inspiration to many patients that with help and support, they can reclaim a sense of independence.