Brain injuries: The silent epidemic

Durham Region has a lot of work to do in helping people recognize the frequency of brain injuries and how to prevent them, according to the founder of Heads Up! Durham.

Linda Lowery started the grassroots organization out of her Oshawa home, hoping to make a direct impact with the community.

“I think the important thing is that the community owns this. It doesn’t belong to any agency. It started around my kitchen table,” she says.

Lowery became determined to help spread awareness and prevention after her only son had a long boarding accident and suffered a catastrophic brain injury. He was hit from behind by a van and thrown 45 feet through the air.

“I almost lost him. He was 48 days in ICU at St. Michaels Hospital in the trauma unit,” Lowery says. After she knew he was going to be fine, what followed was five and a half years of intense rehab as her son learned to walk and talk and do everything all over again.

She started the organization to help prevent other families from going through the same horrifying experience.

Brain injuries are a silent epidemic, according to Lowery. In Canada, one person suffers a traumatic brain injury every three minutes, adding up to 452 people a day, according to the Northern Brain Injury Association (NBIA).  This amounts to about 165,000 brain injuries every year.

Acquired brain injury is the number one cause of death and disability among children, according to the Ontario Brain Injury Association (OBIA). It happens 30 times more often than breast cancer and is 400 times more common than HIV/AIDS, according to OBIA Impact Report, 2012.

Yet, it gets a fraction of the funding that breast cancer or HIV/AIDS awareness/research receives.

Matthew Godfrey, who worked as a mechanic, knows all too well the impact of a brain injury.

He suffered a devastating traumatic brain injury after a forklift accident. Godfrey spent two months in the hospital and went through seven years of intense recovery afterwards, as he learned to walk, talk, and remember things again.

The brain injury had an impact on Godfrey’s relationships. Due to experiencing short-term memory, he says he doesn’t remember any previous relationships. He says this has caused problems with friends, family and work.

Many of the side effects from the brain injury live on, such as damaged eyesight, partial deafness, and excruciating headaches. Godfrey says many of the health complications from the accident changed his life completely.

After someone has a brain injury “it’s never a rest period. You’re always learning something new or remembering something,” he says.

According to Lowery, her main goal for Heads Up! Durham is getting people to recognize how common brain injuries are.

“We want people to know the major causes of brain injury and what they can personally do,” she says.

Godfrey says the biggest thing people can do right now is use common sense, such as wearing helmets and seat belts.

Durham Region has a particularly high rate of brain injuries. According to Dr. Robert Kyle, the region’s medical officer of health, 19 per cent of Durham’s elementary students and 31 per cent of high school students say they had experienced a brain injury at some point in their lives.

Young people ages 14-19 have the largest number of emergency room visits for concussion related injuries, according to Durham’s Injuries at a Glance 2013 report. It also says concussion-related emergency room visits are on the rise since 2008.

“The awareness part of it is helping people realize just how serious brain injury is,” she says. After hockey player Sidney Crosby had his brain injury, Lowery says it shone a light on the devastating impacts of brain injuries.

“People stopped saying ‘I just had my bell rung’ and realized when somebody falls or when somebody is hit in a car accident were talking brain injury,” she says. “So it’s helping people to recognize how common it is and how many people are actually suffering from brain injury and often not knowing it.”

She is always looking for more people to become community champions or apply to join the Steering Committee and Advisory Panel. To find out more, visit

Previous articleHow to handle taking sick days at school
Next articleWould Durham College benefit from football?
Sam is a second year journalism student at Durham College, who enjoys writing about social issues, business, sports, music, and the community. He enjoys creating broadcast news as well as video stories. In his spare time he enjoys listening to music, going to concerts, and watching the news. Sam hopes to work at for a radio network or newspaper after he graduates.