Stewart Sutherland was working on a hotel restoration project in 1998 when a 15-foot fall changed his life forever.
Sutherland, 62, was working on a “beautiful” project, but the aftermath of his fall left him with a brain injury that dramatically altered his life.
“I think every limb on my body was dislocated,” said Sutherland. “And it was strange because my eye was taken out by this beautiful chair that a blacksmith made and I had been sitting on that same chair just five hours before.”
After the accident, Sutherland was rushed to a hospital in Princeton, but when the medical team realized the gravity of the injuries that he sustained he was sent to Kelowna for help. After spending roughly one month in a wheel chair, Sutherland had to overcome the anger he felt about what had happened to him. To make matters worse, he could no longer work as a millwright like he had been doing for his entire life because he lost his sense of balance.
“This brain injury has gone a long, long way to making me a rather strange person,” admitted Sutherland.
The brain injury forced him out of work and he became engrossed by making artwork as a blacksmith, which will be on display in the West Kootenay Brain Injury Association’s (WKBIA) new storefront in Waneta Plaza along with seven other artists from the region.
The gallery will have an opening exhibition Friday between 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and is free to the public, the perfect tribute for Brain Injury Awareness Month.
“We’re using the new storefront to showcase artwork from members of the brain injury association,” said Jennie Kelly, outreach worker for the WKBAI. “We work with very talented (people) and we were lucky enough to have this space donated to us by the Waneta Plaza so we wanted to show people what we can do.”
The WKBIA’s new location will serve as a gallery for people suffering from brain injuries to exhibit artwork, an information and prevention centre and it will host small fundraising events for the organization, including an ongoing raffle that begins on Friday.
“There is life after a brain injury,” said Kelly. “Making artwork is like a positive outcome from a brain injury. Neither (Sutherland or Dean Scott) had any artistic hankering before their injuries.”
Scott, 44, suffered from an oxygen deprivation in 2006 and after overcoming a series of obstacles like short-term memory loss, he developed an interest in working with leather.
“I don’t know why my short-term memory got affected,” he said. “It was way worse than my long-term memory, but if you talk to a lot of people with brain injuries they all say the same thing.”
Scott had never had an interest in working with leather until after his accident and he’s not entirely sure what triggered it, what he does know is simple: keeping busy appealed to him.
“Even before I knew that I had a brain injury,” Scott said, “I just thought I could do it.”
Scott cannot work as a crane specialist anymore either, and declared that despite all of the obstacles he had to overcome, there were some benefits from the accident.
“It was one of the best things that ever happened to me (because) I get to raise my kids,” he said. “If I would have never had this accident, I wouldn’t get to spend as much time with them and I wouldn’t know them as well as I do now.”
Scott’s family (three children and a wife) were “patient” and helped “teach” him a lot of practical skills essential for adults to cope with daily activities.
“The whole family had to adjust,” said Scott. “It took about six years to become able to function normally again. I had to re-learn everything.”
He said that it’s easy to sustain a brain injury and people don’t realize it. He hopes the storefront will help people in the community learn more about the monumental effects of brain injuries.
The BC Brain Injury Association estimates that up to 14,000 British Columbian’s acquire new brain injuries each year and 160,000 live with the devastating impacts of these injuries at any time.
“The public isn’t aware about how little of an accident it takes to cause a brain injury,” said Scott. “Protect your head because after an accident, everything changes.”
On Friday, you can show support for artists in the West Kootenay region by visiting the gallery, located near Ardene in Waneta Plaza, between 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
For more information about the grand opening of the WKBIA gallery or brain injuries, visit www.wkbia.com/home or call the non-profit organization at 250-304-1259.