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Julian Saavedra

Personal Stories

Julian Saavedra

Check out Julián Saavedra's translations of our Synapse publications into Spanish


When a family is impacted by Acquired Brain Injury (ABI), each member may experience a period of emotional crisis, while the loved one is often left to come to terms with some loss of normal functioning. This was particularly the case for a family from Columbia where the father and son have both acquired brain injuries. Through their love of language and their culture this family is learning to overcome their challenges.

Libardo, Dora and Julian Saavedra left their family home in Bogota Colombia twelve years ago to seek refuge in Australia. It would be a very stressful period for the family as this decision to immigrate was prompted by Libardo's life being threatened as a result of his writings on drug trafficking and the guerrilla movement. As an anthropologist he was well published, and his own shrewd assessment of the impact of corruption in his own country compelled him to write of it in his work.

Shortly after their arrival, Libardo experienced a stroke. With the support of his wife Dora and son Julian, Libardo and his family successfully worked on adjusting to the impact of ABI as well as settling themselves. Libardo had some loss of mobility and now relies on a walking stick. Thankfully his speech, love of writing and language were preserved, abilities that would play a pivotal role in assisting the family with weathering the further challenges to come.

Despite multiple strokes, Libardo continued to write, and in 2004 successfully completed and published a book called The Hispanic Communities. His book pays homage to the influence of Hispanic cultures across the globe, and he chose to dedicate his book to Dora.

Libardo's dedication to recovery could easily be summed up by the opening comment that he makes in this book: "To all the Hispanics that live outside their country, proudly showing to the world that they can stand out by working hard, with integrity, joy and optimism."

Tragically, a few years later, Libardo's son Julian was involved in a motor vehicle accident. Just graduated from high school and due to commence study in linguistics, Julian walked onto a road and was hit head-on by a car. He was under the influence of alcohol and according to Julian his friends at that time "were numerous but they were not the kinds of friends that looked out for me".

Julian was rushed to the Royal Brisbane Hospital with a severe traumatic brain injury. His cheekbone was fractured, the right side of his body was injured, and his right lung had collapsed. He had multiple fractures to his pelvis and skull. Later his doctor would say that because his injuries to his skull allowed the blood to flow-out rather than build-up inside his cranium it may have played a part in preventing further brain damage and loss of functioning.

Julian received rehabilitation at the Princess Alexandra Hospital where he underwent occupational therapy and speech therapy. After two months of therapy Julian recovered his speech.

"I remember waking up in the Royal Hospital and trying to speak but the words did not come out; thankfully with great effort it gradually returned," said Julian.

According to Julian he remembers being in a wheelchair, being pushed around and craving solid food. Dora, a constant support to Julian at this time, would push Julian in his wheelchair to the outside gardens so he could feel the sunlight.

Dora was now an important emotional support for both Libardo and Julian, and it would be at her suggestion that Julian set himself the goal of translating a book into Spanish.

"It was an opportunity to search for an occupation for him, to assist with his concentration. I didn't know how useful it would be but it served as a great motivation for him," said Dora.

Before his accident, Julian had set his sight on linguistics as a career, and with his recovery he was able to continue this pursuit. With the support of his family, Julian set himself the goal of translating a book called Surviving Acquired Brain Injury produced by Synapse.

Chapter by chapter, Julian translated the book with his mother and father proof-reading and adding suggestions and changes as they went. After four months the translation was complete.

"I found the book to be an excellent help, particularly the chapters related to motivation and sexuality," said Julian.

In 2011, Julian completed his project. Over 300 pages of text were translated into Spanish. The project brought them all closer together. Working together on each chapter, they all learnt about brain injury and the ways that it can change someone's life. As they translated chapters this would also be sent to the rest of the family back in South America so they could also learn about ABI.

Julian is now translating another Synapse publication called ABI - The Facts. "I feel like a survivor, motivated and keen to take the next step and to move on with life", says Julian.

Julian believes that the hardest thing to accept is that life has changed. Clearly Julian is learning to adapt and is working toward focusing on his strengths. "There is not much help for people like me. I have a brain injury but this is not an intellectual disability."

Julian is now twenty years old and is acutely aware of the financial difficulties that he must overcome if he wishes to move out from his parents' home and have his own place. Needing money to improve his community access and to have the chance to socialise with other people of his age is another concern for Julian. He is interested in learning Russian now, and when he isn't translating he listens to music (Bjork is a favourite) and likes watching the work of international film makers.

Julian visits his extended family in Colombia occasionally, and has set his sights on advancing his skills. His next goal is to enroll at a university.
"I am lucky to have my mum next to me, without her I would be lost." "I don't want to offer advice to others with ABI because each person's journey is different. However, what I would say is that it helps to work very hard at your rehabilitation and be patient."

"At some point everything looks grim and destroyed, but in real life, it is not like that, it can get better", he said.

Julian now feels strongly against excessive alcohol consumption, particularly by people of his own age group. He believes that "you really don't need to consume a lot of alcohol to have fun and party".

"Alcohol can destroy their lives, I now know that it's best to pay attention to what my parents say, they are just trying to avoid their children getting into trouble."

"If you're a young person with an ABI don't feel down or sad or destroyed because everything will improve, everyday you are alive you are blessed. Be strong."

Synapse would like to sincerely thank Julian Saavedra and his family for their support and hard work in translating our publication. We wish them well for the future.


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