Greg Goldberg

Greg Goldberg

Brain injury survivor works hard to give back

With mind-bending quizzes and dropped tomatoes, Greg Goldberg works hard to help people and raise awareness about traumatic brain injuries

Are you still a genius?

The question lingers in my mind as I ponder a riddle set out by Greg Goldberg. I’m not feeling like a genius and my grey matter isn’t serving me especially well, but I’ve got nothing to complain about.

Seated around Goldberg are four guys whose brains betray them on a daily basis. They tend to forget things, struggle with problem solving, and can have fits of anger and impulsiveness.

But on this night, they’re concentrated on brain-bending cognitive exercises while recording a Internet-broadcast game show called “Are You Still a Genius?,” one of Goldberg’s programs to help people recover from traumatic brain injuries.

He lays out the question: Make “new door” one word. The four men chuckle a bit as I struggle. The answer is “one word.” Goldberg smiles as he tells me they can always add more contestants to the game show.

“We try to use all areas of the brain for cognitive ability,” he says. “This question is the logical going against the spatial.”

Goldberg hosts his game show at Mary Cridge Manor, a nondescript apartment block on Yates Street that houses a dozen brain injury survivors, and is operated by the Cridge Centre for the Family.

The men enjoy an easy going camaraderie  – they have dinner, chat and tell off-coloured jokes. For the broadcast, Goldberg audio records their answers and stitches together a video using the men’s photos and slides of the questions. Now finished its second season, the game has a dedicated following and a stable of sponsors – Safeway, Tim Hortons, Starbucks, Arby’s and Thrifty Foods.

“’Are You Still a Genius?’ has caught fire. Last year we had 30 or 40 (online) visitors. Now its up to 150 to 160. Last week it was over 200,” Goldberg says. “It forces you to think outside the box. A lot of people who watch the show think its easy to compete against brain injury survivors. I get emails saying ‘they do a lot better than me.’”

Goldberg declares Bill Cawker, 51, the evening’s winner, although as Cawker says, it more about “food, fellowship and camaraderie.”

“You come here and realize you’re not the only one with problems,” Peter Brozik, 62, who suffered a stroke. “It’s fun. I like to laugh. It’s fun to see how different guys relate to this kind of thing.”

“I like interacting with other survivors with traumatic brain injuries. I know I have a place to go to and relate to other people without discrimination – except for that guy,” jokes Adam Rich, 35, pointing to Ben Smith, a stroke survivor. They have a laugh.

Goldberg, 45, a resident of Oak Bay, developed the game a part of the Blue Sheet Club, his free volunteer service to help brain injury survivors and their families cope with the inevitable and long-term changes to their lives. No two brain injuries are exactly the same, but personality changes, mood swings, impulse control and memory problems form a common thread.

The B.C. Brain Injury Association estimates about 22,000 people in B.C. suffer brain injuries each year. A 2011 study by the Cridge showed at least half of the homeless population have brain injuries, and most of those suffered the injury before becoming homeless.

“Changes after a brain injury are significant. It effects relationships, controlling anger, maintaining a job, basic life skills,” says Geoff Sing, manager of brain injury services at the Cridge Centre. “Personal relationships break down, you lose your job. There is significant loss. A brain injury … can have a huge cost to society.”

As a school teacher working in Ontario, Goldberg suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) after a gravel truck slammed into his car in 1998. He had a new wife, a job he loved and “the white picket fence.”

“I’m married, I have a house, I’m the happiest guy in the world. Bam – it’s all gone,” he says. “Life can be altered in a flash.

“I made a promise that if I got healthy again, I’d do everything I could to give back to brain injury survivors and make the journey as smooth as I can.”

Goldberg spent years in recovery and therapy, going through a typical arc of a TBI survivor. His marriage dissolved and he couldn’t concentrate enough to maintain his teaching job. He was angry and confrontational – stores across Toronto banned him from entering. “I got into a lot of trouble with a very, very short fuse. I got mad at anything.”

He moved to Victoria about 10 years ago while writing a book about his recovery – Time with the Temporal Lobe – in co-operation with the Canadian Brain Injury Association.

Physical exercise and blind determination allowed Goldberg to reach a point where he can help others, although effects from his injuries linger. He has nerve damage on the right side of his body, a permanent numbness, along with short term memory problems and fatigue.

Through the Cridge, Goldberg is the social co-ordinator for brain injury survivors – events such as movies, outings, chatting and the game show. Goldberg’s recovery was marked with long periods of isolation – he knows socializing is a key facet on the road to recovery.

“(These guys) aren’t hard to work with. I know what they are going through,” he says. “They have outbursts, they won’t show up, they’ll be late and forget things. I know. I forget too. It’s about acceptance, knowing there is no judgment and understanding they can be themselves.”

Goldberg’s latest project, “helmet hair,” is an effort to raise awareness about wearing a helmet while cycling and engaging in other risky activities. His inspiration emerged from a news article about people refusing to wear bike helmets for short trips, as it messed up their hair.

These days he’s spreading around stickers bearing “Helmet hair or long term care” and “Helmet head or hospital bed,” and is speaking at elementary schools across Greater Victoria.

As a prop, he drops four tomatoes that represent the lobes of the brain on the floor, with and without a helmet. Bruise your parietal lobe? Perhaps you won’t be able to taste Christmas dinner, he tells the kids, or smell that turkey coming out of the oven.

“When they see the tomatoes get crushed, they know. They get excited and become part of the cause,” Goldberg says. “They know the brain is a valuable organ. Kids put on helmets. They believe in it. They aren’t about judgment or looking cool.”

The “helmet hair” campaign has picked up steam and found sponsorship, and should keep Goldberg occupied well into 2013. Last year he remarried and through 15 long years of incremental recovery, has built a new life for himself.

“A big thing is to work within your limitations and accept that it’s OK to fail,” he says. “A patient won’t get better tomorrow or next week. It’s a long process. You just have to do the best you can every day.”

To see the Are You Still a Genius? game show see www.tbitalks.com. To contact Goldberg about the helmet hair campaign email greg@tbitalks.com.

editor@saanichnews.com

 

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Royal Roads University president Philip Steenkamp said they are aware of hateful graffiti spray-painted in an area of the forest surrounding the campus. The graffiti in question includes anti-Semitic content and a racial slur towards Black people. (Facebook/Royal Roads University)
Anti-Semitic, hateful graffiti spotted in forest near Royal Roads University

Royal Roads working with West Shore RCMP to remove graffiti “as soon as possible”

A cougar was spotted at Royal Roads University on Sunday, Jan. 24. The sighting was reported on the western edge of the campus. (File photo)
Cougar spotted at Royal Roads University Sunday afternoon

Animal reported on western side of campus near Colwood Fire Department

Saanich-based St. Luke’s Players community theatre company has been making the most of their opportunities to keep busy during the pandemic, including staging a Christmastime panto of Alice in Wonderland on Zoom. (Courtesy St. Luke’s Players)
Saanich’s St. Luke’s Players: Bringing the stage to the people

Community theatre company holding online auditions Jan. 23-24 for March production

Frank Bourree was awarded the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce’s first Governors’ Award of Distinction for his leadership in the business community. (Courtesy of Frank Bourree)
Frank Bourree receives award of distinction from Victoria chamber

Award recognizes positive role model in business community

The Habitat for Humanity Meaning of Home contest is open to students in Grades 5 to 6. (Screenshot/Habitat for Humanity video)
Habitat for Humanity launches national writing contest

Entries accepted from students in Grades 4 to 6 until Feb. 19

Terrance Josephson of the Princeton Posse, at left, and Tyson Conroy of the Summerland Steam clash during a Junior B hockey game at the Summerland Arena in the early spring of 2020. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
QUIZ: How much do you know about hockey?

Test your knowledge of Canada’s national winter sport

A woman injects herself with crack cocaine at a supervised consumption site Friday, Jan. 22, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Drug users at greater risk of dying as services scale back in second wave of COVID-19

It pins the blame largely on a lack of supports, a corrupted drug supply

Wet’suwet’en supporters and Coastal GasLink opponents continue to protest outside the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, February 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
‘We’re still in it’: Wet’suwet’en push forward on rights recognition

The 670-km Coastal GasLink pipeline was approved by B.C. and 20 elected First Nations councils on its path

The sky above Mt. Benson in Nanaimo is illuminated by flares as search and rescuers help an injured hiker down the mountain to a waiting ambulance. (Photo courtesy Nanaimo Search and Rescue)
Search plane lights up Nanaimo mountain with flares during icy rope rescue

Rescuers got injured hiker down Mt. Benson to a waiting ambulance Saturday night

Jennifer Cochrane, a Public Health Nurse with Prairie Mountain Health in Virden, administers the COVID-19 vaccine to Robert Farquhar with Westman Regional Laboratory, during the first day of immunizations at the Brandon COVID-19 vaccination supersite in Brandon, Man., on Monday, January 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tim Smith - POOL
Top doctor urges Canadians to keep up with COVID measures, even as vaccines roll out

More than 776,606 vaccines have been administered so far

From the left: Midway RCMP Csts. Jonathan Stermscheg and Chris Hansen, Public Servant Leanne Mclaren and Cpl. Phil Peters. Pictured in the front are Mclaren’s dog, Lincoln and Peters’ dog, Angel. Photo courtesy of BC RCMP
B.C. Mounties commended for bringing firewood to elderly woman

Cpl. Phil Peters said he and detachment members acted after the woman’s husband went to hospital

Dr. Jerome Leis and Dr. Lynfa Stroud are pictured at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto on Thursday, January 21, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
‘It wasn’t called COVID at the time:’ One year since Canada’s first COVID-19 case

The 56-year-old man was admitted to Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre

An Uber driver’s vehicle is seen after the company launched service, in Vancouver, Friday, Jan. 24, 2020. Several taxi companies have lost a court bid to run Uber and Lyft off the road in British Columbia. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Taxi companies lose court bid to quash Uber, Lyft approvals in British Columbia

Uber said in a statement that the ruling of the justice is clear and speaks for itself

Nanaimo Regional General Hospital. (News Bulletin file photo)
COVID-19 outbreak declared at Nanaimo hospital

Two staff members and one patient have tested positive, all on the same floor

Most Read