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Frank’s Story with the ABI Outreach Team

With June being Brain Injury Awareness Month, we wanted to share the story of a Cota client who, against all odds (and during a pandemic!) has made incredible strides in the past year.

Hand shows the brain

Frank Wu’s life changed in an instant when he experienced a sudden stroke in his mid-thirties in 2019. At that time, he was working as a mover and had been in Toronto only for a short while, having come here as a refugee in (2012). His stroke resulted in aphasia, a condition that can affect many aspects of a person’s functioning such as communication, language comprehension and physical coordination. For Frank it affected his speech, strength/movement on the left side of his body, and his overall mobility. The often drastic physical and neurological effects of a stroke typically involve many months in hospital and rehabilitation, an experience which can greatly impact one’s mood and mental wellbeing. Frank spent four months Birchmount Hospital’s Integrated Stroke Unit, followed by rehabilitation at Providence Healthcare where he worked on regaining his speech, mobility and physical strength. Being in theScarborough area, he was then referred to the ABI outreach team, a partnership program between Cota and Scarborough Centre for Healthy Communities.

This program began operating at the very beginning of the pandemic and has since seen many heartening client successes, despite the difficult circumstances of the pandemic. The multidisciplinary team is comprised of a nurse, occupational therapist, case manager, psychologist and individual support workers. Having Cota and Scarborough Centre for Healthy Communities in partnership improves access to the program and enhances the wraparound services that help support people in the community to live more independently and with dignity.

“Independence is so important to us as individuals, and our team’s objective is to support that” explains Megan, Senior Support Services Manager, ABI at Scarborough Centre for Healthy Communities when elaborating on how the target of this interdisciplinary program is to support seventy-five clients per year with short-term, recovery-based care.

The challenges that folks with an ABI (acquired brain injury) face are very unique and their goals with the care team stretch far beyond recovering from/adapting to a brain injury to include life skills, activities of daily living, mental health support, helping build a sense of community and accessing other supports.

Alexandra, a Cota Individual Support Worker remarked,

“I think the partnership is incredible because both organizations are so involved and open with each other. Everyone is willing to support each other in order to help clients reach their goals. Venky (Manager, Community Health Services at Cota) and Megan are so supportive […] they will go out of their way for us and keep communication open. We are a family!”

Frank and Alexandra

Alexandra (ISW, ABI Outreach Team) and Frank in 2020

Having worked with the ABI Outreach Team for over nine months, Frank had nothing but gratitude to express toward the staff at Cota and Scarborough Centre for Healthy Communities, along with every other healthcare provider who’s assisted him along the way! Interviewed for this article over webcam, alongside one of his support workers, Frank used an app that helps others understand him better to name many of his care providers over the past year and expressed “They’ve helped me so much with everything. Because I live alone, I have trouble speaking. When I talk on the phone, I don’t know what to say and I get frustrated. I speak really slow. People misunderstand me. The team makes me feel understood. They call me every day. Shagini understands me, she helps me book appointments” He also said the frequent phone check-ins and home visits with the ABI Outreach Team make him feel less lonely and isolated, something that’s become even more important during the pandemic.

At the beginning of their time together, Alexandra described Frank as “shy and very quiet without much confidence or belief in himself… he’s becoming much more confident his personality is really shining through”. Shagini (Registered Nurse, ABI Outreach Team) adds, “It takes a lot of courage for a person living with a new disability to ask for support. He is very proactive and is finding ways to live and adapt. For example, when he gets a phone call for an appointment he records it, then he asks for support. He uses devices for responses and is customizing things as he goes […] he demonstrates ways of coping with his disability in ways that works for him”.

When asked about milestones in his recovery, Frank’s face lit up with a big smile as his leg brace was mentioned, an assistive device that alongside medication, has allowed Frank to make big strides with his mobility and pain management. To keep busy, he participates in an aphasia group online every Monday and enjoys reading, practises writing in English and Mandarin using workbooks and does his physio exercises to continue to improve the strength, stability and mobility of his affected side. When we inquired with Frank about what motivates him to work so hard on his recovery, he said “I don’t want to disappoint the hospital or the team”.

As an organization that focusses on supporting individuals with mental health and cognitive challenges, Cota is very pleased with the positive outcomes the ABI Outreach Team has been able to achieve in such a short time. Stories like Frank’s are a testament to the incredible value of teams that can draw on many healthcare disciplines to assist an individual’s recovery in a fulsome and holistic way. With our ABI Day Program, residential site (Collegeview), specialized case management services, and now the Outreach Team partnership program, we continue to explore different avenues and care models that can best support people with acquired brain injury. If you’re looking for resources related to brain injury, we recommend checking out both the Ontario Brain Injury Association’s website, as well as the Toronto ABI Network which has both inpatient and community referral forms for services.

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