Creative Health Activity Hub volunteer Jo Trandafil knows better than most how grueling the road to recovery can be after a traumatic brain injury.
In 2018, Jo was taken to the Lyell McEwin Hospital after one of her managers noticed something was off, having been unable to lift anything with her right arm.
Doctors ruled out stroke but booked Jo in for an MRI and discovered she had an arteriovenous malformation – a tangle of blood vessels connecting arteries to her brain.
Jo was rushed to the Royal Adelaide Hospital (RAH) where she underwent three surgical procedures, which ultimately caused her brain to swell.
A shunt was put in to help alleviate the swelling but instead caused a brain infection, kidney infection and internal bleeding.
Those complications caused Jo to be paralysed on the right side of her body.
She spent three months in the RAH but doesn’t remember any of it, recounting only what the doctors had told her.
Jo was transferred to Hampstead to begin three months of rehabilitation where she had to learn to do everything again.
“When I was in Hampstead I had a peer support worker that they introduced me to. When I was starting to go home I was worried about a lot of things, so they brought in someone that had gone through it,” she said.
“She really helped me, she became my person and I kind of went ‘that’s what I want to do, I want to help people’.
“I made a promise to myself that when I got my license back and when I was a little more independent that’s what I would do. I started at Hampstead as a peer support mentor and then I came out to the Repat.”
Activity Hub a ‘really special place’
When Jo first stepped foot in the Activity Hub, she immediately knew it was where she needed to be.
Led by Diversional Therapist Brad Wilson, the Hub is filled with a treasure trove of equipment, tools and materials and is designed to aid brain and spinal injury patients in their recovery.
But one particular machine caught Jo’s eye during her induction.
“I said to Brad: ‘You’ve got a Cricut machine’ and he didn’t know how to use it,” she said.
“The setup I have here is the exact same one I have at home, my family bought it for me for my occupational therapy because I had to learn to use my hand again.”
Known to patients as ‘Sparkly Jo’, she spends her Friday mornings at the Hub as a Creative Health volunteer before heading onto the wards for one-on-one sessions in the afternoon for the CALHN Volunteer Services Unit.
She says that being able to play a small part in a patient’s recovery is “the most rewarding thing” she’s done, especially as someone who has walked the same path.
“People come out of comas and have gifts, but I think this is my gift just to be involved with these people,” she said.
“It’s just those little things that you can say to people, it’s the difference between empathy and sympathy because you know what they are going through so you can relate to them.”
The Hub is a safe space.
It provides patients with an outlet to get away from the ward and the freedom to do something different, helping to reduce anxiety, improve mental health and support their rehabilitation.
“The Hub is music, its laughter, its noise, its happiness, its joy. I don’t think people realise the importance of it,” Jo said.
“People say you do arts and crafts, its more than that. It is a really special place.”