Ovey Yeung: Expanding how we think of brain injuries
This article is dedicated to Ovey's friends and family who have supported her throughout the years on her journey of recovery.
Ovey Yeung has a background in agency, tech startups, innovation, and change management in large governmental organizations. She started her own company, oy&co at the age of 16, and has also co-founded Y57, a radio broadcast showcasing
musicians and socially active youth. She has spoken at TEDxSFU, and is the sole editor of a digital communication-first strategy for the 2010 Winter Olympics, to name just some of her accomplishments. She is now working for BC
Ministry of Citizen services as a Scrum Master.The Scrum Master is responsible for leading technology and management of the agile sprint process for a scrum team. Primary responsibility is the support and evolution of the technology platform for engage.gov.bc.ca, it’s related properties and GDX applications delivering custom web solutions for program areas across government.
“This will primarily be helping develop engage.bc.ca and other entities...” she says. “...to
make government services more accessible for BC residents.”
In 2014, Ovey was struck as a pedestrian in a hit-and-run accident. She broke her upper right arm, pelvis, sacrum, and humerus, and had a major traumatic brain injury.
She was put in an induced coma for 10 days on a ventilator in the ICU. Ovey had to
learn to walk again as well as re-learn activities such as writing, reading and even
something as basic as processing information. She describes the journey she had to go
Learned While Recovering from a Brain Injury". I asked her what went well during her
recovery process, and what did not go so well. She explained to me how the word
‘recovery’ can be a very vague or misleading term.
“The word ‘recovery’ [is] a heavy word because it usually – at least in the health care
world – means that there’s a ‘goal post’” she explained, referring to how there is an
implication that the healing process will come to an end at some point.
“My surgeries and immediate trauma or emergency medical care was top-notch. My
therapists and doctors or care team are very well-versed in their specialty. But what did
not work well was the entire journey. It wasn’t humanized. The whole process wasn’t
even patient-centered. I’m not even actually sure that the people who design this
process ever thought about what it would be like from a patient point of view. ... Isn’t
there a saying that a person’s mental health determines the rate of their ‘recovery’? …
Just the word ‘recovery’: there’s so much to say on it.”
Ovey also asked me why I decided to ask the question using ‘recovery’ in past tense. I
told her that I supposed I meant the recovery up to the point where she was released
from the GF Strong Rehabilitation center she spent 4 weeks at.
“Ah, the institutions. Well actually, I would almost say that was the smoothest part. So
when those articles were written – a lot of it was about after I got out. You know,
because when you’re in the hospital, everything is managed for you.”
Ovey has brought attention to the topic of problems in the healthcare system before, which you can read on the “Patient Voices Network” website here. I asked her if there was a specific incident she has encountered that reflected the difficulties in the system.
“There’s no specific incident, it was just a combination of all of them, and it just
compounded, especially when you’re trying to recover from a brain injury. Every
experience that I had, every process that I took, was from the lens of a health care
provider. It was almost as if there was no consideration when designing the system or
implementing the processes from a patient perspective. I feel like now, I need to actually
recover from the system, before I can even focus on my own ‘recovery’.”
Ovey lists some of the good practices she has noticed about the health care system on
the Patient Voices Network website from the link above. However, she went into more
depth when I asked how the system can be improved, especially for those with brain
Ovey will be speaking about “What it means to recover” in an exclusive Brain Injury
Canada interview for the month of June, brain injury month. She will be interviewed by
Jonny Morris, the CEO of the Canadian Mental Health Association BC Division. The
interview will be live on June 24 at 9am PST or 12pm EST. You can find more
information on Brain Injury Canada website soon, and it will be available to watch live
“There needs to be more support around mental health for those with brain injuries. Not
just something that’s at the side of the desk, but deeply rooted or incorporated into
rehabilitation plans, maybe even as a base to recovery plans. I feel like a lot of it is more
on your physical [rehabilitation]. Counsellors were a part of my rehabilitation program,
but processing what just happened to you, the loss, the grief, the emotions, is a lot to do
and fit into a one hour session slotted in the schedule as a weekly thing to do.
Unpacking what happened isn’t something that most people can ‘schedule’.”
As it often does nowadays, COVID came up, and I asked Ovey how she has been
impacted from this past year of pandemic life. She told me that operating remotely has
not been new for her, and there have even been some positives from COVID.
“I think what has been a very positive thing from COVID is that people now have
experienced a little bit of what traumatic brain injury survivors have gone through. Like a
new normal. If you think about it, when people describe COVID, I often hear the words
‘traumatic’ or ‘new normal’, ‘things are different’, ‘things will never be the same’, ‘so
much mental health recovery’, ‘be kind’... I don’t understand why people weren’t doing
Ovey went on to say that at least with COVID, many individuals have only had to
experience temporary changes, unlike for brain injury survivors, among others.
“For me and those with major traumatic brain injuries (MTBI), every moment that I live –
every time I go running with you, every time I try to go golfing with somebody else,
every time I try to play tennis, every ball that I hit, every time I try to play badminton and
every birdie that I hit – it’s constant realization of reality, of my new reality, of what is the
I asked Ovey if she thinks her “new normal” would ever start to just feel … “normal”.
She mentioned that she had just discussed this with her support group within the past
couple of days.
“It’s interesting because I have a friend that said that maybe I’m stuck, like ‘Ovey, your
performance is stuck because your mental game is weak right now, and you’re
constantly telling yourself oh Ovey...if only you were like you were seven years ago’. It’s
like you’re still grieving.”
Ovey will be speaking more about her #newnormal in her future talk with Brain Injury
When I asked Ovey how her brain injury affects her daily life, she explained to me that
there is so much more to the lived experience.
“I think it would be minimizing the experience by only targeting or asking about the
injury, because it’s not just the injury that affects my life. It’s the entire life after the injury
that has been the experience. For me, it was traumatic – an entire traumatic experience
in combination with the injury that affects every moment of my daily life. To live my life is
a constant reminder and constant realization of what my life is now versus what it was
In a previous article, Ovey talked about how it can be traumatic to describe the same
incident repeatedly to different people. It helped show me that while some people may
think they’re helping by asking about someone’s experiences, it may actually be
harmful. I asked her what else people should be aware of when it comes to wanting to
support someone who has experienced trauma. In essence, she told me:
“Be curious, be kind, be patient, ask them ‘how can I help’, and ask yourself, ‘are you
asking for them or asking for yourself?”
Ovey has given a TEDx talk at Simon Fraser University about “embracing the unknown”. You can watch it here! I asked if she could provide a synopsis of what embracing the unknown means to her.
“The way I look at life is to take it as it comes. I think we’re very privileged to have
choice – and when I say ‘choice’ I don’t mean just in first world countries, I mean
universally – we have choice [in] how we respond. It’s always about how we respond.
Everybody will at some point experience trauma in their life as trauma is unique to each
person. Some people, they’re gonna have lovely, wonderful things happen to them –
how do they respond? The one thing you know for certain is that there are good and
bad things that will happen. It’s inevitable. We can’t control what happens. The only
thing we can control is choosing how we respond.”
To close the interview, I asked Ovey if she had a message to others who have acquired
a brain injury or to those supporting them in any way.
“I know that every day is another battle. So keep up your chin, and it’s okay to not be
okay. It’s okay to feel sad. It’s okay to feel angry, it’s okay to feel grief, it’s okay to feel
happy. Seek support, don’t be ‘alone’ – like you don’t need to physically be alone, but
even just mentally, reach out. I don’t ever want you to dig a hole and then never be able
to climb out of it. It’s okay to dig that hole, maybe for a little bit, but make sure you have
the support for somebody to dig you back out! And just to take it one day at a time.”
Ovey continues to live in her new normal and tries to play lots of sports, hikes, and
enjoys visiting with friends, even if it has to be online. She is trying to find balance in her
life, rooted in scripture.
Outside of her primary work, she is dedicated to improving … the quality of health care,
but also to make it more patient-centered and accessible via technology, and sits on
three executive committees: the Ministry of Health, Doctors of BC, and Fraser Health.
All three are related to BC’s digital health strategy initiative, which ties into Canada’s
overall digital health strategy.
You can follow Ovey Yeung on Twitter at @oveyyeung or on Facebook and LinkedIn!
Facebook: ovey yeung | Facebook
Interviewed by Julia S.