Disrupting the narrative
After a severe childhood brain injury, Western Law student Mason Bruner-Moore takes control of his story with the help of donors.
By Cassie Dowse
On a summer day at a park in Ilderton, Ontario, Mason Bruner-Moore’s life forever changed.
After falling out of a tree, the then 10-year-old was rushed by ambulance to Children’s Hospital, London Health Sciences Centre. He was unconscious.
What followed was a parent’s worst nightmare. As Mason lay in a coma, doctors told his family that he had a severe brain injury, and the outlook for recovery was grim. Utterly devastated, the young family felt like time had come to a halt.
When Mason finally woke, his parents saw a glimmer of hope. They understood that his recovery would likely be long and fraught, but they maintained a positive mindset and leaned on each other for support. Mason’s mom Marni, an emergency department nurse, took a year off work to dedicate herself to his care full time.
“When I began rehabilitation, it was very challenging,” Mason recalls. “My injuries were extensive, including severe left-side paralysis, and cognitive and learning difficulties. I had to re-learn basic skills such as reading, writing and walking.”
Though he made progress with his recovery, many aspects of life were now completely different. An active child prior to the accident, Mason could no longer participate in gym class, recess activities or on his hockey team—the risk of re-injury was too great.
Beyond physical injuries, the accident greatly impacted Mason’s mental health and sense of self-worth. The consequences of the injury often left him feeling isolated and frustrated. Though his parents wanted to help him work through those complex emotions, Mason avoided the subject and internalized many of the stigmas attached to individuals with disabilities.
“Through many years of rehabilitation, I subscribed to a harmful narrative as a person who believed that I couldn’t achieve anything meaningful in my life,” he says.
Mason went into the construction industry after graduating high school. He started a tiling company but didn’t develop a passion for the work. Always interested in advocacy work and the law, Mason decided to attend college to become a paralegal. To his surprise, he thrived at school.
A new chapter
As a newly licensed paralegal, Mason hit the ground running at a criminal defense law firm. In his first week he was tasked with assisting a prominent local lawyer with a complex homicide case. Though he felt out of his depth, Mason immediately saw advocacy in action and resolved to help build a strong case for their client.
“When someone is charged with a serious crime, their liberties are at stake,” says Mason. “This was a complicated case involving multiple accused persons, and the outcome was going to change lives and families forever.”
Mason slowly felt his confidence build as he worked on the case. He found valuable mentors in his colleagues who encouraged him to see beyond his personal adversity. Mason realized that for so long, he had let self-imposed limitations control his life.
“The deep-rooted nature of my personal story became less influential on my life. I began to see that the narrative I believed about my limited capabilities was nothing more than that—my narrative. It didn’t need to represent my future.”
Mason describes overcoming this narrative as “exhilarating.” With a clear vision to become a lawyer, he knew the first step was obtaining an undergraduate degree at Western before applying to law school.
“I wanted to contribute to the community and services that made a difference for me as I was growing up,” says Mason. “I wanted to provide mentorship and support for those who needed it.”
Mason continues to make meaningful contributions to individuals with disabilities as a member of the City of London’s Accessibility Committee, and as a mentor and leader within Thames Valley Children Centre’s Youth Advisory Council and Dale Brain Injury Services.
“Everything I do is a stepping-stone to advocate for change on a larger scale,” says Mason. “In my work with these organizations, I am learning so much about the needs in our community for people with disabilities. I don’t have all the answers, but there is a lot of work to be done and I want to be part of that movement.”
The gift that keeps on giving
Mason was the recipient of donor-funded awards for having the highest-grade point average in his undergraduate program. The unexpected support provided significant financial relief for the hard-working student.
“I often don’t work during the school year because I give full attention to my studies,” he says. “But that’s very difficult to do financially. When I received word about the scholarships, it was an incredible surprise. I am so grateful to those who contributed to my success.”
Mason also felt a profound sense of validation for his hard work. “I am very fortunate to study at Western, but it has been many years of trying my best and hoping it would pay off. Those scholarships were motivating because I knew I was moving in the right direction.”
Mason is so grateful, in fact, that he is already thinking about how he wants to be a positive influence for future students when he is settled in his career. “I forever want to be involved in assisting students in the way that donors have helped me,” he says.
Embracing a hopeful future
For Mason the future is bright and far beyond what he could have expected. Now in his first year of study at Western Law, he looks forward to learning about areas of the law that align with his penchant for supporting the disadvantaged. But he knows his life could have been different without the motivation and drive to push himself.
“Instead of being someone who turned my circumstances into an opportunity, I could have continued to limit myself. I’m forever grateful to my family and the mentors who have supported me every step of the way.”
Mason hopes that others who are struggling with a disability or their mental health will believe that they, too, are capable of more than they realize.
“If someone had told me years ago that I’d be telling my story publicly, it would have made me ill. But for those of us who have faced adversity, there’s great power in embracing those difficulties and working through them. You may be surprised at what you can accomplish when you don’t hold yourself back.”