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While returning home from working as a night cleaner in November of 1996, Greg Noack was attacked from behind and fell into a coma for 15 days.
When he awoke, his first instinct was to look for broken bones – but he now admits that broken bones aren't always the worst part of an injury. Greg had suffered a traumatic brain injury that temporarily impacted his ability to express emotions, and long-term, left him with ongoing fatigue.
"When I awoke from the coma, and my mother told me I had suffered a severe brain injury, I was stripped of the ability to express emotions," recalls Greg, who is now 45 years old.
But as Greg's recovery progressed, his confidence grew, and he started envisioning a new life.
With a strong desire to learn more about brain injuries, and help make a difference, Greg enrolled in Sault College's Occupational Therapist Assistant and Physiotherapy Assistant program.
Upon graduation, he joined the Toronto Rehab Acquired Brain Injury rehab team, where he now works as a rehab therapist.
A rehab therapist consults with a multidisciplinary team and carries out interventions that will aid recovery and result in a better quality of life, after brain injury.
"My role allows me to connect with others who have experienced what I have gone through," explains Greg. "Most importantly, it allows me the opportunity to share my personal experience, if I think this will help."
Having walked in the shoes of so many of his patients, he can also lend a personal perspective to their rehab. Greg often turns to a familiar phrase that he believes holds truth: You have two options – become a bitter person or a better person. He chose the latter, but knows this can be a difficult choice with the permanent effects brain injury can have.
Advancing brain injury research
Greg's commitment to helping people with brain injury reaches far beyond his role as a therapist.
He has served on the board of directors for the Brain Injury Society of Toronto (BIST) and the Ontario Brain Injury Association (OBIA), and is helping to advance research in two critical ways.
As an active fundraiser, Greg recently completed his eighth marathon – the Goodlife Fitness Toronto Marathon, in support of OBIA and Toronto Rehab's new Telerehab Centre for Acquired Brain Injury. Through his efforts, he raised more than $3,500.
Greg is also a member of the research team at Toronto Rehab's Cognitive Neurorehabilitation Sciences Lab, helping Dr. Robin Green, Senior Scientist and Canada Research Chair (tier 2) for traumatic brain injury, launch the new Provincial Telehealth Centre, which delivers clinical care to patients across Ontario with enduring disability from acquired brain injury, through participation in research.
Known as the Provincial Telehealth Centre for Integrated Research and Clinical Care in Chronic Acquired Brain Injury, its aim is to connect patients in rural areas with interventions that are otherwise difficult to access.
In order to study and treat the accelerated aging of the brain, associated with people living with brain injury, the Centre provides internet-based interventions, while concurrently carrying out research.
Their approaches – including both self-led interventions and therapist-led interventions that are delivered online to groups of people in their own homes – are designed to maximize scalability with reach across the province.
Researchers measure the concrete impact of their interventions on brain structure and function, and on cognition and mood.
"I'm excited about the Centre and look forward to working with the team, as they find innovative ways to treat brain injury in the chronic stages, and reach people all over Ontario," Greg says.
"Rehab should not end when you leave the hospital. There are no clear cut timelines for recovery from brain injury. And moreover, many people show declines in the chronic stages. The Centre was developed to offset those declines, and improve people's everyday functioning."