“One of the big challenges for people with brain injury is isolation,” says Frank Dolaghan, Chair of the Brain Injury Foundation, based in Camlough near Newry. “Many survivors have communication and/or mobility challenges often meaning that they can’t leave the house. Survivors could be cut off from society for months, even years or just a few weeks.”
Frank knows from personal experience what the impact of head injury can be on a family. 25 years ago, his son Tony fell from a forty foot cliff. Tony, who was 22 at the time, was in a coma for two weeks and spent another three months in hospital. When he finally returned home, he had to learn to walk, talk, and eat again.
“The person who comes out of a coma after the brain injury is very different from the person who was there before and many people can’t cope with the changes,” Frank explains. “People can lose their friends, lose their social network and almost always lose their job, if they had been employed.
“Many will be physically quite capable, but because of their brain injury, other challenges like memory loss, lack of concentration, inability to manage their moods and emotions are prevalent. All these things can affect relationships with family and friends.”
After Tony’s injury, Frank and Aileen also suffered from isolation. They became full-time carers for their son but were left feeling like they had no support network. As Frank explains, their experience was not unusual.
“Carers are the most important contact in the lives of the brain injury survivors. They are there 24/7 providing round the clock support and they can become isolated as well. The first few months after a brain injury, many people will call to the house but that drops off. It’s a fact of life, everybody’s life is ongoing and they have other things to do. In many cases friends find it impossible to adjust to the changes in the brain injury survivor and it is like learning to become acquainted all over again.”
But Frank, Aileen and Tony refused to be beaten.
In 2012, they joined up with other carers and brain injury survivor who were in a similar situation. Together, they founded the Brain Injury Foundation, an organisation that offers support, advice, and camaraderie for brain injury survivors and their families and carers.
Over the years, the Brain Injury Foundation has been supported with over £450,000 of money raised by National Lottery players. The organisation has gone from strength to strength, and now has more than 100 members from across Newry and Mourne, Armagh, Banbridge and Dungannon.
In everything that the Brain Injury Foundation does, survivors of brain injuries and their carers are always at the forefront.
Frank said: “The group is service user led completely. It is run, directed, managed and controlled by people with brain injuries and their carers.
We don’t have paid staff at the minute. We look after ourselves through an elected voluntary management committee where the vast majority of us have direct experience of brain injury.”
Thanks to National Lottery players, the Brain Injury Foundation are able to run all sorts of activities for their members, including cookery classes, independent living skills, table tennis, boccia, and even a coffee bar. They’re using their experiences and skills to improve the lives of brain injury survivors and their carers.
As Frank said, “Mainly it’s providing both survivors and carers with time out, helping to build relationships and having an opportunity to socialise and relax. In this way we are making a real difference to the lives of our members.”
To learn more about the Brain Injury Foundation and the fantastic work they’re doing, check out their website: http://thebraininjuryfoundation.com/