Photography by Patient Voice.
Photography by Patient Voice.
Photography by Patient Voice.

Ben & Katherine's story

Traumatic Brain Injury

Toronto, ON

Ben: “I was out with some of my boys in London, England, celebrating a friend’s new job and having a great night. I went to get some money from an ATM outside the pub so I could buy a round of drinks, and I got jumped by a group of men. Bystanders saw and immediately called an ambulance. The next thing I remember is waking up in the hospital, thinking, ‘What just happened?’ I’d been in a coma for seven days.

My mom and my girlfriend Katherine flew over from Toronto the next day. They were told they might have to say goodbye. They said I’d hit my head on the curb on the way down. I’m 6’4”, so that’s a pretty long drop. People kept saying ‘traumatic brain injury.’ I was in and out of surgeries. They had to take off most of my skull.

But by five weeks, I was doing better than anyone had hoped. We were able to fly back to Canada. I remember we watched Crazy Rich Asians on the flight. I love rom coms and definitely needed some laughs.

Back in Toronto, I was expecting that I’d get my final surgeries to replace my skull, do a couple of weeks in rehab, then go home. That was in January of 2019. It wasn’t until March of 2023 that I finally got to check out of the hospital.

I developed something called syndrome of the trephined followed by an infection in my brain and things went downhill fast. I lost everything I’d previously regained. I had a seizure at one point that was so bad, I broke my hip. I ended up needing over 65 surgeries across four years. It was surreal. The whole time the world was moving on without me. All that kept me sane were the people who stayed by my side: Katherine, my family and friends, and my best friend, Trevor — my number one guy since I was six years old. 

Then, in January of 2023, just two months before I was cleared to finally go home, I got the news that Trevor had passed away. That was a gut punch I’ll never recover from. 

It’s so hard, finally being home and knowing that Trevor’s not here to share the joy, to hang out, to just play video games. I know I wouldn’t have gotten through those four years without him. But I’m so proud of where I am now. I know Trevor can see it, and I think he’s proud of me, too.”

Katherine: “It was 8:30 a.m. on December 3, 2018, when I got a call from Ben’s mom, Cindy. I was confused. Cindy and I were close, but we weren’t exactly in the habit of early morning phone calls.

She told me Ben had been in a serious accident and we needed to get to England right away. They weren’t sure he’d still be there when we arrived. I remember lying on the floor of the airport with a blanket over my face, so overwhelmed I was delusional. To this day, even thinking about that morning is hard.

When we arrived in London, Ben was in a coma. They’d removed most of his skull and they told us it was possible he'd never wake up. If he did, they said, it was unlikely he’d be able to function normally, to eat, to talk, or even to breathe on his own. A very low chance of recovery.

I was terrified and heartbroken, but I knew we had to take it one day at a time. We had this love and commitment and, even lying there unconscious, I held onto the hope that he’d do his best to come back to me. I sat at his bedside for days, holding his hand, squeezing it. One day, he started lightly squeezing my hand back. The doctors told us that it didn't count as a purposeful movement. It’s only reactive, don’t get your hopes up, they said. But I held onto hope with everything I had. 

And then he finally did emerge from the coma and, for a brief moment, it seemed like everything was going to get better. Until everything got worse. For years.

The rollercoaster of TBI recovery is emotionally devastating. It was a constant shattering of hope, improvement and decline. But he’d recovered partially before, and I knew he could do it again. Being the person sitting in the waiting room through 12-hour surgery after 12-hour surgery, not knowing if this is going to be the one he doesn’t wake up from... it’s indescribable. It’s a constant state of grieving, an ambiguous loss. I was only 25 years old when this all started.

But he did wake up. And he continued to improve. And then one day, four and a half years later, he came home. It’s surreal. The worst moments of my life and the best moments of my life have been so deeply intertwined these last few years.”

K: “When the doctors finally said, ‘Okay, after four years in the hospital, Ben’s coming home,’ it was a mixture of surreal excitement and utter terror. I said to Ben, ‘I’ve been patient with you for four years, now it’s your turn to be patient with me.’”

B: “Katherine was so overwhelmed having me home, it was hilarious. She didn’t know what to do with herself. She was scared to let me take a shower on my own. And so I’d start bantering, teasing her for worrying about me. That... didn’t help.”

K: “Ben can only be serious about 10% of the time. And I was feeling very serious. He wasn’t worrying, so I felt I needed to worry for both of us. It’s so hard being a caregiver for your partner. You don’t want to infantilize them, but there’s also this pressure to get everything right. It took some trial and error but we’ve found our routine, and Ben has become incredibly independent.”

B: “Katherine’s done so much for me and I love her endlessly for it, but independence is everything to me. I need to be independent so she can be independent. That’s how a relationship should work. I’m adamant about getting my life back on track quickly. I use a walking pole now but by next summer I want to be running marathons. And I did so many online courses while I was in the hospital, so I’m really focused on what’s next. Now, I’m looking for a career where I wake up inspired.”

K: “That’s a noticeable change in Ben. He’s the same guy I knew before, but better in some ways. More introspective, more driven by passion. The conversations we have now are deeper.”

B: “It's just wonderful to have those conversations somewhere other than a hospital. Sure, this isn’t exactly the future we’d planned — Katherine will tell you it’s not all flowers and butterflies — but it’s so good to be home.”

K: “The thing is, we were so young when Ben’s injury happened. I was 25 and we’d been together just four years. I know a lot of people were looking at me when it happened, thinking, you could walk away. But I was just trying to get through one day at a time with the person I love. And every day, that’s what I chose. It’s what I’ll always choose.”