Hope and music help Chester man cope, move forward after brain injury

HALIFAX – Music is a beacon of hope for Ryan Emms.

The 33-year-old from Chester has been living with severe brain damage after a car struck his bicycle 26 years ago. Emms was only seven years old at the time.

“I went up about 10 feet in the air and came down head first and landed in a coma for 22 days,” he said.

Emms does not remember the incident and when he woke up, he had to re-learn everything, such as how to walk, talk and move.

“It wasn’t easy. It was a hard struggle.”

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As a teenager, Emms wrote poetry then decided to turn the poetry into music, which he credits for helping him cope with his new way of living. He admits his life would be very stressful without music.

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“It’s a great thing. It’s a great feeling. It just becomes a part of you. [It’s] From my heart. It’s inside me,” he said.

“The world’s not an easy place to live. We all need something to fall back on, to lean towards and that’s what I lean towards – music.”

On Tuesday, Emms performed a selection of songs and shared his experience at the National Brain Injury Conference in Dartmouth.

Emms describes his motto as “hope, faith and believe” and hopes to inspire others with his story and his music.

“That’s what I want to show people – that there’s hope, there is a way,” he said.

“There’s always going to be sun after it rains because there’s always another day. We just have to keep fighting for that day, keep fighting for that sunshine.”

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Mother Debra Mitchell said it was a struggle for the family as they adjusted, but she said she is blown away by the person he has become.

“There’s no words for it. Happy tears would be the best way to describe it,” she said with emotion.

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“I’m very blessed to have such a son to go through such a traumatic event, come back and be in the world today.”

Mitchell said she has seen the healing power music has had on Emms.

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“Music has taken him through most of the sad or dark days that he does have. Somebody might have upset him or said something rude to him. He knows how to handle it. He comes home, puts his music on and in about 15 minutes, everything is fine again,” she said.

The Brain Injury Association of Nova Scotia states approximately one in 26 Canadians lives with a brain injury as a result of incidents such as a stroke, aneurysm, car accident or fall.

Leona Burkey, executive director of the Brain Injury Association of Nova Scotia, said that 70,000 people, including patients, families and caregivers, in Nova Scotia are touched by brain injury.

She said the onset of a brain injury can come suddenly and without warning.

“Brain injury tends to be invisible,” Burkey said.

“Imagine an injury to the organ that represents all of you. Any brain injury survivor I’ve spoken to would give up all of their limbs to have their brain back because it is you. It is your personality, your thoughts, your memories and your feelings.”

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Burkey said greater understanding of brain injuries will help reduce stigma and on a community level, that may include greater compassion and patience towards those with the condition.

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The conference runs until Tuesday.