Shelley Pocholok never imagined herself as a client for non-profit health care agencies.
Pocholok and her husband had moved to Kelowna in 2007, she was working towards becoming a tenured sociology professor at UBCO and had taken up an interest in training to compete in triathlons.
That all changed on July 9, 2013. It was on that day that Pocholok and a friend were cycling as part of her triathlon training routine when she was hit by a vehicle.
The collision changed Pocholok’s life forever. She underwent neurological rehabilitation for 2 1/2 years and found further support through BrainTrust brain injury programs.
“Life threw me a curveball and I would never have been able to navigate around those life-changing decisions on my own,” she said.
Pocholok talked about that experience as the impact speaker at the annual Central and South Okanagan/Similkameen United Way fundraising campaign kick-off breakfast at the Coast Capri Hotel in Kelowna on Thursday.
Campaign supporters gathered to listen to Pocholok’s story and hear about the need to exceed the $1.4 million raised for the United Way last year to support the agency’s regional health and social service partner agencies, which for the past 20 years has included BrainTrust.
Pocholok has no recall of the accident that ultimately left her with brain injury symptoms that can’t be repaired—absence of a sensory noise filter, short-term memory loss, vertigo and chronic fatigue.
“There are no cures and my life has become about developing strategies to manage those symptoms,” she said. “My first memory is of waking up in the middle of the night and wondering why I was in the hospital.”
Pocholok said she was told that she and her cycling partner stopped for a time check break at the Harvest Golf Club. Thirty minutes later, cycling ahead of her partner on Spiers Road, she was hit by a truck catapulting her off the bike and slamming her head against the road.
Her cycling partner caught up to her, seeing Pocholok had spilled off her bike, breathing heavily and bleeding badly.
The driver had stopped initially, then left the scene when Pocholok’s riding partner arrived to call 911 and offer support.
She has no memory of the trauma care she underwent to initially save her life. Asked by the attending medical responders where she lived, Pocholok was told she gave her childhood address and said she was from Brazil.
“I guess that kind of made sense since they had cut off all my clothing and I was topless at that point,” she laughed.
But the injuries she suffered were no joke, as Pocholok suddenly found herself in the statistical category of someone in Canada who suffers a brain injury every three minutes.
Pocholok said she had a supportive husband along with health and legal support to assist her through the rehabilitation process, but it still wasn’t enough.
“I wasn’t going to get my old life back and had to give up my career,” said Pocholok, hearing herself say those words still drawing up emotional feelings today.
“Even with the support I had, I was still not able to have a full recovery.”
And it made her realize that many others don’t have access to the support and care she did, yet still face the reality of dealing with their brain injury symptoms.
She called brain injuries an invisible epidemic because those symptoms are not readily apparent to others at first glance—the panic of being in a crowded room, of being unable to filter out surrounding noise, fatigue, panic.
Pocholok took it upon herself to begin researching for a book about brain injury victims, which led her to getting involved with a brain injury peer and mentor group supported by BrainTrust in Kelowna.
“I went there to hear other people’s stories and found myself instead discovering a comfort zone that helped with the grieving over a life lost, a safe space where I wasn’t being judged, where I didn’t have to be engaging or funny or smart, just show up,” she said.
The United Way fundraising campaign, which will have a particular focus this year on addressing poverty issues, will carry on until January. For more information on how to donate, go to the website www.unitedwaycso.com.