Helping hand for brain injury charity

Naomi Powell
Naomi Powell

AN accident, a stroke or any number of medical conditions can result in a traumatic brain injury - but there is a charity that can help.

Headway is there to assist anyone who has suffered a brain injury and its volunteers also provide support for family members, friends, carers and medical professionals.

David Winkfield, who was critically injured in a road accident at the age of 19, and Naomi Powell from Galgate, whose mum tragically died following a brain haemorrhage at just 53 years of age, are two of the people who have found Headway’s caring advice to be invaluable.

It is deeply moving and inspiring to hear Naomi and David talking about how brain injury has affected them.

Naomi’s mum Jo, a talented writer, journalist, tutor and barrister, from Garstang, who passed away only last year.

The Lancaster and Morecambe Bay branch of Headway, which also covers the Cumbria and North Lancashire area including Garstang and Longridge, has been helping Naomi and the rest of her family to cope with the loss of their mother.

Twenty-three-year-old Naomi has been so inspired by Headway’s work that she has raised nearly £2,000 through a charity night in her mum’s memory and has a number of other fundraising events planned for 2012.

Likewise, David talks of how Headway has helped him to lead a normal life after his accident. Despite the injury he has suffered, David took to the air and did a skydive with the Red Devils, raising around £1,000 for Headway. He has also done the London Marathon twice for the charity.

Naomi discovered Headway by doing some research on the internet: “I wanted to see if there was anybody that had gone through what we were going through,” she said.

“My brother Miles rang the local number and we decided to go to a meeting.” Naomi, her dad Mike, Miles, sister Rebekah and their partners went together to the meeting at the Vale of Lune club house in Lancaster.

“Everyone was really friendly. We had a brew and a biscuit and we talked a lot.

“We were all having a really difficult time but we felt safe there. We met people who had been affected in different ways. David’s mum and dad were there. At first you don’t know how to start but then it just happens. It’s not just talking. They have games, speakers and other activities.

“If mum had survived we would probably have used Headway in a different way. Mum would have loved the fact that we’re putting on events. She loved a good party.”

Following the recent charity night in Jo’s memory, Naomi said she wished to thank everyone who gave their time to the event.

Naomi’s friend Amy Collinson, who had a brain haemorrhage after falling off a seesaw when she was a young girl, is travelling to New Zealand in two weeks time where she will do a skydive to raise money for Headway.

Naomi’s forthcoming fundraising events include a bands night which will take place in March and a western-themed barn dance in the summer. Miles, who has a rock band called Cloud Gone Down, will be one of the acts at the bands night.

They are also hoping to organise a fun run at Salt Ayre when everyone will wear “silly hats” to mark the fact it’s for Headway.

Jo’s latest book, Shadows Fall, is due to be released in two months and will be sold at Waterstones.

Jo had been writing a new book when she died and Rebekah hopes to finish it for her.

Naomi, who is studying to be a primary school teacher, added: “I would like to see some of the money we have raised going towards helping people who find it hard to get transport to go to the meetings. The support is so important.”

David’s story couldn’t be more different but Headway has also been able to help him in a great many ways.

In 2001 David was cycling along Morecambe Road near Carlisle Bridge in Lancaster when he was hit by a truck.

He ended up in hospital for six months and for much of that time he was in a coma.

Now, at the age of 30, he is working and enjoying life to the full.

A cautionary tale for other cyclists, he said: “A truck hit my bike and unfortunately I wasn’t wearing a helmet. I hit my head on the ground.

“I was in a coma for a long time at a hospital unit in Preston.

“The strangest thing was waking up from the coma. I didn’t know what was happening but my parents had put signs up on the wall explaining everything so I had information to read.

“I wandered into the TV room and the nurses were having a cup of tea. They just said ‘hello David’, and that was it. They treated it as if it was normal.

“At first I was in a wheelchair but then I started to regain my memory and I was able to re-educate my muscles. The rehabilitation helped.

“My short-term memory is affected so I use my phone to remind me of what I need to do.”

David, who works at Sainsbury’s in Lancaster, says he was always eager to get back into employment after his accident: “I have always been keen to work and to contribute positively to society.

“I’ve always done volunteering and some people might know me from Diversity FM as ‘Dave the Listener’.”

David, whose mum Hazel is a nurse and whose dad Len works at Heysham Power Stations, added: “We had a lot of questions and doubts and Headway helped us. Their understanding and support was great. My sisters also got involved. Headway helped most with communication. It gave us a chance to talk.

“There must be more people out there who could benefit from it.”

The national base of Headway is in Nottingham and it was set up in 1979. Although support is provided on the NHS by the Community Brain Injury Rehabilitation Service, Headway clearly has an important role to play.

Ian Gee first became a volunteer with the Lancaster and district branch of Headway 20 years ago. A solicitor at Jobling and Knape in Lancaster, Ian says he has always found his work with Headway to be fulfilling.

He said: “It was something new to me. I just wanted to be a volunteer. I found it very fulfilling because I was giving something back.

“The great thing about Headway is that it means people don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Whether you’re dealing with the authorities or a personal matter, the chances are someone in the group has been through it before.

“They can share how they got through it. Other people can benefit from their knowledge and experience.”

Headway has a newsletter and a programme of activities throughout the year including trips out and an annual dinner. Meetings are held on the first Wednesday of the month and anyone affected by brain injury is welcome.

If you would like to donate to Headway or become involved please call Ian Gee on 01524 598304. Naomi is also happy to talk to people who have had similar experiences. Email Naomi at naomipowell@live.co.uk

BRAIN INJURY – THE FACTS

Nationally around 1,000,000 people have to attend hospital as the result of a traumatic brain injury each year.

These injuries can be caused by accidents, falls, assaults, haemorrhages, infections, strokes and other medical conditions.

Every 10 seconds an injury occurs and every seven minutes the injury is serious.

The Headway Helpline provides information,advises on sources of support, finds local rehabilitation services and offers a listening ear to those experiencing problems.

Headway publishes a range of booklets offering information about aspects of brain injury.

Free helpline 0808 800 2244, email helpline@headway.org.uk, www.headway.org.uk.