In 2006, Lies Ferriman’s 15-year-old son Sasha sustained a severe brain injury while snowboarding. He was in a coma for 10 days and spent seven months at Holland Bloorview in intensive rehab as both an inpatient and outpatient.
Five years later, Lies (above) became a family mentor at the hospital, sharing her firsthand experience with other parents of children who are inpatients.
“Holland Bloorview was like a lifeline when we were here,” Lies says. “So I wanted to give back to other families who are experiencing similar things. I want to impart the fact that you’re in this horrible situation at the moment, but it will get better. It will become a new normal.”
Once a week Lies and a family support specialist invite parents of children who are inpatients to meet in the Family Resource Centre. “We go onto the unit and knock on doors and introduce ourselves and invite them downstairs,” Lies says.
Each meeting is an opportunity to share practical information—like resources and funding available in the community—but also to talk about how families are coping with their child’s rehab and “to listen to any burning issues the parents have,” Lies says.
“There’s a sense of community and a sense that you don’t feel so alone. We try to have the topics very broad so that they address a variety of disabilities and there are nuggets parents can glean that are useful for their child. I’m also amazed with the different cultures and religions we get around the table—it’s like a cross-section of the world. And it’s useful to have all of these different perspectives.”
Lies says parents often feel comfortable confiding their concerns and experiences with a parent who’s walked in similar shoes. “They tend to be completely open with us.”
She says she needed a few years’ distance from her son’s injury before she was ready to support families. “You need to be emotionally ready,” she says. “You need to have some distance where you can look back, and your feelings aren’t still raw.”
Lies says the qualities she brings are an ability to listen to family stories and to share part of her story when it relates to a situation which a parent may bring up. “I’m very passionate about my role. And it’s a reciprocal experience. I get so much out of it.”
Lies has logged over 700 volunteer hours in her work as a Holland Bloorview family leader. In this video she talks about what it's like to cope with a child's acquired disability.