Living a full life: Georgian College philanthropist shares her story and support

Seven-and-a-half years ago, Jane (Brown) Jackson’s life was changed forever.

She had just come out of surgery, a ‘routine’ thyroidectomy to remove the second half of her thyroid gland after an initial procedure to remove the first half a couple of months earlier left some cancer cells.

She didn’t have any memory of the trip from the community hospital where she had the day surgery to the Intensive Care Unit at North York General Hospital. Coming out of her thick, anesthesia-induced sleep, she realized there were tubes in her throat, an intravenous in her arm, and ‘all sorts of wires’ everywhere.

The last thing she remembered happening before this moment was the feeling of stark terror as she struggled to breathe. Her vocal chords were paralyzed in the semi-open position and couldn’t support her airway. She could breathe now, but was confused. What was going on?

“I had this nurse, I refer to as my Angel of Mercy, who, in this very calm and caring voice told me where I was, that I was in North York General Hospital,” she recalls. “She explained that I had tubes in my throat and my hands were tied down so I couldn’t pull them out. She made me feel like everything was going to be OK when I heard her voice and I heard what she told me.”

The nurse’s voice calmed Jane as she laid in her bed and tried to make sense of her new reality.  When she awoke the next day, the nurse was not in, which greatly disappointed Jane. However, before she was discharged she was able to express through a written note just how impactful the nurse’s words were and how much they meant to her. Jane’s note brought the nurse to tears. 

“Your words mean an awful lot to patients and we hear more than you think,” she recently told a group of first year students in the collaborative Bachelor of Science – Nursing (BScN) degree program at Georgian College. “Your tone really does make a difference.”

Jane has always been a generous financial supporter of Georgian, taking after her late parents, Arch and Helen Brown, philanthropists who gave substantially to the college. But, she also wanted to make a difference to the college in another, more meaningful way. Her friends suggested she figure out what she’s really passionate about and go from there.

What I realized was the one thing I’m really passionate about is living life with a trach. I don’t see it as being a handicap. I’m able bodied other than having a hole in my throat in which to breathe, and it doesn’t define me any more than wearing glasses defines me.

– Jane (Brown) Jackson

Jane recently gave an engaging and often humorous talk to Georgian collaborative BScN students about her experiences as someone who found herself needing a tracheostomy (trach) after a thyroidectomy surgery in 2014, and what her life has been like since.

A trach is an opening surgically created through the neck into the windpipe (trachea) to allow a person to breathe.

A square with four photos of different people in each square. Three squares have women of different ages and the bottom right square has wo young females.
Jane Jackson recently gave a virtual talk to about 60 students about her experiences as someone who found herself needing a tracheostomy (trach) after a thyroidectomy surgery in 2014.

Head shot of an older woman with short blonde hair. She's earing glasses, a purple flowered dress and has a trach.
Jane (Brown) Jackson

“Jane’s story really connected with many of the course concepts that students have been studying in my Development of Self as a Nurse course,” says faculty Corrine Lalonde.  “I think the students valued being able to listen to someone with a health-care experience and to hear what went well, and what didn’t, and how to be more impactful as future health-care providers. It was a great way to see some of the course concepts really come alive and demonstrate their practical application, beyond just a theoretical understanding. For novice students, this is really important. Jane’s discussion was engaging and really connected to the student experience.” 

Jane spoke for almost an hour during the virtual session and then candidly answered questions. She gave a gripping account of what life is like when you need to use a trach and how health-care professionals can either help or hinder the process. A positive attitude has also helped.  

“I decided as I was lying in the ICU that I had two choices: I could lie there and moan and groan and feel sorry for myself, or I could accept that this was my new reality and I could do my best to live as full a life as possible, and remember that I’m a very fortunate person,” she says.

And, as a very fortunate person, she is doing just that.    

Frontline Support: Health-care Heroes Closer to Home

Jane is a member of the Simcoe County Advisory Group for Georgian’s Frontline Support: Health-care Heroes Closer to Home campaign. Campaign volunteers are rallying to raise more than $3 million in new support to educate and train the nurses of tomorrow. Jane recently confirmed a pledge of $100,000 to support two key priorities of the campaign: learning environment enhancement and student success. With her support, Georgian will acquire a new state-of-the-art newborn simulator manikin, and create a permanent endowment to support first-year students entering Georgian’s new standalone nursing degree program commencing this September.

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