Benjamin Sloetjes: The Journey Of An Acquired Brain Injury Survivor
Prevention and Treatment Sometimes it takes a traumatic event to remind us how delicate life is and how quickly it can be taken away.
We all hope that we never find ourselves in a position where we face tragic loss. But for some, tragedy strikes with unexpected suddenness. Such was the case for the Sloetjes family.
On September 19, 2002, Benjamin Sloetjes, just 18 years old, was working under a car in his family’s driveway when it slipped and crushed him under its weight, leaving his brain oxygen-starved for twenty minutes.
Acquired brain injury
Some details of that day are fuzzy for Anita Sloetjes, Benjamin’s mother. She remembers seeing the helicopter airlifting Benjamin as she drove across the Burlington Skyway Bridge. She also remembers the feeling of desperation as doctors informed the Sloetjes family that if Benjamin lived, he would be severely brain-damaged.
“I was scared for my son, for myself, wondering if I could be there for him in the way I knew he would need me,” Anita says.
Benjamin woke up from his coma that night, but he was a different Benjamin when he did. His brain injury left him unable to speak, feed himself or walk more than a few steps on his own.
A little help from a friend
Brain injuries are among the most devastating personal injuries. While even mild concussions can cause far-reaching effects, the most severe brain injuries are sudden, unexpected and often life-changing, affecting not only the injured but also those closest to them.
More often than not, the families of acquired brain injury patients are overwhelmed by the ordeal and caught unprepared in its aftermath.
“In November, around two months after the accident, I was given a business card by somebody who said I should call a lawyer,” Anita recounts. “I had no idea I needed a lawyer. It’s not like I knew much about head injuries.”
“But things weren’t moving fast enough in the hospital. There was all this waiting time to get into rehab, so I gave it a try. I left a voice mail for Bernie Gluckstein from Gluckstein Lawyers and he called me back in 5 minutes.”
Journey towards rehabilitation
Anita credits that call for turning the tide in favor of Benjamin.
“In under two weeks, Benjamin was transferred out of West Lincoln Memorial Hospital and into rehab. He was paired with an experienced case manager who picked a team of therapists and social workers,” says Anita. “A personal support worker was also hired to make our home more accessible for Benjamin.”
“During the litigation, it’s a traumatic time for clients to adjust to their new lives with a disability."
“Because of Gluckstein’s advocacy for my son, we were able to tap into so many different resources that we never would have known were available,” says Anita.
Benjamin the artist
Acquired brain injury often brings new and unexpected obstacles for patients and their families. But sometimes too it can bring unexpected gifts.
In 2008, Anita had the idea to use art as a form of therapy for Benjamin and quickly discovered that he had an exceptional talent for painting.
Today, Benjamin’s art hangs on many prestigious walls, from the Governor General’s residence to hospital wings. In 2010, he was invited to hand out personalized cards to the athletes and the Vancouver Paralympics.
“Treated us like family”
One thing that Anita continues to express is how friendly and caring the legal team was that helped Benjamin down the path to rehabilitation.
For Charles Gluckstein, a personal injury lawyer with Gluckstein Personal Injury Lawyers in Toronto, compassion is an essential to the work he does.
“During the litigation, it’s a traumatic time for clients to adjust to their new lives with a disability. And many of their family members go through changes like Anita did in becoming a full time caregiver for their loved ones,” says Gluckstein. “That’s why it’s important to support clients, to not only help strengthen our bond with them, but their bond with the community.”