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Brain Injury: A Mother’s Perspective

To mark Brain Injury Awareness Week, Helen Barker reflects on how life has changed since her daughter acquired a brain injury in 2002. 

In 2002 my life and that of my family changed forever when our daughter Angela (Anj) was brutally bashed by her ex-boyfriend. That is a night I will never forget.

Anj was left with a Diffused Axonal Brain Injury. We were told she would not recover from a vegetative state and should live in a nursing home.

I knew she could recover. She was a strong determined teenager and I was sure she would have died if she couldn’t return to a life worth living.

To think she was a perfectly healthy 16 year old – loved school, sport and parties, and then this to happen to her at the hands of someone else was very hard to come to terms with. A car accident would have been bad enough but someone who was supposed to love her…unimaginable.

We live two and a half hours out of Melbourne and Anj needed to stay in Melbourne to receive physio and speech therapy, so one of us would stay with Anj while the other went home and looked after our son who was 14 at the time. This continued for over three years. Our son’s family life totally changed and I always consider him the other victim in this. Ian and I could talk through things, cry together even over the phone, but he really had no one. When I look back, every bit of our energy went in to helping Anj recover.

I get really emotional thinking about losing that precious time as a family. All I ever wanted to be was a mother and splitting myself between the two children I loved most was heartbreaking.

Brain injury is a hideous injury as your mind can be good, but your memory can be not so good and your body can be so affected that it is hard to watch the suffering your loved ones must go through. The brain is incredible as it can heal and get better, but it is a long slow process. Anj took five months to put her tongue on her lip, nine months to move her thumb and five years to speak and she is still working on walking. It is great that she is improving, but it is sad that she has had to spend her life getting better from something that should never have happened. And if she doesn’t keep up speech and physiotherapy daily she can lose what she has gained.

I have survived with the love and help of my husband, son and great friends – oh and some counselling.

After Anj was home with us for five years she moved to Melbourne. I stayed with her for four years till I was happy for her to live independently.

I have the same dreams for Anj now as before her injury. She has succeeded way past what was expected. She has had a job for the past two and a half years at NAB Bank and loves to socialise and travel.

I hope one day she can say she is really happy with her life. This is all I want, for her to be truly happy.

For other Mums out there, keep hope and never give up on your loved one. It’s hard to watch your loved one suffer and to keep pushing them on their journey. You will shed many tears and have many fights with bureaucrats and health professionals, but you know your child best. It is worth it all.

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