Brianna Johnstone, DSA Support Worker, and Eli, Exercise Physiologist recently shared their thoughts on Junior, a participant who lives with an acquired brain injury. Junior is nonverbal right now; this story is from Brianna and Eli’s points of view. The duo both play vital roles in Junior’s network of support and have been collaborating on supporting his goals.
Brianna: I started at DSA in November 2021, and I was placed at the house that Junior lives in. I met him on my first day. My first impression of him was that he was a peaceful quiet man. He loves to be involved in things happening around him, he’s always walking around the house and will gravitate to the action and observe.
A little while ago Junior started working with Elijah from BACK2BACK rehabilitation, with goals of improving mobility and getting Junior back into the sports he is passionate about. Eli and Junior are similar ages, both very sporty and get along super well. It’s been nice for Junior to spend more time around a positive male influence, who can joke around with him.
Prior to Junior’s acquired brain injury (ABI), he enjoyed skateboarding, surfing, being in the water and football. He has begun getting back into these hobbies during his physiotherapy sessions with Eli twice a week.
The progress he has made recently has been pretty incredible. He has started running and can catch a ball using both arms. Previously, he wasn’t able to fully utilise one of his arms effectively and avoided using it. He has also started to stand independently; he had required support for a while, so that’s massive!
Being able to safely get out and about in the community again has had a positive impact on him, something that he obviously wasn’t able to do the past few years due to Covid-19. The seemingly simple act of going to the local park to kick the footy around has been a big shift.
Junior’s progress aside, it’s been great to see him relate to someone his own age. You can see that he and Elijah have a great bond and it’s helped
Junior come out of his shell and given him the confidence to push himself more.
We are going to focus more on his running, getting his fitness up and get him swimming more regularly. We’ve got to make sure the water is warm for him, we went a little while ago, it was cold and he would absolutely not go in the water that day… He knows what he wants!
Working with Junior has taught me that people in any situation can thrive with the right support. As he changes and improves you can see he is becoming more engaged and interested in his environment. He has taught me that you can come back from anything.
Moving forward, I hope he keeps up his mobility and keeps doing things that make him happy, supported by people that he can relate to.
Everyone in Junior’s support team would love to see him get more and more active, it would be awesome to see him on a surfboard again. That would be the ultimate physical goal, and we’ve been told that’s something he used to love.
Eli: I started working with Junior August last year, I was referred by another physiologist who thought I would be well placed to support his goals.
I run a mobile exercise physiology business called BACK2BACK. I am passionate about rehabilitation and men’s mental health. I’m a similar age to Junior, we share a similar sense of humour and I’m also an ex pro athlete, so we have a lot in common. It was a good base to build a relationship on
At first when we started working together, he was not into it. Sometimes he would be completely unresponsive and seemed disengaged and down. After a few weeks, once I learnt what makes him tick, I figured out ways to get him and keep him engaged. Once we understood each other, he started improving and hasn’t stopped.
Since that first meeting, we’ve come a long way. When I arrive at the site now, he seems to recognise me and his demeanour changes. Me being there means we are going to be doing something active, which he loves – and you can tell straight away.
When I started working with Junior, he often needed assistance standing up and always used a wheelchair for transfers. We are working on supporting him to be more independent with things like that and he’s on the right track.
His DSA support team have been telling me he has been getting up and down at home and walking around the house more independently to be involved in what is happening.
Being a former athlete, Junior gets bored fast and loves a challenge. He keeps me on my toes in our sessions. If I see him scratching his face or getting fidgety, I know I’m losing him and I need to switch up what we are doing.
I use his competitiveness to my advantage. For example, if we are in the pool doing hydrotherapy, I’ll tease his strength a bit or tell him his going too slow which always gets him moving faster. He’s able to doggy paddle with some assistance. It’s such a good way to swim for him because it gets his whole body involved. One step closer to the dream of getting him back out in the ocean on a surfboard.
We went to the ocean once – we had planned a trip to the pool, but it was closed. I had already organised the bus, so we went to a nearby beach and he went out into the water up to his waist. I reckon that was a real highlight for him, he looks so happy.
We’ve been using an assault bike in our sessions as his coordination gets better. It’s a bike with handles where you have to use both your legs and arms to move the wheels. I have spasticity gloves that we use to grip his hands to the bike handles, they give him confidence to really give it a go, knowing he isn’t concentrating on holding the handles.
He can do 20 minutes on the bike now, which is incredible for anyone’s standard. He is so strong physically that as we work on the cognitive function you can see some cool stuff coming together.
I’ve seen Junior’s walking improve since we’ve been working together. I would love to see that continue. For him to walk confidently and to be out of a wheelchair for transfers would make me really happy. Looking ahead, I would love to get him back doing the things he loves, playing footy, swimming in the ocean, surfing, any sport really.
It’s been great to work with Junior so far. I’m mentally and physically exhausted after our sessions. It’s full on to keep an athlete occupied – I really love working with him and seeing the hard work he has put in.
Where he is at today is all him, it’s been an honour to see so far.