November 15 is National Philanthropy Day. It’s a day to say thanks to those who give, whether through donations or volunteering, and make a difference at Western.
On a sunny day at a park in London, Ont., Mason Bruner-Moore’s life changed forever.
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 Bruner-Moore 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.
Finally, after Bruner-Moore awoke, 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. His mother 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,” Bruner-Moore 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, he could no longer participate in gym class, recess activities or on his hockey team – the risk of re-injury was too great.
The accident and its aftermath greatly impacted his mental health and sense of self-worth. The consequences of the brain injury left him feeling isolated and frustrated. Though his parents wanted to help him work through those complex emotions, Bruner-Moore 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 said.
Bruner-Moore 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.
Beginning a new chapter
To his surprise, he thrived at school.
As a newly licensed paralegal, Bruner-Moore 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 unprepared and out of depth, he 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,” he said. “This was a complicated case involving multiple accused persons, and the outcome was going to change lives and families forever.”
Bruner-Moore 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. He 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.”
He 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.”
Bruner-Moore 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,” he said. “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.”
The gift that keeps on giving
Bruner-Moore was the recipient of a donor-funded award for having the highest grade point average in his undergraduate program. The unexpected scholarship 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 said. “But that’s very difficult to do financially. When I received word about the scholarship, it was an incredible surprise. I am so grateful to those who contributed to my success.”
Bruner-Moore 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. That scholarship was motivating because I knew I was moving in the right direction.”
He is already thinking about how he wants to be a positive influence for future students when he is settled in his career.