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In March 2011, Gemma Noone was a 32-year old busy working mum who travelled long distances to and from work, she was studying for her Master’s degree and was also planning her wedding. She put a pain in her arm down to a suspected trapped nerve. Gemma recalls the moment her life changed, “I was typing at my desk at work, but then I realised my left hand was no longer typing. When I tried to stand up, I couldn’t stand on my left leg. I tried to shout for help but my speech had gone. I was taken to the company doctor who sent me straight to hospital. In A&E, I went for a CAT scan which identified I had a bleed on the brain.
Following a short stay in hospital, Gemma returned home. “At home I felt abandoned. I couldn’t get my head around anything. I was scared to leave the house or have anyone visit. My stroke consultant, who understood how debilitating depression and anxiety could be, requested a cognitive therapist help me. I was at a stage where I just wanted to close out the world. There’s where Quest came in. They helped me to adjust and to realise that I can still do things. There is hope and there are options out there. Fatigue and panic attacks still affect me but I am learning to manage them.”
Karen Walsh worked as a team leader with RehabCare’s brain injury service in Galway when she was involved in a road traffic accident in October 2007.
Karen doesn’t remember anything about the accident which happened just a few kilometres from her apartment. She has been told that she was the front seat passenger in the car which was involved in a two-car collision. The left-hand side of the car received the main impact, leaving Karen with serious injuries, including a very serious head injury.
Karen was brought from the scene of the accident by ambulance University College Hospital Galway and from there to Beaumount Hospital in Dublin, where she spent ten days in a coma. Although still in a critical condition in a coma, Karen was moved back to Galway. With help from her family, doctors and nurses Karen slowly regained consciousness. But this was just the beginning of what was to be a slow road to recovery.
Following an assessment, Karen was accepted by the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dublin and spent two months there. “I had to relearn all the basic daily tasks like brushing my teeth, washing my hair, eating, cooking etc. I wasn’t the easiest person to be around at that stage, because I used to get very frustrated. I knew that I used to be able to do these simple everyday things and it was really hard to have someone teaching me them again. I just couldn’t understand why I couldn’t do them myself."
In early May 2008, Karen was transferred to Quest – National Learning Network’s brain injury service in Galway. She explains her experience of the service, which she attended for over two and a half years, “Quest helped me in a number of ways. It helped me to regain confidence which was a big thing for me. In practical terms it helped me with my speech therapy, one-to-one counselling sessions, I.T. lessons and driving lessons. I also learned return to work skills. Quest knew how eager I was to get back driving and so they organised driving lessons for me through the Irish Wheelchair Association. After a number of lessons they finally gave me the go-ahead to drive in December 2009. For me that was a massive step in my recovery.”
For Karen, who had worked for Rehab for a number of years, it was a case of role reversal as she now began using the service herself. “To be honest, I wasn’t very fond of Quest at the start. I looked at Quest as a place where I once had to bring service users through my work and now the tables had turned and I myself was the service user. I was stubborn and I was looking at things the wrong way. I realise now that I would not have gotten to where I am today without the wonderful love and support from my fabulous family and friends and the rehabilitation in Quest.”
“I really missed Quest when I left. Everyone there has a mutual bond. People are there for different reasons like brain injuries, strokes, infection, accidents like me. I hadn’t a clue of most of these illnesses before. The Quest gang really are a fantastic bunch and we meet up every few weeks for a catch-up. It’s great to have other people who are in a similar situation around you as they understand what you are going through better than most.”
Life is getting back on track for Karen, although there are many lasting effects of her acquired brain injury with one of the most obvious being that she can’t cry. Although a strange and upsetting after-effect of the injury, Karen feels that not being able to shed tears is not the worst thing in the world. Karen’s life changed forever on that day in October 2007 but she knows that everything happens for a reason and her future looks great.