Frustrated with the lack of support groups for brain injury patients, Vancouver’s David McGuire has taken matters into his own hands.
A brain injury patient himself, McGuire has spent the past eight months running across Canada on his “A Run to Remember” campaign to raise awareness of the disability and to educate youth on how to prevent it.
Every three minutes someone in North America has a brain injury, and 90 per cent of traumatic brain injuries can be prevented. McGuire wants to get the message of head safety out to as many people as possible.
Partnering with BrainTrust Canada, he had already ran more than 7,000 kilometers when he stopped in Langley on Dec. 2.
“I was a little bit disgruntled before I began the run. One of the reasons I started this was out of frustration for the social service system. That was really frustrating and I just wanted to scream and yell that there is something wrong with this place,” McGuire said.
“But my faith in humanity has definitely come back with special moments and people we have met along the way.”
McGuire’s passion for raising awareness of brain injuries stems from an incident he had in 2005. He was 32 years old and began noticing that he didn’t feel “normal” anymore.
“My behaviour was changing. I would cry at Judge Judy or start freaking out for no reason. Something was wrong,” he said.
He passed out at work and was put on sick leave. It was while he was relaxing at home that the major event occurred.
“I was sitting at home watching TV and my TV went on the fritz,” he recalled. “This caused me to freak out so I phoned my girlfriend at the time (now his wife) and said ‘I can’t watch TV, I can’t go to work, I don’t know what’s going on.'”
She suggested McGuire have a bath instead. This is the last thing he remembers.
“I either lost consciousness and fell in the bath which caused the brain bleeding or my brain was bleeding and it caused me to lose consciousness and slip,” he said.
McGuire spent nine days in a coma and woke up with no memory of what happened or any memory of who his family was.
Part of his skull was removed to reduce swelling and it was discovered that his brain had been bleeding for a long period of time, which was causing his behavioral changes.
He wasn’t expected to come out of the coma, let alone walk or talk again. He defied them all.
Still, McGuire went through a period of depression and frustration after being discharged from the hospital.
“I was feeling really sorry for myself at how hard life is for me,” he said.
Part of the struggle was making people understand how he was disabled. Simple tasks like ordering a coffee at Starbucks were a challenge because of his short term memory loss.
McGuire says brain injuries are often referred to as the “hidden disease” because patients look healthy on the outside but struggle on the inside.
“The weird thing about having short term memory loss is that I look at pictures and I still think I’m 32, even though I am almost 40. When I look in the mirror I don’t recognize that person because I don’t remember aging.”
He also doesn’t remember his wedding in Hawaii in August 2008.
“When I look at the photos I don’t have a memory of it. I know that’s my wife and that’s me but I don’t have any actual memories. I love photos because it’s a way to go back and visit those moments.”
It wasn’t until McGuire discovered his local brain injury centre had closed down due to lack of funding that his spirits began to change.
“I began to wonder where all of the people who are more severely disabled than I am go. I looked up the stats and most of them end up either homeless, in prison or in a care facility,” he said.
“There was a huge disconnect between getting out of the hospital and back into a productive society.”
McGuire felt inspired to try and make a difference and by 2009 he was making contact with BrainTrust Canada to organize a nation wide awareness run.
Melissa Wild of BrainTrust Canada accompanied McGuire on the journey. For her, the most memorable cities they visited were the places with the most memorable people.
“The messages we have brought out to some of the kids have really made a difference,” she said.
“They’ll be sitting there listening to David’s presentation and one of them will say ‘I’m going to go home and tell my daddy to put his helmet on.’ That’s what I want to hear. It’s not just about getting the kids to put on their helmets, its about getting the parents to as well.”
McGuire recalls one of the most powerful moments on the trip was when a young girl in the audience at an elementary school asked him a very innocent, yet difficult question.
“When we opened up for questions I had this one girl put her hand up and ask, ‘do you like the old you better than the new you?’ That stuck with me. I started thinking about it a lot. I do more now and I have a greater respect for life. I have much more empathy than I had before.
“This journey has been a bucket list and a way for me to say I have done something now.”
After facing 180 km winds, whiteout conditions, food poisoning and muscle seizures, McGuire finally finishes his journey in Victoria on Dec. 9.
After he completes the run he wants to devote his time to helping out his wife who is working multiple jobs to make up for his absence.
“I am technically unemployable. I can work a part time job but the family has to pick up for what I can’t do. I watch [my wife] exhaust herself and it kills me because I can’t do anything,” he said.
“I told her after this it’s all her.”