Richard Duffy, from Galliagh, spent months in a coma after contracting Meningoencephalitis three years ago and was speaking to the ‘Journal’ to highlight Acquired Brain Injury Awareness Week.
He also told how he has been ‘thrown a lifeline’ due to the support of charity The Cedar Foundation, located in Springtown.
Richard was ‘near death’ after becoming ill three years ago and later had to ‘relearn many things’ as his illness resulted in a brain jury.
Acquired Brain Injury Awareness Week, runs from May 16 - 22, with the theme ‘See the Hidden Me’ and Richard outlined how the support and services of Cedar Foundation at Springtown has given him a renewed sense of purpose and real hope for the future.
Anna McCloskey, Richard’s case worker at Cedar, told how they run a two-year programme that covers employment, education and inclusion. It is up to each service user to decide which direction they’d like to go in - whether they want to cover the three areas, or just one. Service users are referred to the service by the Community Brain Injury team after they complete their medical intervention.
Richard disclosed that he was a ‘bit lost’ when he was referred to the Inclusion programme. But, he spoke and worked with Anna to find the best path for him moving forward. Richard’s background is mainly in construction and he is now volunteering with Cedar to take on the job of transforming their outdoor area.
Richard will oversee the transformation of the space, which will then be used as an outdoor facility for adult and child service users, as well as staff. Richard said that, through Cedar, he has found a ‘sense of accomplishment that I think I have been missing this past few years’.
He said that having a schedule, being active and able to work alongside and help others with an acquired brain injury has been hugely beneficial.
“Prior to Cedar, I was spending 95% of my time in the house and that wasn’t healthy. This has really been a lifeline - I’ve been thrown a lifeline and I have enjoyment again,” he said.
Laura Brown, ABI Choices Case Officer, said the awareness week gives survivors the chance to talk about how the hidden aspects of their brain injury has made life more challenging, and to help everyone better understand the impact.
“It’s a hidden disability. You look at Richard and he looks fine on the outside, but there’s so much going on for him. I have one service user and she describes her brain injury as, in her head, like a Ferrari that never stops for a pitstop. Some people can’t appreciate that. Things such as the mental fatigue can be really difficult.”
Laura added how it is important for the public to be aware of brain injuries and their impact and to be accepting and understanding.
“Just because someone looks ok on the outside, it doesn’t mean it’s the same on the inside.”
Richard agreed, but added that it might be ‘idyllic’ to assume every single person will treat someone else with respect: “But, if people would just become more tolerant, that would make a huge difference.”
He added how he has ‘come a long way,’ particularly in recent months. One of his key milestones was acceptance of his brain injury, which didn’t always come easy. But, he is determined to move forward with a positive mindset.
“I’m very fortunate and I think gratitude is a medicine. Many other people don’t recover as well as I have recovered. It was near death for me. They didn’t know if it was viral or bacterial and they blasted me with everything. My sister brought in a Padre Pio mitt and that’s when I started getting well, believe it or not. The impact of a brain injury is not something you can really tell the public, but people should be tolerant of other people, really.”
Laura highlighted how, just because someone has left hospital, it doesn’t mean they don’t have any lasting effects. “Leaving hospital doesn’t mean that everything is ok and they are back to themselves. Someone might not have a physical disability or they could be walking with a stick etc, but they could have a brain injury that you don’t see.”
The Cedar Foundation held an event on Wednesday for the awareness week, which included a visit from the Mayor, a talk from the Crime Prevention Team, live music and crafts. Richard is looking forward to developing the outside space over the coming months.
“I’ve been given a sense of purpose and as well as that, I have options. There are steps to move forward into the future and I can’t even put into words what that means.”
Council offices on Derry’s Strand Road and The Alley Theatre in Strabane will be lit in blue and green until this Sunday to raise awareness for Brain Injury Week.
The lighting is being facilitated by Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council, Alderman Graham Warke, who said he hoped the lighting from May 16 to 22 would raise awareness about the issues people living with brain injuries face.
“There can be a range of issues causing brain injury,” he said.
“It could be caused by a fall, the head being struck against something, motor accidents, or assaults, to name a few. Whether they are struggling with temporary or permanent disabilities or facing other people’s prejudices, brain injury survivors have to face a lot daily and I would urge people to consider those challenges this week.
“People with brain injuries should consult professionals to seek the appropriate treatment for their individual problems Preventative measures, as well as medication and physical/mental therapies, can also help the recovery process.”