Burnaby woman comes to terms with devastating brain injury

There are two things Burnaby resident Amy Chan learned the hard way from a life-changing snowboarding accident almost 20 years ago: the importance of protecting her head and the importance of not staying stuck in the past.
Chan was in her final semester of a communications degree at SFU and busy with three jobs in 1996, when she went up to Whistler for a snowboarding trip and returned a changed woman.
She remembers nothing of that trip, but she knows she wasn’t wearing a helmet before she crashed.
“No one wore helmets back then,” Chan told the NOW.
The brain injury left the former high school basketball player with mobility challenges – she now uses a walker – as well as emotional and cognitive problems.
“After I talk to you, I’ll forget you called,” she said. “That’s why I have to write it down.”
But Chan has come a long way since her injury.
She teaches English to seniors part time at the Burnaby Multicultural Centre, paints, makes pottery and speaks to others with acquired brain injuries about her story.
Her proudest moment since the accident came last June when – almost 20 years after her studies were cut short – SFU awarded her a Liberal Arts certificate.
“I don’t care what it was,” Chan said. “I finally got to walk across the stage. I use a walker, but I practised really hard with my cane, so I could strut myself across the stage.”
A more private, but no less crucial, achievement has been the headway Chan has made against depression, something she said has plagued her since leaving the G.F. Strong Rehabilitation Centre in 1997.
“I just didn’t see my life going anywhere,” she said of an emotional low she reached a few years ago.
Chan said she used to be insecure about short-term memory problems that make her forget things she has said and people she has met.
Today, she tells people about her injury and its side effects right away. She might even take their photo with her iPad to remember them for later.
“I was so insecure about it before,” she said. “I didn’t want anyone to feel sorry for me, but now that’s all changed.”
With help from a behaviour analyst, Chan has worked hard to identify negative thought patterns and stop living in the past.
“Shit happens in life,” she said. “It’s what you do with it after. You can’t always just focus on the negative, which I did for way too long. OK, I suffered an injury. That’s in the past. Now I’m going to move forward and see what I can do with my life right now.”
For those who haven’t had to face a life-altering brain injury, she has another message: “Always protect your head,” she said. “It’s so important; it’s everything.”
Next month is brain injury awareness month in Canada, and Fraser Health’s acquired brain injury program, which has supported Chan since her traumatic injury, is once again hosting a brain injury film festival at Douglas College throughout May.
Every Wednesday at 7 p.m., a free film about acquired brain injury will be presented in Douglas College’s Lecture Theatre (2201), located at 700 Royal Ave. in New Westminster.
Each session will be moderated by an acquired brain injury expert.
The festival continues May 13 with The Music Never Stopped. The Brain That Changes Itself is up May 20. The festival wraps up May 27 with Crash Reel.

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