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02 October 2018

Meet OACRS 40th Scholarship Recipient: Hannah Boamah

By Berton Woodward
First came the migraine, pounding behind her right eye for more than a week. Then, while being checked at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children on the last day of Grade 11, Hannah Boamah suddenly collapsed and fell into a coma. When she woke up a month later from successive induced comas, she was unable to move her left side – arm, leg or face. She had had three brain surgeries and would have to learn to walk again.

Yet if anyone could prove to be up to such a challenge, it’s surely Hannah, now 18. Ever since she was in Grade 8, she has been set on becoming a registered nurse. “I like science, and I thought about what I could do with science and also help people,” she says. Throughout her time at Langstaff Secondary School in Richmond Hill, Ontario, she was a passionate volunteer, fundraiser and leadership coach. Twice she received advanced placement. So it was natural that she would put all of her drive and focus into improving her damaged body with the help of two Ontario Association for Children’s Rehabilitation Centres member facilities – first Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital in Toronto, then the Children’s Treatment Network of Simcoe-York in Richmond Hill.

And natural, too, that in 2018, shortly before her Grade 12 graduation in June, Hannah would receive the OACRS Scholarship, thanks to a suggestion from one of her therapists. “Hannah is a natural leader—she inspires everyone she meets,” says OACRS CEO Jennifer Churchill. “Her energy and passion are contagious. So is her smile.”

But Hannah’s journey has been anything but easy. It turned out she was suffering from a fierce, flu-based type of sinusitis infection that spread to the right side of her brain, disabling her left side. For months she had no bone cover on her right skull, until a plastic replacement was inserted. She began moving around in a wheelchair. Slowly, with the help of her therapists, she was able to graduate to a walker, then a four-point cane and finally a single-point cane. Her face—even her tongue—came back as well, but her left arm is taking longer. She has regained some motor control in her hand and can move her wrist, but more remains to be done. “I still have a lot of weakness,” she says.

Hannah is grateful to her physiotherapists and other professionals for her progress. “My physiotherapist pushes me to my limits,” she says. “She makes me realize I have a lot more potential. I really respect that.”
Although she was out of school for the first semester of Grade 12, she still graduated on time thanks to all the advance credits she had amassed. In fact, in one sense her affliction helped. “I did a whole presentation on my illness, and I got an A+,” she laughs. “I used my situation a lot for school this year, in every course!” She also gave talks to visiting students at Holland Bloorview.
She plans to take fall 2018 off for further recovery, then hopes to use her scholarship to enter Seneca College’s pre-health program in January 2019, on the road to nursing. The irony is not lost on her that she’s now had so many nurses herself. “All of them became my best friends,” she says. “I’ve learned so much from them.”

Read about all of the 2018 OACRS Scholarship Recipients