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Getting The Hang of Independence

Fresh from a shopping trip to Bellingham with her dad, Neil, step mom, Debby, and sister, Jennifer, Mandi and Neil attended a family barbecue at CONNECT in Langley to say hello to old friends and new.

"I love CONNECT and have a lot of great friends here," said Mandi. "It's good to come back and see this place."

Mandi lived at CONNECT to redesign her life following a brain injury and she moved to her own apartment four years ago. 

"My mom passed away from cancer in 2005 and left my sister and me an apartment in Coquitlam," said Mandi. "When I moved into that apartment from CONNECT, honestly, it was really hard at first. I was exhausted all the time because I had to do all my own cooking, cleaning, taking care of everything."

She said once she dealt with the "culture shock" of going home, she learned to cope with the fact that people weren't always around and she began to make connections in her new community.

Mandi had a worker help with grocery shopping, which was some of her only socialization, other than a roommate. Mandi currently has the worker visit her three days per week to help with grocery shopping and exercise and the like.

"My neighbour and her cute puppy, Molly, and I walk every night at 9pm, I go out to movies and I walk three times per day."

Now that she can drive again, Mandi is feeling more independent and getting out more often.

Neil said it took well over a year, including one failed test, for Mandi to earn her license back because of all the cognitive testing she underwent.

"But she got through it," he said, exchanging smiling glances with his daughter. "She worked hard and got it done."

At the age of 23, Mandi had an aneurism. She was at the hospital complaining about a headache when the aneurism occurred and she was able to make an incredible recovery. Unfortunately, during her subsequent rehab, she suffered a stroke, which left her with a significant brain injury.

She suffered a paralysis on her left side and was immobile for a month after doctors had to shred her Achilles tendons to allow her feet to relax.

"That was a death for me. I was locked in my body but my brain was fine. It felt like a really long time and finally my motor skills started to come back."

Neil said Mandi's stay in the hospital following the stroke was a scary time.

"It was a terrible time of life. Mandi died half a dozen times in the hospital. But you have no choice but to get through when something like this happens."

He said his wife Debby has been tremendously supportive and loves his kids.

"I work for a bank and they gave me four months off so I could be at the hospital every day. They gave my wife a month off – she's a bank employee too – and even when we went back to work, we went to see Mandi every day. I am incredibly grateful for that job and how understanding they have been."

Recovery was not easy for the family. Many friends who were around before the injury disappeared and Mandi suffered a severe weight gain due to her immobility. She lived in a few rehabilitation centres, which she did not love, before finding a place at CONNECT.

"CONNECT does a tremendous job," said Neil. "The staff is great, the residents are great. This place was the perfect place for Mandi to be."

Mandi now belongs to a brain injury support group in Coquitlam where members can share their experiences and struggles but also get together for social events like sailing, lawn bowling and mini golf.

Following a brain injury, it's unfortunately common for people to become isolated and lonely. CONNECT promotes the idea of interdependence where people, while redesigning their lives, are actively working on having healthy relationship with equitable roles in these relationships. This includes maintaining old relationships, when possible, and building new ones.

"One of my biggest motivations in getting better is to show the people who disappeared from my life when I was first injured what I am capable of. I want to continue to improve despite them. I'd like to get back to work one day, but I don't know if it's possible. I like to push myself and my dad motivates me. Plus, my cat, Bella, is my inspiration. I love her."

"You've come a long way Mandi," Neil said to his daughter. "We see tremendous progress all the time. Little bits all the time. You may not notice the changes because they can be small, but we notice."