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Ryan Duguay stands in the community garden wearing a hooded sweater and black jacket
Ryan Duguay suffered an acquired brain injury while on the job in November 2018. The ABI Community Services team at Hamilton Health Sciences is helping Duguay reintegrate into everyday life.
April 20, 2021

A fresh start in the great outdoors after an acquired brain injury

Ryan Duguay was working in a St. Catharines auto shop in November 2018 when the unthinkable happened. “We had a problem with the lift,” he explains. “It let the car down when it wasn’t supposed to. I suffered a large impact to the head that left me with some brain damage.”

Duguay, 30, was hospitalized in the Niagara region for two months before being discharged in January 2019. The Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) nurse case manager approved rehabilitation therapy with Hamilton Health Sciences’ Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) Community Services.

The goal at the time was to initiate treatment to support Duguay’s recovery in his home and to help him reintegrate into everyday life. ABI Community Services is a team of rehabilitation therapists who work with a community therapy team to assist individuals following their discharge from hospital and support them by creating individualized, goal-based programs.

“Rehab therapy – getting stronger, gaining stamina”

Ryan Duguay and Rachel Willard working in the community garden

Duguay and Willard at the Centennial Gardens in St. Catharines.

Rachel Willard is the advanced rehabilitation therapist who has been working with Duguay’s community therapy team. “I love being able to support people through their recovery journey. It’s a learning experience for everybody,” Willard says. “Ryan has been working with us on a weekly basis and has been getting stronger, gaining stamina. We’ve been introducing him to working situations to help him learn new skills for when he’s ready to work again.”

Willard has also supported Duguay in locating a volunteer opportunity that speaks to his passions, while simulating skills he requires for his goal to return to work. This is all part of his individual treatment plan.

Enjoying the great outdoors

Duguay grew up around the Niagara Escarpment and spent his childhood hiking along several trails. Before his accident, his love for the outdoors cultivated an interest in marine biology. Some of the activities Willard and Duguay have been participating in include working in conservation areas with the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA).

“The environment itself, our planet, was something I was interested in,” explains Duguay. “The kind of eco-systems we have, like the Ball’s Falls Conservation Area, presents a lot of opportunity to get involved in areas you don’t see in an urban setting.”

Within this volunteer role, Duguay participates in several park-related projects including the removal of invasive species from local conservation trails, tree restoration, planting of pollinator gardens across Niagara, and the preservation of native local Niagara habitat.

A new project Willard and Duguay have lined up this summer through the City of St. Catharines is with the Queenston Community Garden Project. “It’s great for him as a renter because he can grow a large garden, take whatever he wants and the rest will go back to community care,” explains Willard.

Preparing for return to work

The duo continues to work with Duguay’s ABI community team and WSIB in developing creative treatment ideas to prepare him to one day return to work.

“It’s a very methodical, graduated process,” explains Willard. “The length of his treatment with us depends on a lot of different things. But we’re planning to work with him continuing his rehab and working on his stamina to get him back into a place of competitive employment.”

Duguay is looking forward to the future as well. “What I’d like to see in myself is to keep moving forward and be confident in networking opportunities that volunteering with ABI has given me. I’m excited for the summer to see what we’ll get up to.”

Learn more about the ABI Community Services Program here.

Brain Awareness Week is March 15-21, 2021 and Brain Injury Awareness Month begins June 29, 2021.