Hope in the face of hard­ship

Ottawa Citizen - - Front Page - BY WAYNE SCAN­LAN

Jodi Gra­ham has al­ways been at the cen­tre of her fam­ily’s world. Now, she is also in the cen­tre of their home. Open the door to the Gra­hams’ bun­ga­low on Larose Av­enue and there is Jodi, her hospi­tal bed oc­cu­py­ing most of the for­mer liv­ing room.

Wel­come to Jodi’s bat­tle­ground. Ev­ery day she fights to re­gain an­other small piece of her life, this beau­ti­ful, thought­ful, vi­va­cious wo­man of 25, an in­no­cent pas­sen­ger in a hor­rific car ac­ci­dent in Ne­pean six months ago.

To un­der­stand how this tragic story — ev­ery par­ent’s worst night­mare — is also touch­ing and hope­ful, it helps to know Jodi and her spirit, to know the Gra­hams and their cir­cle of fam­ily and friends, to know what’s pos­si­ble when the mi­nor hockey com­mu­nity wraps some­one in its arms.

It helps to ap­pre­ci­ate the mag­i­cal heal­ing power of a mother’s un­con­di­tional love and a sol­dier’s prayers.

Ch­eryl Gra­ham was too stub­born to ac­cept the pos­si­bil­ity of her only daugh­ter dy­ing that night, and she re­mains con­vinced that Jodi can re­cover, with the grace of God.

“ She’s so tough and strong,” says Ch­eryl, also the mother of two strap­ping Ottawa West hockey play­ers, Ryan, 21, and Colin ( C. J.), 14.

“ If it was one of the boys I’d be re­ally wor­ried,” Ch­eryl says, “ but not Jodi. She’s go­ing to be OK.”

Even the Cana­dian Forces are go­ing to bat­tle for her.

Sgt. Bob Beaudry works at the De­part­ment of Na­tional Defence, where Ch­eryl keeps health records but is on leave to care for Jodi.

Sgt. Beaudry has a blessed scapu­lar, twin pieces of holy, rec­tan­gu­lar cloth on a neck­lace, that he car­ried with him over­seas when he was a medic in the Gulf War and Bos­nia among other tours. When he heard about Jodi’s ac­ci­dent, he rushed the scapu­lar over to the Gra­hams. It clings to a pole next to Jodi’s bed, cast­ing a slight shadow on the source of all this good in­ten­tion.

Mul­ti­ple priests have vis­ited share their bless­ings.

“ With all the con­nec­tions,” Ch­eryl says, “ I think there are prayers for Jodi from around the world.”

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Jodi Gra­ham was a gifted soc­cer player. A sweeper in the Ne­pean Hot­spurs sys­tem, she de­lighted in set­ting up, nur­tur­ing other play­ers — which was also her man­ner off the pitch. Her pain tol­er­ance was so high she once played through what turned out to be a torn an­te­rior cru­ci­ate lig­a­ment in her knee, an in­jury that re­quired surgery and cut short her en­rol­ment on an ath­letic schol­ar­ship at the Univer­sity Col­lege in Cape Bre­ton in 2001.

She re­turned to Ottawa and worked for Agri­cul­ture Canada and Canada Post, con­tin­u­ing to play recre­ational soc­cer.

On a driz­zly May 18 evening, Jodi and a team­mate were on their way to a ladies league game when their Chevro­let Cobalt, mak­ing a left- hand turn into a park­ing lot, was struck by an on­com­ing SUV on Fal­low­field Road. Jodi bore the brunt of the crash while the two driv­ers es­caped se­ri­ous in­jury. As the car was struck and slammed into four other ve­hi­cles in a mini- mall lot, the side and front air bags ac­ti­vated, prob­a­bly sav­ing Jodi’s life.

Not that doc­tors at the Civic Cam­pus of the Ottawa Hospi­tal were con­ced­ing that point. When Ch­eryl and hus­band Ray rushed to hospi­tal, they weren’t given a lot of as­sur­ance or de­tail. In­stead, they re­ceived a one- word sug­ges­tion: “ Pray.”

The im­pact of the col­li­sion caused the type of brain in­jury that med­i­cal peo­ple of­ten re­fer to as “ shaken baby syn­drome.”

An MRI also showed spots on the brain stem, which may be signs of dam­age, or could be less se­ri­ous bruis­ing.

Bod­ily in­juries she has had to re­ha­bil­i­tate in­clude a dou­ble frac­ture of her left arm and a bro­ken clav­i­cle. Her right side has not yet awak­ened. Daily phys­io­ther­apy has helped her re­gain move­ment in her left arm, but lately it has been re­stricted some­what, rais­ing the pos­si­bil­ity that the shoul­der bone may be cut­ting into mus­cle.

Though she has al­ways breathed on her own, Jodi was given a tra­cheotomy to en­sure there were no breath­ing is­sues. She con­tin­ues to be fed through a tube.

Af­ter the ac­ci­dent, Jodi spent two weeks in the In­ten­sive Care Unit and six weeks in the Trauma Unit. Her mother rarely left her side, sleep­ing on wait­ing room couches. When the early re­ports were stark, Ch­eryl chose to ig­nore them and went with her heart in­stead. She looked at Jodi and saw hope, as only a mother could.

Dr. Richard Moul­ton, chief of neu­ro­surgery at the Civic, took spe­cial in­ter­est in Jodi. As usual, there is a hockey con­nec­tion. Dr. Moul­ton’s son, Sean, who wears the colours of Os­good­eRideau, has played with and against Jodi’s brother, Colin.

“ It was a bad in­jury,” Dr. Moul­ton said, “ but she has made good progress. She ob­vi­ously has a very de­voted fam­ily and they have done a lot for her.

“ It’s only been six months. Re­cov­ery from in­juries like this can take 18 to 24 months — it’s a long haul.”

Ev­ery day Jodi makes some small progress. On a good day, she gives a swift kick to the minia­ture soc­cer ball, hang­ing in a mesh bag above the foot of her bed — a gift from soc­cer pals Gina, San­dra and Michelle.

Jodi’s eyes are open, but she does not track a vis­i­tor’s move­ment across the room.

She does not speak, but com­mu­ni­cates by snap­ping fin­gers on her left hand for “ yes,” and clench­ing a fist for “ no.” She squeezes the hand of loved ones. Her friends say she can also be very ef­fec­tive with the use of her mid­dle fin­ger. On her birth­day, Nov. 1, Jodi stunned wit­nesses by hold­ing up two fin­gers, then five, to show her age.

The hope is that the baby steps grow into big­ger ones, once Jodi is ac­cepted at the “ Slow to Re­cover’’ pro­gram of Hamil­ton.

The pro­gram has only six beds and Jodi is on a wait­ing list. Pa­tients stay three to four months on av­er­age and can make sig­nif­i­cant strides.

Though Ch­eryl would love the wait to end “ to­mor­row,” a place­ment is more likely in the new year. Ch­eryl will tem­po­rar­ily move to Hamil­ton and Ray will visit on week­ends.

Teri Cza­jka is a clin­i­cal spe­cial­ist with Hamil­ton Health Ser­vices, an um­brella group that takes in the “ Slow to Re­cover’’ pro­gram.

“ The fo­cus is on qual­ity of life,” Ms. Cza­jka says. “ A lot of our clients have sig­nif­i­cant phys­i­cal and cog­ni­tive needs.”

The cen­tre helps pa­tients con­nect with their en­vi­ron­ment. Com­mu­ni­ca­tion is paramount.

“ We get them to par­tic­i­pate in their own care,” Ms. Cza­jka says.

The cen­tre is just as con­cerned for the well- be­ing of fam­i­lies. They have to be healthy, too, if the pa­tient is to progress fully. If needed, pa­tients can re­turn for a “ tune- up.” Al­ways there is fol­low- up.

“ I’m their con­tact,” Ms. Cza­jka says, “ for life.”

Ac­cord­ing to Dr. Moul­ton, the Hamil­ton hospi­tal was one of the first in the coun­try to work with pa­tients on the low end of the brain in­jury re­cov­ery scale. This has since be­come a growth area in medicine.

“ It’s a chal­leng­ing process,” said Dr. Moul­ton. “ Pa­tients with th­ese types of in­jury not only have to re­learn what they al­ready knew, they have to learn how to learn again.”

Che­doke

Hospi­tal

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“ Ra­di­ant” is the ad­jec­tive best friend Elisa Fer­rarin uses to de­scribe Jodi, her pal since they were two- year- old neigh­bours.

“ She’s the life of the party,” Elisa says. “ She lights up a room. Jodi is spon­ta­neous, en­er­getic, and she’s not a quit­ter. She’s not some­one who ever gives up on any­thing.”

For many sis­ters, lit­tle brothers are a pain. In the Gra­ham house­hold, Jodi is the glue that binds. Big sis­ter has driven Ryan and C. J. to their hockey events, wouldn’t miss a big game, even if it was in Pem­broke or be­yond.

If a work com­mit­ment got in the way, she’d en­cour­age Ben His­cock, the love of her life, to go.

“ It would mean a lot to C. J.,” she’d say.

Those who know her best find it hard to see her bedrid­den. She is usu­ally the source of com­fort.

“ If this had hap­pened to any­body else she was close to, she would be the one stand­ing be­side her, do­ing what­ever she could,” says Ben, his voice break­ing.

Ben’s grand­fa­ther is Howard Riopelle, a leg­end in the Ottawa ath­letic com­mu­nity and a for­mer Mon­treal Cana­di­ens player in the late 1940s. Howard and wife Mar­jorie are among the many who have lov­ingly signed the house guest jour­nal on Larose. “ Jodi is cool.” “ Jodi Rocks.” “ Princess Jodi.” Th­ese are the cov­ers of get- well cards that line the walls and doors of Larose Av­enue, from some of Jodi’s youngest ad­mir­ers. Jodi Gra­ham al­ways was a pied piper for kids. When Ben would visit his lit­tle nieces, Jodi was the one who brought gifts. They have come to adore her for her at­ten­tion and care.

When Jodi is wheeled for a walk in the neigh­bour­hood, “ a train of chil­dren ap­pears.”

It’s not the only train in the Gra­hams’ lives since the ac­ci­dent. Within days, the hockey moms of the Ottawa West Hockey As­so­ci­a­tion, led by Judy Ma­jic, Kathy Egan and Nancy Nadeau had set up a “ meal train” that de­liv­ered hot, ready- to- eat din­ner to the Gra­hams’ door be­tween 5 and 5: 30 p. m. nightly. That train would still be rolling if Ch­eryl hadn’t fi­nally blown the whis­tle to stop it.

Farm­ing fam­i­lies in the Ottawa Val­ley know this kind of sup­port. The hockey world is sim­i­larly close.

Ray ( Slim) Gra­ham is one of the most beloved men in the puck com­mu­nity, a long­time coach and hockey dad who calls ev­ery­one “ Slim.” A roofer by trade, Ray con­tin­ues to bat­tle his frus­tra­tion and anger over the ac­ci­dent.

Ch­eryl, a fa­mous hockey mom, is given to warm bear hugs. If she’s weary from pro­vid­ing ’ round- the­clock nurs­ing care to Jodi, it doesn’t show in this re­mark­able wo­man.

Colin was a mem­ber of the Ottawa West novice A team that won the 2002 In­ter­na­tional Sil­ver Stick cham­pi­onship. Ryan was part of three East­ern On­tario Jr. B. ti­tles with Ottawa West.

Ben was also a cap­tain and cham­pion with the Jr. B Knights and is now coach of the mi­nor mid­gets.

Dozens of Ottawa West play­ers are wear­ing ‘‘ J. G.’’ patches on their sweaters this sea­son in her hon­our — the dots af­ter the ini­tials J. G. are in the shape of hearts.

Ottawa West fam­i­lies are among the reg­u­lar vis­i­tors to the Gra­ham house­hold, but so, too, are par­ents from the ban­tam Ottawa Sting team, which has sev­eral play­ers who have played with Colin.

Ther­a­pists who come into the home daily say they have never seen any­thing like this sus­tained sup­port for six months.

Ch­eryl can’t turn around with­out find­ing an­other shoul­der on which to lean. Her sis­ter, Teresa, is in from the Wind­sor area for a sec­ond lengthy stay and is a source of strength.

Jodi’s cousin, David, stops by ev­ery morn­ing and could have a sec­ond ca­reer as a mas­sage ther­a­pist. Ben is there ev­ery night af­ter his teach­ing day is over.

“ It was scary when she first came home, very scary,” Ch­eryl says. “ But there’s al­ways a mom here. I don’t think I’ve been alone.

“ The sup­port has been un­be­liev­able. We are sur­rounded by peo­ple who are so lov­ing and car­ing. They’re all so pos­i­tive. They say, ‘ you’re look­ing great, Jodi, you’re get­ting so much bet­ter, Jodi.’”

Ottawa West and the Jr. B. Knights have or­ga­nized a ben­e­fit night for Jodi — Nov. 30 at Bar­bara Ann Scott Arena. The Knights play the Ottawa South Cana­di­ans at 7: 30 p. m.

Brian Kil­rea, the Ottawa 67’ s Hall of Fame coach and gen­eral man­ager, will drop the puck for the cer­e­mo­nial face­off.

Toronto Maple Leafs de­fence­man Bren­dan Bell, a for­mer 67’ s cap­tain who played his mi­nor hockey at Ottawa West, has do­nated a team- au­to­graphed Leafs sweater and a Mats Sundin hockey stick, among the many items avail­able in the silent auc­tion be­tween pe­ri­ods.

Tick­ets to the game are $ 5 and avail­able through all Ottawa West team man­agers. For more in­for­ma­tion, con­tact Ottawa West trea­surer Bob Scaini at 613- 728- 9879.

The hockey as­so­ci­a­tion has also set up a trust fund in Jodi Gra­ham’s name. Do­na­tions can be made at any Canada Trust branch. Though the fam­ily has health in­sur­ance to cover most of Jodi’s needs, there are bound to be ex­tra ex­penses down the road.

If pos­si­ble, Jodi will at­tend the ben­e­fit game with her mom and dad, an­other small step for the Come­back Kid, who con­tin­ues to make be­liev­ers out of her big­gest fans.

“ I think deep inside she knows she has to do this, not just for her,” friend Elisa says, “ but for ev­ery­one else who has been here for her.”

JULIE OLIVER, THE OT­TAWA CIT­I­ZEN

‘ She’s so tough and strong,’ says Ch­eryl Gra­ham of her daugh­ter, Jodi, who suf­fered a brain in­jury in a car ac­ci­dent in May. Be­fore the crash, Jodi was a soc­cer star, be­low.

JULIE OLIVER, THE OT­TAWA CIT­I­ZEN

Above, dozens of Ot­tawa West hockey play­ers are wear­ing ‘‘ J. G.’’ patches on their sweaters this sea­son in Jodi’s hon­our — the dots af­ter the ini­tials J. G. are in the shape of hearts. At top, a fam­ily photo shows Jodi, mid­dle, and friends when they...

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