Ryan Croft’s home Sunshine Coast home is a sea of calm. Fragrant incense wafts across the room, soft music plays in the background and beautiful artwork adorn the walls or propped on easels. A man with sparkling blue eyes and an easy smile welcomes you and you can’t help but return that smile immediately. Ryan is a man with an effortless sense of humour and a passion for life and beauty. Ryan also lives with acquired brain injury (ABI).
In his late teens, Ryan had dreams of becoming the next Darren Hayes while working as a graphic designer at a high-end advertising firm. Then, at age 19 all that changed for him.
“I woke up in hospital and it was like being reborn, it was like I was a newborn baby. I still had my 19-year-old body, but I couldn’t do anything,” Ryan, now 47, recalls.
“I woke up in hospital with my mother tending to my toileting and I couldn’t understand what had happened. And I couldn’t communicate. I felt like I was in a clag glue dream. Like my brain was on pause. I was trying to move but everything was so slow, like I was in a dreamlike state.”
Ryan’s ABI was the result of a beating outside a pub during a night out with friends. He was left in a gutter, choking on his own vomit, resulting in a lack of oxygen to his brain. He goes on to explain how having cognitive diversity leaves him being confronted by not only indifference, but open hostility by the general public. Despite this, Ryan is refreshingly honest about his disability when meeting new people, attempting to put them at ease by explaining how he might get overly excited or effusive, something he feels might be beyond what is ‘socially acceptable’.
Ryan lives with his partner Bernard, who is also his carer. Ryan notes that Bernard doesn’t view him as brain injury first and a person second. Determined to empower his own life after the incident, Ryan has been proactive in his own rehabilitation over the last 27 years to return to, as he puts it, “…for want of a better word, normal.”
The reality is Ryan knows that he has an ABI that is not, “like a grazed knee. It is never going to get better” but what can be improved for Ryan and others like him, is his quality of life.
As part of his ongoing therapies and life goals set out in his NDIS plan, Ryan accesses his support coordination through 121 Care to help him access services he needs to make that happen.
“The support coordination services has helped me line up things that I’ve needed to do. A lot of, I guess you could say the organisational structure behind the need to get the therapy done and arrange things which was a little bit beyond my scope, I didn’t know how to, or didn’t have the ability to utilise those, and they have sort of put that in place for me,” Ryan said of 121 Care.
One of those therapies accessed is the MOllii Suit through Suncoast Integrated Therapies on the Sunshine Coast, which Ryan said, has made a huge difference for him.
“Since I’ve been using MOllii Suit therapy, my friends and support coordinator have commented on less gait in my walk, the slur in my speech has quite improved so that’s not as evident as it was before, and also I think my cognitive function has improved also,” he said.
“But primarily I think it’s the gait in my walk, and the physical disability this (ABI) has left me with that has lessened and I’m not dragging my foot, scuffing my foot as I’m walking. MOllii has worked wonderfully for me.”
MOllii is a functional garment that consists of a jacket and a pair of pants with a computer control unit that sends electrical signals to the targeted areas of the body via electrodes. MOllii is an assistive technology with a unique application for people with spasticity, motor impairment, increased or decreased muscular tension, mobility issues and muscular pain and be used by people for a number of muscular and neurological conditions in adults and children alike. MOllii can be rented or purchased under the NDIS plan.
Bernard too has noticed the improvements for Ryan under MOllii therapy.
“The Mollii suit has been incredible for Ryan. There’s less awkwardness to his gait. Ryan also used to have a posture problem which is just about completely gone,” Bernard said.
“Aside from the physical aspect of correcting his posture, this has also impacted his self-esteem, where (before) when he was in public, people now no longer stare at him or hurl abuse because he walks differently.”
For Ryan, MOllii also assists in what he says is, “the fog of my brain, where it’s hard to know what you should be doing, where you should be going.”
“I used MOllii twice a week (but) funding became limited and I am currently doing a functional capacity assessment to put a review for NDIS (funding) so hopefully that can increase my funding, give me more MOllii suit therapy because primarily that is what is benefitting me.”
Prior to receiving support coordination assistance, Ryan felt lost and unable to navigate the services that he needed, but the services he now accesses have given him freedom and a focus and direction to live his best life.
“Occasionally I just email them (support coordinator) back and say, ‘hey, this is working or this isn’t working, can we look at this such as getting more funding for my NDIS plan so I can continue with this fabulous MOllii suit,” he said.
Ryan lives a full and loving life, forgiving of things that would be for most people, beyond forgiveness. Well-read, fiercely intelligent and with an abundance of creativity, this extraordinary man has a life outlook that is truly humbling. With the assistance of his loving partner, 121 Care and MOllii, Ryan’s future looks as bright as the twinkle in his eyes.
One in five Queenslanders live with a disability. The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates that over 700,000 Australians are living with ABI, with as many as two out of every three acquiring their brain injury before the age of 25. Three quarters of people with a brain injury are men.
Disability Action Week is held from 13 – 19 September 2020.