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Interview with Laura Edward

“Hi, my name is Laura Edwards, [and] I turned 65 in February. I was in a car accident on April 17, 2019, which resulted in physical and mental injuries. I unfortunately had to take early retirement from a career that I absolutely loved, including amazing travel and a job that I had enjoyed for over 20 years. I’m recovering well – it’s been a long haul – but things are much better.”

Laura offered to share her story “in hopes it might inspire the recovery of the countless professionals who lose their careers, livelihood, self-respect, confidence, social life, living in constant pain, as lonely, depressed, broke victims of someone else’s negligence.”

“I’m a professional fundraiser, working for over 20 years at York House School in Vancouver, which is an excellent all-girls day school established in 1932. I was the executive director of advancement, and during the course of my tenure I created and sustained a thriving fund development program. [...] 20 years later unfortunately due to the accident I had to go on extended sick leave, and it became apparent that I wouldn’t be able to go back after a failed gradual return to work program, so I did have to retire.”

“I absolutely loved my career, and as an alumna I loved my school. I raised an excess of 60 million dollars during my tenure. [...] The foundation endowment was low and now it’s significantly higher as well, which provides financial assistance and scholarships for girls who would thrive at York House School, but did not have the financial means to do so. So I travelled the world, opening up alumnae offices, [and] I went to China more than 40 times to build philanthropy from China for Vancouver. [...] I enjoyed my very satisfying and exciting career, which I was devastated to lose. That was a big part of the hold up in my recovery. [...] Now, I’m doing meaningful volunteer work including being a board member of Coast Mental Health Foundation, [which] has filled the gap and helped me build my confidence again.”

Laura was hit from behind on the Granville St. bridge, resulting in a loss of cognitive ability, a complete change in her vision, depression, constant pain in her back, neck, arms, and legs, and severe light and noise sensitivity. She tells me now her symptoms have improved significantly.

“I put that down to years of dedication and hard work, supported by excellent medical team, led by Dr. Edward Luke. When my accident happened, my options were group therapy at Pearson Hospital – Dr. Luke felt that it wouldn’t be enough based upon my situation, and so at my own expense, which was over $3,000 a month, I received treatment at a private concussion recovery clinic. [...] I had weekly psychology, cognitive and physical physio, occupational therapy, and more. It was hard because I couldn’t drive. My vestibular [system] was so damaged as well as my vision that it was unsafe for me to be behind the wheel.”

She told me about the difficulties resulting from her having to take cabs and public transit: the fast acceleration and deceleration, the foliage and other cars zipping by, the loud radios and noise...but she is able to drive herself now, and have the radio on!

“There are 42 symptoms to a concussion. The ones that were the worst for me were vestibular (balance), vision, anxiety, depression, physical pain, noise, light, and excruciating headaches. [...] I am significantly better [but] sometimes I have setbacks, which I now know how to handle. Typically, my setbacks come from an emotional issue that is difficult to deal with and can trigger symptoms again.”

She mentioned that she is now about 90% recovered after years of at least five medical, legal, and therapy appointments per week. I asked what “90% recovered” means to her.

“I mentioned that I’m 90% recovered because after the accident, I literally could do nothing. I know that sounds like an exaggeration, but I could not watch TV, I could not read, listen to music, could not look at screens, or talk on the phone for more than a few minutes. I could not drive, I couldn’t travel, [and] I could tolerate no light. I wore sunglasses on top of progressive lenses, and spent months with Dr. Kevin Loopeker, a wonderful concussion optometrist, to figure out what was wrong with my brain so I could get the right prescription. [...] I also could tolerate no sound and every day wore Alpine earplugs which are designed to mask the noise level of rock stars in a concert.”

“For somebody who was very busy and joyful in the busy-ness, it was really tough to have my life taken away. [...] So why I think I’m 90% better is because with the support of my medical team and occupational therapist, and pro-bono work to test my abilities, I was able to learn what I could and could not do.”

“I’m looking forward to beginning to do some paid consulting in the Fall. I have confidence now, from my physical and mental health recovery programs, in addition to my pro-bono and volunteer work experience. It feels amazing to have this confidence after 4 years of wondering if I will ever be able to work again.”

Laura also described to me her difficulties with both her insurer and ICBC through this journey.

“I was very fortunate to secure an extremely good legal team headed by Marc Kazimirski at Kazlaw. Marc and his team gave me nothing but support and kindness, and [...] they were my liaison with ICBC. I didn’t have to deal with ICBC at all. I highly recommend that you secure a lawyer. [...] It’s stressful enough to work on your recovery.”

“My long-term disability insurer declined my claim due to ‘lack of neurological evidence’. I had paid premiums for well over two decades, and took very few sick days. [...] I went into a deep depression after I was declined, convinced everybody would think I was lying, and that there wasn’t really anything wrong with me. I did sue the company, not for the premiums that I paid or the loss of benefits that they should have given me, I sued them for the way in which I was treated [...] and I won the case. The insurer that did pay me was Service Canada, I have nothing but positive words to say about Service Canada.”

“Employment Insurance was very difficult to deal with. The benefit only lasts for 15 weeks; it was a relief to not have to communicate with them weekly. This is not to say there aren’t kind and empathetic EI officers, I was unlucky. When I was finally provided with an occupational therapist Lorraine Phan, she took over my ICBC liaising [...] The stress reduction thanks to Lorraine, who is a fabulous occupational therapist, was significantly helpful in my recovery. Lorraine monitored my ability to work, helped me write and implement my gradual return to work program, and made sure things you are supposed to be provided with, are provided. She was a Godsend.”

“You need a team; it takes a team to recover. Life went from having a busy social life and career, to a full-time job being my recovery. I had charts on the walls for vision, mental, and physical exercises. The only outside-the-home physical exercise I was allowed was walking and aqua walking. [...] When I finally got the green light to ‘read’, [...] I was [only] allowed to listen to audiobooks and they all had to be books I had read before to keep it simple. [...] I was not allowed any TV for three years, and when I was allowed TV, I was restricted to [shows] like Downton Abbey – which I love – but no action movies, nothing loud, just easing my way back into noise and sound.”

“You can tell my brain is slowing down a little bit just in this conversation. I’m trying my best to stay on top of it, but the symptoms do come back, and I get brain freezes and get mixed up with my words sometimes. But I’m delighted to be able to comfortably have this conversation!”

During her recovery, Laura was prescribed with a therapy dog – Edith – to help with her symptoms of anxiety and depression.

“Devastatingly, Edie passed away at the age of three due to kidney failure. [...] She was a 1.4 kilo Pomeranian. Cutest pup you’ve ever seen. [...] I now have another dog who I was able to secure quickly under doctor’s orders. She’s a wonderful darling, a little Yorkie. [...] I love her so much; her entire job is to just do what she’s doing right now [her dog Betsy sat in her arms] – just to be a love bug.”

Laura is currently sitting on the board of the Coast Mental Health Foundation “to give back whatever [she] can help raise funds for people with mental illness.”

“You know, it’s funny, as a person of faith, when I was really ill, I had a conversation with God. I said, ‘if I get through this, I’m going give back in any way I can to support others mental health challenges.’ Funnily enough, a dear friend and long-time member of the Coast board called me and asked, ‘is there any way you’d consider volunteering for the Coast Mental Health Foundation Board?’ I immediately said yes! I was a little scared because I thought ‘are they going to want somebody who is still recovering?’ But I had nothing to fear, because of course, who could have a better understanding or be more supportive to someone recovering from a brain injury than the Coast Mental Health Foundation Board?”

“Now my friend and I co-chair the first advancement (fundraising) committee for the Foundation, which is thriving. I’m also on the nominations committee, and the Courage 2 Go Further Committee, which is a fabulous new signature event founded by [a fellow board member] and her daughter last summer.”

The Courage 2 Go Further event of the Coast Mental Health Foundation raises money to provide services to those living with mental illness. Supports include meals, care packs, e-mental health, and peer support. This year, hundreds of participants raised money for Courage 2 Go Further by registering for their own challenge, which can be done by anyone and from anywhere in the world. Laura, her dog Betsy, and 8 friends successfully participated by cycling from home in Yaletown around Stanley Park and back. Laura was team captain for board members of the Foundation and Coast Society boards, which raised over $25,000 and still counting. For more information and for where you can donate, visit the Courage 2 Go Further website. Laura asks to consider participating in an event next year!

Aside from her volunteering, I was curious as to what Laura’s hobbies and passions were.

“Before my accident, I used to pray to be a better mother, wife, daughter, sister, and friend. When my accident happened, there were silver linings. Mine are that I am now more empathetic, and I have the time to be the kind of woman I wanted to be. I am a better mother, daughter, friend and sister. Thanks to my change in lifestyle I now have the time, including being my mother’s designated family visitor in long term care.”

“And so what do I do? I do a lot of joyful volunteer work, mostly with Coast Mental Health, also with SUCCESS, Louis Brier Home and Hospital, CARE Canada, and Canadian Hadassah Wizo. I have time for my family and friends – I can’t wait to see most of them in person again, and share big hugs! Betsy and I do a lot of walking, I’m swimming again, and am re-learning how to play piano. It is honestly thrilling to be able to read music again.”

Lastly, I asked if Laura had any advice for others who have experienced brain and/or serious physical injuries.

“One piece of advice is read Michael Coss’ [a traumatic brain injury survivor] postings. They’re real, helpful, and encouraging; he posts on Facebook almost every day. Secondly, I enthusiastically suggest you get a therapy dog if you’re depressed and/or lonely. Keep your faith that it will get better, whatever your personal faith looks like. I was told many times ‘it’s going to get better’, and I used to always think ‘no it’s not – it’s not going to get better’...but it did get better. So just do the hard work. Do your physio. When you get your exercises, DO them. [...] Listen to your medical team. Listen to your legal team if you’ve got a legal team. Most importantly listen to your body and brain. Allow the people who want to support you and be kind to you, let them in, because that’s how you get through this. For me, it was my family, my friends, my two therapy dogs, and being able to get to a stage where I could start trying more things and pushing myself a little bit harder. It was often painful but look at all the things I can do now! I’m looking at you on a screen without sunglasses or earplugs! That’s a huge step.”

“Every step and every day you make progress is a blessing, keep the faith, do the hard work and don’t give up. You’ll have setbacks, but you will get there. Keep your mind and your heart open as best you can. Being negative and vindictive has no place in this journey. Let it go. [...] Just concentrate on your own well-being [and] your own peace of mind. Do what your team tells you to do and don’t get lazy. Being vindictive and angry only hurts yourself. People will only hurt you if you let them. Those are lessons that I’ve had to learn. I can honestly say I love my life, and perhaps the accident was the best thing to happen to me.”

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