Life can change so suddenly when a person is diagnosed with an acquired brain injury. The injury can range from a seemingly minor brain injury to a life threatening condition with far reaching consequences.
The most critical time to receive treatment is immediately after the brain injury occurs. This can be the most emotional and anxious time for those close to the brain injured person. Some patients will be unconscious and may require treatment and rehabilitation in the UK following brain injury. This can place a huge strain on family, their time and financial resources. Headway is able to provide a better understanding of brain injury, its side effects and the effect on the family by providing literature and reassurance at the time of diagnosis. At the moment most referrals we receive are months and sometimes years after the initial brain injury.
We currently have over 150 survivors of brain injury registered with us as members. Some require occasional support, however up to 70 members access our services on a weekly basis. These services are an essential lifeline for our members and also provide support and respite to families and carers who need it most.
Jason’s Personal Story
Jason has lived with his brain injury for the last 10 years. At the age of17 Jason had a terrible accident whilst on a snowboarding holiday in the French Alps. When snowboarding off piste he plunged 80m off a cliff sustaining a serious head injury. Jason was rescued by helicopter for emergency treatment in Geneva. He remained unconscious for 6 weeks and was then transferred to London. Jason spent 9 months in hospital relearning how to communicate & regain movement. The biggest difficulty was coping with loss of memory. Jason explained“It felt like everything I had learnt in my life had been cleared off a table and I had to put every item back individually to piece my life back together”.
At the time of the accident Jason was studying for his A levels at De La Salle College and with the support of family and the school he returned the following year to take his exams. Jason recalls the most difficult part of ‘getting on with life’ was the feeling of being left behind; he felt that the most difficult part of his recovery was coping with how brain injury had changed his personality. As he explained “It affected my moods greatly and I would have extremes of emotions. There were times when I found it difficult to control my temper and I started pushing people away. I had changed as a person and become more of a ‘solo’ act”.
Despite Jason coping remarkably well and finding employment following his brain injury, in 2011 Jason contacted Headway for support following a period of very low self esteem. Headway recommended that Jason would be suitable for some counselling and hypnotherapy, one of the services Headway offers to local members following an assessment. Jason found the service very useful “It helped me get over issues, control anger and accept what happened following the accident and how I can move forward”. Jason also started to visit the centre more regularly, meeting other people whose lives are affected by brain injury. “The staff are very friendly and the centre is a very relaxed place where I can see in other people a bit of myself. It made me want to help and I started volunteering at the centre. This has been very rewarding and it’s great to feel part of the team”.
Jason, who works as a postman, has now become a familiar face at Headway and helps to assist within the centre as a volunteer when he is available. Having survived a brain injury he hopes that his personal experience will assist others and added “I hope by telling my story, people who haven’t had a brain injury can start to understand the effects and how it can change the way a person thinks and behaves. Sometimes we just have to accept people’s differences”.
Paul’s Personal Story
In July 2008 Paul’s life changed forever. The last thing he remembered was helping to load boxes on to a pallet. Eight days later he woke up in a UK hospital.
He had fallen 8ft and broken his eye socket, jaw, ribs and fractured his skull developing a blood clot on the left side of his brain.
Back home recovery was a very long process and is ongoing. Some of Paul’s biggest struggles and side effects include fatigue, confusion, stress, lack of concentration and a sensitivity to light. He can no longer drive and relies on his wife, Sue, for transport as well as support. Paul explains “Because I have not lost a limb people look at me and say ‘You look great, when are you back at work?’ My external injuries may have healed but the injury in my brain may never heal. If they could see me at home in bed with a duvet over my head trying to block out the light and thundering sounds in my head, then they would think differently.”
Paul has a great sense of humour and wit but at times he can struggle to get out of bed, it comes in cycles of intense pain. He has learnt to live with these problems and now ensures he has an afternoon nap to help him cope or the resulting mood can be unfair for his family.“Fortunately I have a very understanding family. They have had a lot to cope with and luckily for me they still support me. I know that a lot of people are not so lucky and their partners end up leaving them because the person they married is not there anymore. I will never be able to say ‘thank you’ enough to Sue and also Stacey our daughter”.
Paul has become a familiar face at Headway and enjoys making cards and taking photographs at our events with Irish charm and willingness to help when he is in the good part of his cycle.
“At first I was embarrassed to go out in the van because it has brain injury written on the side. Now I am pleased to be a member at Headway, they have never judged me and everyone has a different brain injury, no two people are alike. We are treated as equals and the staff and volunteers are understanding and sympathetic when needed. From what I have seen some people have respite from their family but in other cases Headway is their family”.
Michelle’s Personal story
Michelle suffered her stroke at the age of 38 at home. She says the last thing she remembers is getting ready to watch Neighbours on a Thursday night. She was found the next day by her dad, Phil, after he had become worried that he could not reach her on the telephone. Phil immediately called an ambulance as Michelle was unresponsive and unable to speak. On arrival at the hospital a stroke was suspected despite Michelle being so young. Michelle was kept in the General Hospital for 3 weeks before being transferred to Overdale. The stroke had severely affected her speech and she struggled to communicate with her dad and her daughter. Following rehabilitation work at Overdale Michelle’s speech began to improve and she was allowed home.It’s been almost 2 years since Michelle left hospital but Phil continues to support his daughter to live independently and continually worries about her. Since the stroke Michelle finds it difficult to concentrate, she speaks with a loud high pitched voice and requires constant reassurance. Michelle was referred to Headway from Overdale and has become a regular member since February 2011. She attends 4 times a week and really enjoys many activities including cooking and computers. Phil is reassured knowing that Headway is something Michelle enjoys so much; Headway also provides support for Phil who attends the Family and Carers evening held at Headway. Despite his age, Phil continues to help other people whether it is driving or errands. This gives him some time to get a break and keep his mind off of his worries. Michelle has recently moved to the Jersey homes Trust at Le Coie next to the Headway Centre. Phil is helping to decorate and deal with the stresses of moving home. Michelle describes her dad as ‘My driver, my banker, my handy man and my best friend’.