What's Your Story

I can be both disabled and independent — and for that, I thank Canada

In 2009, Jennifer Burgmann contracted the imflammatory disorder Bickerstaff brainstem encephalitis — and her life changed.

'I'm proud of this nation's great capacity to love.'

Jennifer Burgmann, today. (Jennifer Burgmann)

After recovering from a rare inflammatory disorder, Jennifer Burgmann faced a new life. Throughout 2017, we're asking Canadians, "What's your story?" Burgmann, of Surrey, B.C., shares hers.


In December 2009, I contracted Bickerstaff brainstem encephalitis.

I spent six weeks in a coma, four weeks paralyzed, blind and unable to speak and another 16 months bed-ridden and hospitalized. After that, I spent about two and a half years in rehabilitation. The disease left me wheelchair-bound and disabled with contractures in several joints.

'Me, my sister, my mother. 2010, in the hospital one year.' (Jennifer Burgmann)

It's been seven years since I got sick.

I now live in my own suite in a family care home, and I enjoy a life of independence and autonomy despite my disability. And it's because I live in Canada.

If I lived in many other countries, I never would have survived the first two months of my illness. In still other countries, I would be homeless from the medical bills or forgotten in a long-term care facility because there are no rehab programs available for me.

'My dog, Paco, and I at the family care home where I currently reside.' (Jennifer Burgmann)

The people of Canada are so kind and friendly and helpful. When I am out and about, there is no shortage of people willing to reach a high item or pick up a dropped glove. I often don't even have to ask.

There are always challenges to navigating through life with a disability, but it makes a vast difference when you live in a country with people who respect the disabled and work to make everything accessible to them.

Today I am so very grateful to have been born in this country. I am proud to say it's my home. I'm proud of the people, I'm proud of the culture, I'm proud of this nation's great capacity to love.

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