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Family draws on experience with son’s traumatic brain injury to help others cope

Toronto, March 22, 2013

By Kate Taylor

Ian and Andrew McCallum
Approaching the five-year mark since his accident, Andrew McCallum still regularly visits St. Michael’s for appointments and check-ups but has regained almost of all of his memory. Photo by Yuri Markarov, Medical Media

In the late morning of April 5, 2008, Andrew McCallum was doing what he did most days: walking his shortcut along the train tracks near his house.

What made this morning different was that he has no recollection of being there that day. In fact, the only way he even knows he was there is because that’s what the police records show.

He’s lucky a neighbour saw him as he strolled the tracks, face bloody and clearly out of sorts. The police and ambulance were called and although McCallum was coherent enough to give them his parents’ phone number, he still has no idea what happened to him.

He was rushed to St. Michael’s after a team at St. Joseph’s Hospital determined he had suffered a traumatic brain injury and needed a craniotomy, to be performed by Drs. James Mahoney and Richard Perrin. He awoke seven weeks later in the ICU with no memory of the day he was brought there -- or of the previous 10 years of his life.

During those seven weeks, as McCallum underwent various other surgeries, his family and loved ones interacted with dozens of health care professionals from diverse areas of the hospital – dietitians, social workers, the chaplain, physicians and nurses.

“My recovery wasn't entirely pleasant,” said McCallum, now 37. “I should have died, but I didn't. I may have lost mobility, hearing, sight, physical sensation, emotional control, and yet somehow I’ve retained it all. I had surgeries, I had infections and I also deeply felt everyone else's emotional trauma of what had happened.”

For McCallum’s father, Ian, watching his son deal with a traumatic brain injury was emotional and overwhelming. While there were a lot of technical manuals to explain what had happened, there was nothing to guide families through coping with the experience and its emotional impact.

Ian McCallum decided to take the matter into his own hands and has recently published “From Grave to Cradle,” a narrative of his family’s journey, designed to help others who have undergone or are undergoing similar journeys.

“I knew there was an interest and a need for a manual from the patient and family perspective,” said Ian McCallum. “When you fall into that situation you can’t think straight. There is chaos, trauma and fear. I felt I had to pass lessons learned from my multi-year, daily experience with a traumatically injured patient, with health care professionals and with the hospital system that could bring some order to people’s lives who are also going through a similar situation.”

The book includes useful information such as to-do lists at various stages in the recovery process for the family, a first-hand account from Andrew McCallum’s perspective detailing the emotional effects and a list of support networks.

The book has been placed on the mandatory reading list for Queen’s University’s introductory nursing course and is being considered by universities world-wide for inclusion in 2014 curriculums. It is also available in the St. Michael’s gift shop.