The Side Hustle: Support for Brain Injuries with @keepyourheadupkw

When we experience an unexpected trauma, relying on our community can be one of the most valuable pieces of our recovery —  a network of people who can empathize and provide support.

Through their newly established passion project @keepyourheadupkw, Kitchener-Waterloo’s own Allie Harrison and Felicia Corrado are making this kind of support more accessible, particularly to those who are recovering from brain injuries.

“Felicia and I went to high school together locally and we both sustained sports-related concussions during that time that continue to affect us now. We became a support system for each other,” Harrison said.

The two remained part of each other’s journeys throughout their studies at the University of Waterloo, where Corrado received a Bachelor of Public Health and Harrison is currently finishing a Bachelor of Health Studies. Their commitment to establishing a career in the health industry is unmistakably motivated by their own personal experiences.

“Since our injuries happened, there has been so much progress in the field of concussion awareness … but what we still find is that people who find themselves in that position often struggle to learn about what kind of support they need, where to find it and how to advocate for themselves,” Harrison said.

Their intrinsic motivation to make an impact has led them to team up and share their own experiences with the public.

“We’ve created a platform through Instagram and our goal is to build an online community that offers hope for individuals going through similar journeys. We want to remind those enduring a seemingly never-ending recovery that there is a light at the end of the tunnel,” Harrison said.

Behind the scenes, the duo is busy fleshing out ambitious plans to centralize information about support for brain injuries to aid in the process of recovery.

“There is no clear cut path [to recovery] for every person because every concussion is different. There are a lot of support services available, but they’re often siloed and not well connected to each other, which can make it difficult for someone experiencing the symptoms of a concussion to navigate. You wouldn’t ask someone with a broken leg to run around jumping through hoops to get the medical care they need, so it shouldn’t be such a difficult research process to find support for a brain injury,” Harrison said.

“We want to go beyond teaching people about the signs and symptoms … we’re putting together an education program that allows individuals to put themselves in the shoes of someone facing a concussion and identify the kind of support that is available to them should they ever need it,” Corrado said.

“We don’t want to generalize [this education] based on what our personal experiences were. We have been meeting with all kinds of different experts in the community — medical authors, physical therapists, concussion researches, etc. — and gaining their insights to broaden our perspectives,” she added.

With plans to take this interactive education program into high schools, their intention is to not only support youth facing similar injuries but to provide their parents, teachers and coaches with the knowledge they can use to do so as well. In addition, Corrado and Harrison plan to coordinate community events that they hope will aid in other areas of brain rehabilitation.

“Social isolation is a big issue for people who suffer from concussions and it can be detrimental to that person’s mental health. We want to shed light on that and provide opportunities for people to get out of the house and participate in fun activities that won’t create more symptoms, alongside people who understand what they’re going through,” Corrado said.

Recently having become a yoga instructor, Harrison is completing a certification through an organization called Love Your Brain that will allow her to teach yoga for people affected by brain injuries as well, adding even more value to their programming.

Corrado commented on the overwhelmingly supportive response this community has showed them since the launch of their platform.

“We didn’t imagine things would progress as quickly as they already have and honestly, we’re flabbergasted! It has really reaffirmed how much of a need there is for this type of support in our community and we’re so excited to move forward,” she said.