'You'll never be academically competitive': Island man earns doctorate after life-altering brain injury
Brian is on a journey that he was told he’d never be able to make.
“It’s not about the destination,” he says, comparing life to travelling on his motorcycle. “It’s about the ride.”
Before this journey began, Brian was an infantryman preparing for what became the first Gulf War. During training, he says he was almost killed in a crash.
“I was in the back of the vehicle,” Brian says. “I was thrown out of the hatch.”
Although he has no memory of what happened, Brian says there was no doubt about the life-altering damage to his body, including his brain.
“There’s all these doctors telling me, ‘Brian you’re going to be OK, but you’ll never be academically competitive.’” Brian remembers being told. “‘This is your new normal and you should be okay with that because there’s nothing you can do about it.’”
Although Brian felt crushed, he accepted the diagnosis and began living his “limited” life.
“I worked minimum wage jobs. I spent time [being] poor,” Brian says. “Even though I was working [full-time], about five days a month I didn’t have enough food to eat.”
He also felt hungry to learn more, and eventually started taking night classes.
“I don’t care if I pass or not,” Brian remembers thinking. “I’m just going to go learn about things that are interesting to me.”
Brian says he would eventually pass the courses, despite his many challenges.
“I had difficulties remembering my name,” Brian says. “I would randomly pass out.”
Later, he befriended a chemical engineer named Deja who saw the intelligence behind Brian’s struggles.
“For the first time in my life somebody did better than me,” Deja says. “And I graduated with honours.”
They eventually married and Deja encouraged Brian to compile his decades worth of night courses into a bachelor's degree, and pursue a Masters.
“I only applied because I knew I wouldn’t get it,” Brian smiles. “And she would stop hounding me.”
But Royal Roads University accepted him.
“Oh no! Now I’m going into this thing I can’t do,” Brian recalls thinking. “I maybe made a mistake.”
It wasn’t a mistake. Brian not only completed his Masters, he recently earned a Doctorate. It’s a once unthinkable accomplishment that he credits with neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to reorganize itself) and Deja’s unwavering support.
“I want to build a life where we leave each other better than we found each other,” Deja says.
And Brian wants others with similar challenges to never give up on the ride of their lives.
“I don’t think I’m special. I still have issues,” Brian says. “But if you try really hard, you’ll end up with something remarkable.”