Executive director Linda Sankey and John Sloane one of the founding members of the South Okanagan Similkameen Brain Injury Society hoist the cake in recognition of the society’s 25th anniversary at a special celebration Thursday at Skaha Lake Park. Mark Brett/Western News

Brain Injury Society celebrates quarter century

Since it’s humble beginnings a quarter century ago the South Okanagan Similkameen Brain Injury Society has played a pivotal role in care and prevention.

Last week society members, clients and staff celebrated the 25th anniversary with a special celebration barbecue and get together at Skaha Lake Park.

Among those attending was one of the founding members and a beneficiary of the centre’s services, John Sloane.

“We moved here from Calgary in 1988 and there was an advertisement from a lady who wanted to start a brain injury society so between her and my wife they got the society going,” said Sloane. “My injury happened in Calgary and we were there for eight years but the first person I met that had a brain injury was when I came here.”

About 15 people attended the first meeting for survivors and care givers with sessions continuing on a weekly basis after that.

“It’s important to have that (support) like I say I never met a brain injury person till we came to Penticton so you’re always feeling like you’re all alone out there and nobody cares,” said Sloane. “But when go there, there are lots of people who have the same problems that you have and you can talk about those problems and you can talk about what you did to get over them.”

The stigma surrounded brain injuries was so bad at the time the group originally called itself the Penticton Head Injury Society. It was changed to its current name about 10 years later.

Even people with brain injuries refused to come to the meeting.

“It was perceived that a brain injury was a mental thing and nobody wanted to be associated as being mental, I know that feeling because that’s the way I felt,” said Sloane. “You felt that people were looking at you like you’re handicapped and we had to break that stigma.”

Society executive director Linda Sankey feels that has changed somewhat.

“I don’t think the stigma is the same as what it was, even within the organization even our own participants talk about brain injuries more freely,” said Sankey who as worked at the centre for 14 years. “Back when the society was originally formed I think the technology in the medical system wasn’t as advanced as it is today and the testing they had, CT scans and MRI are now available and there’s more cognitive testing available and more methods of testing.”

She credited Sloane’s vision early on for making the society what it is today.

“Back at the time John thought about support for the people, he was talking about employment opportunities for people he was taking about prevention information for the public and housing that even with his brain injury he was able to put together,” said Sankey.

Proactive work in the region by the organization has increased greatly over time to the point where a summer student has been hired over the past several years.

“That person goes out and works with children in the schools and public events to promote healthy play where kids don’t end up with a brain injury,” she said.

Sankey is looking forward to the next 25 years of providing service to brain injury suffers and their families and increased prevention work.