Learning to live with a new me: Jay’s story

Living and succeeding with a brain injury is a long, difficult journey

Jay Brandsma

Jay Brandsma

Living and succeeding with a brain injury is a long, difficult journey – often cyclical and filled with twists and turns.

Jay Brandsma, now 36 years old, learned the hard way how to live with the ‘new Jay’ after a tragic car accident 12 years ago left with him permanent brain damage.

“I spent two months in the Vancouver General Hospital after a drunk driver ran a red light and slammed into my car. I learned about the accident in pieces when I was conscious and only remember the last three weeks from my two-month stay. It was as if people were afraid to tell me the whole story – and I now understand why. The doctors said I had a 10 per cent chance of surviving my injuries, they were so severe.”

From hospital, to rehabilitation, to real life, Jay was eager to reclaim what the accident took from him, seeking normality by going immediately back to school at Trinity Western University, where he was in third year.

“I went back thinking I could now be normal. I was in denial about how much had changed, how the new me worked. I struggled with anxiety and stress in a way that was totally alien to me. I had never in my life felt this way,” said Jay.

Leaving school and learning to manage his new reality became Jay’s full-time job. He tried to discover what he was capable of doing now, with his cognitive disabilities. From woodworking to photography, graphic design and writing, he explored how he had changed and tried to find a new path on his life’s journey. While committing himself to self-discovery, Jay tried many new career options – ones that didn’t increase his anxiety. Through this, he found a new passion for bike mechanics, and eventually became the head mechanic at a bike shop in Langley.

After successfully working in the bike shop for years, Jay felt it was time to revisit his earlier challenge: school. He was ready now, at twice the age of many of the students in his class.

“I felt like after my accident, I spent so many years learning about my brain and what I was experiencing, and it led me to think about going back and trying school again, this time with a bigger goal: a psychology degree, maybe even going further if I could, like a Masters or PhD for research on neuroplasticity programs.”

A lofty goal for Jay and one that wouldn’t be possible without a $2,000 grant provided to him by the Brain Injury Alliance. The Ministry of Health provided $1 million to the alliance in March 2015 to support its efforts to create an endowment fund to help individuals like Jay throughout the province. The alliance has created the endowment fund in memory of Dr. Gur Singh, a Kamloops neurosurgeon and long-time advocate for people with acquired brain injury. The fund has so far provided funding to eight individuals.

“They have made a huge difference in my life. They recognized that I needed help to transition from a person with a brain injury, to a contributing, successful member of society – and for people like me, who are constantly trying to better themselves and improve, we need that bridge of support.”

It’s been a long 12 years for Jay, but with help from the Brain Injury Alliance and the Province of B.C., he is on his way to learning about the brain, with hopes that one day he may help others who face the same challenges he has, sharing what he has learned and experienced from the inside-out.

To learn more about the Brain Injury Alliance and how to apply for education support, please visit: www.braininjuryalliance.ca