Brain injury patient goes back to school to help others with brain injuries

Jay Dukeshire's motorcycle accident had doctors fearful he wasn't going to recover from an ABI injury. He defeated the odds and is now going to help others who will be recovering from ABI.

Jay Dukeshire will use the lessons from his own "miracle" recovery to help others

Jay Dukeshire's recovery from an Acquired Brain Injury has been miraculous. Now, he wants to educate himself in brain disorders management in order to help others. (Kirthana Sasitharan/CBC)

Jay Dukeshire's recovery from an Acquired Brain Injury at Hamilton General Hospital earned him the nickname "Medical Mystery" eight years ago.

Now, he's turning his life towards helping others with ABI and will be a part of the inaugural class at Mohawk College's brand new Brain Disorders Management certificate program this fall. It means he's soon be bringing his own experiences in the long and uncertain road back from brain injury to the aid of others.

They call him "Miracle Boy"

Dukeshire used to build race bikes and motorcycles for a living. On May 9th, 2009, Dukeshire took a customer's bike for a road test and was cut off by someone in a car.

Dukeshire doesn't recall what happened after that.

He had 23 broken bones, suffered a massive brain injury, and died three times. He spent two-and-a-half months at Hamilton General Hospital and spent six months in bed.

Now, in his mid 40s, he says that the toughest part of his accident wasn't the physical pain. 

"Out of all the broken bones and dying and all that, I'd have to say the toughest thing is the brain injury," said Dukeshire.

Dukeshire points out the rods in his legs as a result of the accident that caused him to break 23 bones in his body. At one point, he was unable to walk. (Kirthana Sasitharan/CBC)

ABI is an injury caused by impact to the brain which causes damage. 

"I shook my brain in my skull. I bounced the front part of my brain off the inside of my skull and damaged the frontal lobe. The frontal lobe controls all your emotions," explains Dukeshire.

Every emotion that a person would have, for Dukeshire, is magnified, causing him to vary from one extreme emotion to the next.

"I would go from full blown laughing to rage to crying, all within five minutes 'cause I couldn't control it."

Dukeshire's recovery was thought to be impossible. Doctors didn't think he would walk again and worried about his brain recover. Over time, his physical ailments started to improve and with some help, so did the effects his brain injury.

"Can't tell reality sometimes"

Dina Vandenberg is an Advanced Rehabilitation Therapist at ABI Community Services who helped Dukeshire through his recovery by applying in-house coping mechanisms and strategies in real world situations.

She says ABI effects on a person are far greater than what even they anticipate. 

"ABI is so pervasive," said Vandenberg. "You have to re-learn so many things we take for granted everyday." 

Dina Vandenberg is an Advanced Rehabilitation Specialist with ABI Community Services who has helped Dukeshire through his ABI recovery. (Kirthana Sasitharan/CBC)

She says Dukeshire's determination and hard work are what drove him to recover the way he did. 

Given the severity of Jay's injury, not a majority of people would get to where he's gotten.- Dina Vandenberg, Advanced Rehab Therapist at ABI Community Services

"Given the severity of Jay's injury, not a majority of people would get to where he's gotten." 

Dukeshire says because of his ABI injury, he can't tell reality sometimes and suffering from heightened emotions causes him to become angry sometimes.

"I do remember sitting in a Tim Hortons with Dina and [a] lady was working the till, getting change in the till. And I freaked out. I flipped the table, I threw the chair," said Dukeshire. 

The sounds that the till made and the movement of the change scared Dukeshire to make him act that way. It was just too much for him.

"With brain injury, you can't control things. You have to learn to identify systems before you act out on them."

Moving forward to give back

He's about 70 per cent recovered now, but he still has some trouble with memory from time to time.

He credits the injury for making him a more extroverted, social person. He is now more focused on being happy and says he's "less stressed about the small stuff."

Vandenberg got Dukeshire to volunteer at the Stay Well Program at St. Joe's as a way to have him reintegrate into society, and he noticed that he clicked when he was working with people.

After talking it through with Vandenberg, he decided to study Recreational Therapy.

Dukeshire says he estimates he's 70 per cent recovered now and he continues to get better everyday. (Kirthana Sasitharan/CBC)

He went to school at Mohawk College in 2014 and graduated in 2016 with honours from the Recreational Therapy program. Vandenberg was there with Dukeshire in classes at the beginning, but then slowly phased herself out. 

He credits the school's accommodations and his driven attitude that allowed him to succeed at school.

This September, Dukeshire will be going back to school to study Brain Disorders Management at Mohawk College and wants to work with people with ABI.

Vandenberg says it will be meaningful for Dukeshire to be a part of other ABI patients' recoveries because Dukeshire knows what it's like to be on the other side.

His ability to connect with people and and share their perspective because of his own lived experiences is helpful in the recovery of others. 

"Because people with head injuries often times are so misunderstood, I think that's what Jay can bring to the table. He can say 'I know what you're gets better," says Vandenberg.

Dina Vandenberg says Dukeshire has a lot of determination and that's what helps him succeed at school. (Kirthana Sasitharan/CBC)

Dukeshire says for those suffering from ABI should learn their coping mechanisms and "fill their tool box full of tools" in order to have a tool for every situation.

While Dukeshire says his recovery may seem like he is back to normal, he notes that the injury will always be a part of his life.

"You have an ABI for the rest of life. It doesn't get any easier. And everyday, you learn something new."