Six years ago, a distracted driver crashed into Kelli Moffat’s vehicle leaving her with a permanent brain injury.
At the time, Kelli, a registered nurse, worked in a senior management position and had just received her master’s degree. Kelli was an active and vibrant woman who was married and the mother of six children, four of whom were living at home.
In addition to her regular day job, Kelli pulled shifts at the hospital and Hospice House when she was able to on weekends.
Despite being a senior manager, Kelli never lost her compassion for high-risk babies and the terminally ill.
Kelli is a good friend of mine. What I witnessed with her behaviour after the accident was nothing less than shocking...and heart-breaking. I watched her struggle to make a pot of coffee. I helped her with completing forms and emailing. Kelli could not manage interacting with more than two people at a time. She did not have the sequencing skills to prepare meals, do housework or solve normal ever day problems. Kelli’s injury significantly affected her vision and she was unable to drive.
Her long and short-term memory skills were limited.
Her life had completely turned upside down. Little did I know then that three years later, I would join Kelli in the same boat. Her symptoms have improved in the past five years and she is hoping this will continue.
Since Kelli was a child, she was always artistic and won awards for her creations.
After she was injured, friends brought her coloured pencils, sketch books and colouring books in an attempt to help her brain heal. Because her eyes were significantly affected by her brain injury, she was very discouraged to discover she was no longer able to draw or colour.
One day, Kelli heard about a weekend course teaching people how to refurbish furniture. On a whim, she decided to enroll in the course and asked her husband to join her.
“That was it,” Kelli said. “I fell in love with recycling furniture. I loved finding old furniture, sanding it and painting it. To me, it was like meditating. It helped me a lot.”
As time went on and with practise, Kelli realized she possessed a knack with furniture. People saw her work and wanted to purchase various pieces she had completed. Then, people started bringing her furniture to refurbish. Her newfound hobby began to heal her sense of loss.
“It has helped me a lot. I thought I had lost all of my skills,” said Kelli. “I was good at working with furniture. It’s been therapeutic and a nice outlet.”
I have spent many hours with Kelli in her garage, working on all kinds of projects.
She has taught me painting techniques, how to use different types and colours of paint and how to look at an item and appreciate its potential. I had a steamer trunk that my grandfather brought his belongings in when he immigrated to Canada over 100 years ago. Kelli was excited when she saw it and promised me she would make it look amazing. I couldn’t visualize that beat up old trunk could look amazing but I trusted Kelli’s word. The outcome was more than I could have imagined. Now the trunk sits proudly in my living room instead of hiding in the basement.
I know from my own experience that having a hobby or two helps heal the brain and increase self esteem. For Kelli and I, being good at something while having a brain injury has been like being thrown a life jacket when we were drowning.