Beau Conley has no recollection of the night he was involved in a serious motor vehicle accident in February 2018 when he was 27 years old. Beau suffered life-threatening injuries and a severe traumatic brain injury. Beau’s heart stopped twice on the way to Kingston Health Sciences Centre (KHSC) where he was placed in a coma in the intensive care unit. With a very bright future ahead of him, Beau’s life changed instantly. After being discharged from KHSC, he was transferred to Providence Care Hospital’s (PCH) Complex Medical Management unit where he would begin a hard and slow recovery.
“I woke up laying in a hospital room hearing an astounding number of beeps, hooked up to many machines and I was told by staff I had suffered a severe traumatic brain injury and was incredibly lucky to be alive. This was a complete blow to me, so I tried to get up to use the washroom and recoup my thoughts – except the only problem was, I was bedridden and my entire right side was paralyzed. I tried to speak and I couldn’t – no words came out,” says Beau.
In May 2018, Beau was stable enough to be transferred from Complex Medical Management to the Rehabilitation unit where he would begin his grueling recovery relearning how to walk, talk, eat and drink. An avid hockey player on a scholarship at the Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers prior to the car accident, Beau led an incredibly active and fit lifestyle and he had to come to terms with how different life would be once he recovered.
The inter-professional care team at PCH made use of every tool they had at their disposal to aid Beau in recovering from the physical, cognitive, emotional and behavioural consequences of his severe injuries. Rehabilitation took on many forms and he was seen by a number of various professions throughout his stay.
“The staff had to teach me literally everything – I needed so much help. It started with being able to move my right toes slightly,” reflects Beau.
In the beginning, his rehabilitation was slow, inconsistent and unpredictable. As is common after experiencing traumatic brain injuries, Beau was frustrated and at times angry. He was unable to retain short-term memories and does not remember the first few months of his stay.
During therapy, he would often feel like giving up and would point to the door in an attempt to get staff to leave. In the early days of his rehabilitation, his therapy of the day would be to sit up one time, which was a very difficult task.
Beau’s loving and supportive parents were a key part of his recovery and helped him immensely through the tough days. He recalls a story his father told him from his early days at PCH.
“I wasn’t displaying much recognition of who he was or what his involvement in my life was. He gave me a thumbs up and said one day I hope you’ll be able to give me one back. Something clicked and slowly I raised my hand and gave him one. All of his thoughts and hopes were correct – I was still ‘there,’ I just needed some extra help to blossom,” he says.
Before he knew it, Beau had progressed from being completely paralyzed on his right side, to using a wheelchair, a walker, and then finally a cane. The rehabilitation gym, walking track and therapy pool at PCH were heavily used to optimize and aid in Beau’s recovery. Beau especially loved the large gymnasium where he eventually would play hockey during his stay.
Nine months after the accident, Beau walked out of PCH on his own. His life-changing accident fueled his passion and inspiration to help others and he knew he had to give back. He is now a volunteer at PCH and runs a coffee group twice per week, along with providing one-on-one peer support with other patients who have experienced similar, severe injuries.
“As terrible as the accident was and how it’s affected my life, it has almost been a blessing in disguise. I had no purpose before and got caught up in the party scene while at school and was not living an ideal lifestyle. Now, I just want to help others. I started volunteering as soon as I was given the all clear about four years ago,” says Beau.
Through his volunteer work, Beau is still in contact with Certified Spiritual Health Practitioner Maciej Zaborowski who played an important role in his recovery, frequently visiting Beau and supporting his cultural, emotional and spiritual needs.
“In my role, we aim to find a common ground and a point of connection when first meeting patients. I used to play hockey when I was a teenager so that was my connection when I first met Beau. I established that rapport, built the relationship and built trust, which in turn furthered his recovery journey along the way. Beau’s rehabilitation journey was a true team effort from staff across PCH. It’s amazing to see him volunteering now,” says Maciej.
Maciej says Beau’s one-on-one peer support volunteer work is critical in helping other patients learn tools and techniques that will aid in their recovery journeys.
“He had to re-learn very basic life skills and tasks. By sharing his experience and his story, he relates to so many patients who are currently going through similar experiences. The inspiration he brings to patients is incredible,” says Maciej.
Healing from a traumatic brain injury came with many ups and downs, frustrations, challenges and obstacles, yet Beau managed to overcome every one of them. He credits his success to his family support network and the help of every staff member he encountered during his stay.
He now calls himself “The MEG” – which stands for Mr. Easy Guy. “I go with the flow now. The pre-accident Beau wasn’t in a good place. The post-accident Beau is in a place where I wanted to be all along but it was hidden by poor lifestyle choices. I give back because I have a great sense of appreciation for Providence Care. I want everyone to know I appreciate them giving me my life back.”