Sheila Strathearn was 29-years-old and 22 weeks pregnant when an argument with her finance turned physical and her head hit off a bathroom sink.
Unknown to Sheila, who was living and working as a PA in Jersey at the time, she had suffered serious head trauma but it wasn’t until she had packed up and moved back home to Ralston in Paisley that her condition became critical.
When the headaches grew unbearable, a trip to A&E in Paisley ended with Sheila being transferred to what was then the Southern General Hospital, where a CT scan confirmed that she had experienced two brain haemorrhages and sustained a brain injury.
After two months in hospital, Sheila underwent an operation just before Christmas to stem a further bleed into her brain and during the subsequent four days while she was on life support, her distraught mum was told to say her goodbyes as it was unlikely that either Sheila or her unborn baby would survive.
Miraculously they did, but when Sheila regained consciousness on New Year’s Eve she had experienced a stroke, and as well as being paralysed on her right hand side, she was unable to walk or talk and had impairment to her memory.
Two months later she had a healthy baby boy, and with support from a physiotherapist, psychologist and a speech and language therapist, Sheila was discharged from hospital on her 30th birthday.
Sheila said: “Living with a brain injury means it can be very difficult to concentrate, remember things and go about your day-to-day business, and that can be frustrating. I managed for a number of years and got a lot of help from my mum but I felt very alone and isolated.”
Sheila first came into contact with Quarriers Renfrewshire Head Injury Service and its weekly support group, The Sunshine Club, seven years ago which has given her vital assistance as she has learnt to cope with her injury.
“It is hard for people who don’t have experience of a head injury to understand. It is an invisible condition,” says Sheila.
“Being a mum is difficult but learning to be a mum when you have an Acquired Brain Injury is even harder.
“Quarriers made such a difference, providing a listening ear as well as practical help with financial support, accessing benefits and independent living.
“They are always there for me at the Sunshine Club. You don’t need to explain yourself. We all have an Acquired Brain Injury and are like an extended family. It’s a lifeline for me.”
For Sheila, who worked as a PA before her injury, Quarriers has made life possible again and reinforced her philosophy to “live life to the full, as you don’t know what’s around the corner”.
Quarriers currently provides practical and emotional support to around 70 people living with an acquired head injury from the ages of 17 to 64 in the Renfrewshire Council area. Last year, in partnership with Renfrewshire Carers Centre, the service expanded its support to carers and family members who play a major role in the rehabilitation and care of loved ones with a head injury and this addition to the service has proven to be invaluable to the community.
Quarriers Project Manager, Helen Stewart, says: “A head injury can happen to anyone at any time and life as you know it changes in an instant.
“It’s vital to remember that head injuries are an invisible disability – you can’t tell by looking at someone the turmoil going on inside their head. Even doing everyday things like making a cup of tea or catching a bus can be difficult and we teach coping strategies for these moments. In addition to that, our service is a safe space where people can come together to socialise with like-minded individuals so they realise they’re not alone, reducing any feelings of isolation.”
For more information about Quarriers Renfrewshire Head Injury Service please phone 0141 848 1701 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo: Sheila Strathearn