Jamie Fairles – Talking the talk after having walked the walk

My senior year of secondary school was plagued with intense, incapacitating migraines. I didn’t think much of them as I experienced migraines like this when I was 12 years old and that turned out to be caused by sleeping with too many pillows. However, when I started experiencing dizzy spells for no apparent reason, I sought medical attention. My doctor advised me to take the nasal spray Immitrex to ease the pain of the migraines and he said that my dizzy spells were nothing more than panic attacks like my mother gets. Firstly, my mother has never had a panic attack in her life and secondly if she did, my doctor just broke the main tenet of the Hippocratic Oath: doctor-patient confidentiality! Thankfully, my mother knew that there was a reason behind my migraines and dizzy spells so she urged for a neurological consult. After having my sight and hearing tested as is normal for any neurological issue, the neurologist ordered me a CT scan just to be certain. What the CT scan showed was a golf ball-sized abnormality in the temporal and occipital lobes of my brain, which was initially referred to as a cyst and an emergency MRI was ordered. Soon the neurologist had me go to University Hospital to see what renowned neurosurgeon; Dr. Stephen Lownie wanted to do about this cyst that was still problematic. When I met with Dr. Lownie, he looked at my scans and heard me describe my symptoms. As it turned out, the cyst was actually a tumour, so I was admitted immediately to have the surgery to remove it by the end of the week.

On November 30, 1998, the same night as my high school football team’s end of the season banquet, I was wheeled into surgery to have my first brain surgery that was cut short at 13.5 hours. The doctors had to cut the operation short because the tumour was so heavily fed by blood vessels that I began to severely hemorrhage. I was placed in the ICU for 2 days and when I was moved back to my semi-private room, I crashed with bacterial meningitis which I contracted while in the ICU. I was sent back to the ICU where I was intubated and was given propophol, which more than a decade later would be the cause of Michael Jackson’s death, to induce me into a coma so my body could fight off the infection. I remained in the ICU, was given massive doses of antibiotics and remained on life support for 6 weeks.

Once I was deemed strong enough to undergo another surgery to remove the remaining tumour, I was wheeled into surgery once again, but this time the surgery was uneventful. After the entire tumour was removed, I became hydrocephalic, so a third surgery to insert an external shunt was performed. The external shunt proved unsuccessful, so it was decided to insert an internal shunt.

On January 13, 1999 I was taken into the operating room for the fourth time. This time the surgery went well without any hiccups and I was transferred to Parkwood Hospital’s Acquired Brain Injury Rehabilitation program on January 21, 1999. While there, I had many therapies to get me walking and talking again, like physio therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy. I couldn’t speak in much more than a whisper because the breathing tube that I relied on for so long, damaged my vocal cords and I couldn’t walk because the hemorrhage of my first surgery resulted in a condition known as siderosis, where the blood travelled down my spinal column and pooled at the base of my spine, damaging most of the nerves to my legs. It was also discovered that I now had left homonymous hemianopia, which means I have no left field of vision in either eye. I was discharged home on April 1, 1999 walking and talking, eager to resume my life.

That summer, I was tutored by my favourite English teacher to keep my 88% mark in OAC Canadian literature and in September I returned for a sixth year of high school to complete my required OAC credits for entry into university. I ended up graduating my OAC year (version 2.0) with a total of 8 OAC credits and an A average. I was also granted an entrance scholarship to King’s University College at the University of Western Ontario, my mother’s alma mater.

I entered King’s University College in September 2000 as a part-time student and in December of that year, my shunt stopped working, so I had a ventricularostomy to make an incision in one of the ventricles where the blockage was and apparently they didn’t make the hole big enough so I had another one performed in December of the same year. After taking courses in the summers between years to make up for my diminished course load, I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Combined Honours Film Studies and English on October 29, 2004.

One year later I was living with my father in Oakville, taking a screenwriting course at Humber College when I was invited to the Toronto chapter of my fraternity for a Halloween party. I went with my brother, Mike, and my London fraternity brother, Marc, who lives in Oakville. At the end of the night while trying to deter a fight happening between my brother, and who I now refer to as “the thug”, I was savagely assaulted. The constant blows to the right side of my head, which incidentally was where all of my surgeries had been, caused a subarachnoid hemorrhage which is basically like having a stroke. All the gains I had made from my previous brain trauma were obliterated in one single act of senseless violence. Before that night, I could do anything physically but drive due to my vision, and now I am unable to run, jump, walk with a proper gait, or ascend and descend stairs without some support.

I was soon transferred back to Parkwood Hospital’s ABI program and began seeking legal advice. My lawyer suggested I see a neurologist to assess my condition and another CT scan was ordered to rule out that hydrocephaly wasn’t causing my lack of balance and improper gait. The good news was that I wasn’t hydrocephalic, but the bad news was that my tumour had made a rather unwelcome encore appearance. Because I know I don’t handle brain surgery without some complications. For example, I contracted chemical aseptic meningitis after my fifth trip to the operating room; I opted to take part in an innovative research study on a new form of radiation that has the ability to pinpoint the radiation beam directly on target called Tomotherapy. Six weeks of radiation treatments later, the tumour cells were slowly being killed off, but the cyst that was associated with the tumour grew, necessitating a third craniotomy bringing my total number of brain surgeries to 7. Because I caught an unknown virus while in hospital, my walking deteriorated so to access Parkwood’s physio therapy I was admitted for a third time. (I now refer to myself as a “threepeater of the ABI program”).

During what was believed to be my final surgery, the doctors noticed that there was a lot of excessive cerebrospinal fluid present and they assumed it would dissipate in time, but that wasn’t the case. In March 2010, I went under the knife for the eighth time to have a digital shunt inserted and this shunt remains today.

I am extremely grateful for all the support I have received and continue to receive from my family and friends. I also know with my condition I am immensely fortunate considering the trauma my brain has received. That is why I give back to brain injury survivors and their loved ones by devoting my life to philanthropic endeavours that advocate on behalf of the many difficulties brain injury causes.

I am a board member of my local brain injury association, The Brain Injury Association of London & Region & I sit on the editorial committee for The Monarch, The Brain Injury Association of London & Region’s quarterly publication. Initially I was a peer mentor to another young man who was injured in an automobile accident and I am now the Peer Support Coordinator for London and the five counties our association serves. I am the London survivor representative for the Ontario Brain Injury Association’s Advisory Council (OAC) and since the summer of my third craniotomy, I’m also a board member of OBIA. All this humanitarian work has inspired me to shift my future aspirations. I am currently in pursuit of my Bachelor of Social Work so that I may have a career counselling people with brain injuries or other brain trauma.

I’ve walked the walk; now it’s time to talk the talk!


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