— Submitted photo
Although brain injury leaves Kelda Farrell unable to speak, she could communicate with The Telegram via email. Below are some thoughts from the woman whose story has touched and inspired friends, family and strangers alike.
Q: What is the hardest thing you have to deal with in your condition?
A: I guess the hardest thing boils down to being totally dependent on others. I am grateful that people are willing to help; however, I would like to do my own hair and make-up, brush my teeth, dress myself, shift in a bed or chair, shower, and go to the bathroom unassisted.
Q: What is most frustrating for you?
A: Communication is a daily frustration. It is hard to get people’s attention and actively participate in conversations. As a result, some people are uncomfortable around me. Combine lack of movement with lack of speech and in many ways I have become an observer of life, a life in which I was once very active.
One of the biggest disappointments is that the ability to have, hold and care for a baby has been taken away.
Q: What do you do to maintain a sense of purpose and normalcy?
A: I don’t believe that I have any greater or less purpose. Just as before the crash, my hope is that I am able to do much more good than bad in this world.
In the beginning, there was no normalcy. I could only move my eyes and was in extreme pain, especially when someone would touch me. To keep my mind busy, I had my family read to me and I was never left alone. I was afraid to go to sleep because of fear of not waking up. My husband and mother took turns staying overnight with me. I would watch “Gilmore Girls” at night to help me sleep. After a few months I was ready to see aunts and uncles, then eventually cousins and close friends.
Now I am able to read and write emails. Though I am no longer able to type 70 (words per minute), being able to use a computer again allows me to keep in touch with people and briefly forget about my current situation. Having friends and family around helps, too. I’ve gone to a few movies and have ventured outside, each time venturing a little further.
I am still struggling with the idea of being in a wheelchair and get annoyed when people speak slowly and loudly when addressing me. My family and friends are quick to point out that neither my hearing nor my mental capacity have been affected.
Q: How do you stay motivated?
A: I have several sources of motivation: my family, therapists, doctors, nurses and friends, both old and new. My parents are with me daily and encourage me. My husband points out my improvements when I feel nothing is changing. My brother told me, when I could only move my eyes, that I can choose to stay like that for life or fight to get things back. He helps with anything that he can. My sister writes often and has been supportive.
All five fought for me when I couldn’t. Fighting to regain control of my body is all I can manage. The love and concern from my nieces, nephews and stepdaughter keep me wanting to improve so I can be an active part of their lives. Kicking out my leg or signing Christmas cards may seem minor, but not to them.
Therapists and doctors, who have not put a cap on the amount I can achieve, have researched and consulted colleagues to explore ways to help me. Nurses have kept my spirits up by sharing stories to make me laugh. They have also encouraged movement and speech and have done my hair, makeup, and nails, when workload allowed.
My friends have rallied around me. When I had no means of communication, they sent letters. They did a photo book of shared memories, sent a video of encouragement and Christmas packages when I was away.
They did everything possible to make me comfortable when I have gone out, including helping me get ready. I have become friends with people in N.B. — one having a traumatic brain injury and the other having had a brain stem stroke. They have started to walk, 15 and six years post-injury, respectively.
Q: Do you feel like things are improving?
A: Some things are improving, though very slowly. Others have decreased. The “stim bike” that Krista (Gates-Guy, a friend and former coworker) has campaigned for will increase muscle tone and bone density while facilitating movement and decreasing spasticity.
Q: Are you hopeful about the future?
A: There are certainly days I get upset and would like to curl up and cry, but since that is physically impossible, I turn robot-like and push through those days. I strongly believe that with proper therapy and technology, I will continue to improve; however, I do realize that it will be slow, and effort in will far exceed results out.
Q: Are you surprised by the support you have received?
A: The support I have received is truly overwhelming.
I was shocked that such a large goal was met, and so quickly! And then it was surpassed!
I found the messages on the fundraising (web)page very touching. Though many came up as anonymous, I have been told many close friends and family gave, as well as former coworkers and employers — the running and soccer communities, someone I met during a week-long stay at the Terry Fox Centre in Ottawa, and people I’ve never met. Even a group of children in my brother’s neighbourhood set up a lemonade stand to help.