On a recent episode of the IMPACT radio show we featured Amanda Oake and Cynthia Spears from Blue Heron Support Services Association and the Alberta Brain Injury Network. These front-line life changers have an indelible connection to their clients that was clearly demonstrated during the fire and evacuation of 2016 and continues today.
Ranging in age between 22 and 67, the people who receive services and support from Blue Heron have a range of things that have happened in their lives that caused a brain injury, and widely varying degrees of functionality. All of them have formed important bonds with both Amanda and Cynthia, who have been working in this field for a number of years.
“It’s an honour to assist in someone’s life,” said Amanda. “I love my clients, and I love my job.”
Away in Edmonton on May 3, 2016, Amanda started working the phones almost immediately.
“I connected with my clients to make sure they were safe and receiving the care that they needed,” she said. “I spoke to them every couple of hours, then every couple of days throughout the evacuation period.”
Cynthia was in town when the fire flared up on that fateful day. Her phone started to ring almost immediately.
“My clients started calling me and saying ‘Did you hear about the fire? Where are you?’”, she recalled. “That’s when I realized that we had to evacuate.”
Most of Cynthia’s clients are based out of the hospital, and had lots of support to get to safety. One of Amanda’s clients was not quite so lucky.
In making her calls, she discovered that one client was left all alone in an apartment building. She spent the next 14 hours calling the authorities, trying to send help his way.
“It was a really scary situation,” she said. “My client’s mental state was quickly deteriorating.”
In the end, she was finally able to get him the help that he needed. An ambulance took him to the hospital in Athabasca where he was able to get stabilized. He ended up spending the bulk of evacuation at a ranch near Athabasca. Had Amanda not spent those hours advocating on his behalf, the story might have had a very different ending.
Amanda and Cynthia are in the middle of Brain Injury Awareness Month and doing a number of different things to engage the community, particularly young people. They are making school visits and even doing positive ticketing, rewards kids who are wearing their helmets when out skateboarding or biking. The focus is on prevention.
“All it takes is one little hit to your head to get a brain injury,” said Amanda.
Blue Heron Support Services Association has a small footprint in Fort McMurray but they are maximizing their efforts by partnering up with other groups who have similar missions, like Safe Community Wood Buffalo.
“Collaborating makes our jobs so much easier,” she said. “And it is so beneficial to the clients when you can have a good working relationship with other agencies and organizations in the community.”
Blue Heron Support Services Association is located on the lower level of the Unifor building on MacDonald Avenue.