ABI Week 2024 - Paul's progress

22 May 2024

Action for Brain Injury Week (ABI Week) takes place between the 20th and 26th May, the theme for this year is A life re-written.

Below we hear about Paul's journey - the impact it has had on his life and how Headway have supported throughout. 

"We were just an ordinary family, living in a leafy suburb of Wigan and working full time with two grown up sons and a “plan” to retire in 2022 and set up our own gardening business…spending the summers tending the local OAP’s gardens and travelling the world in the winter.

We had already lost several members of our close family to accidents and illnesses over the years and naively thought that our family had already endured enough upset so this was “our time now”.

On a hot sunny afternoon on 21st May 2020, I went for a personal training session and Paul wanted to come with me but because of the lock down, he couldn’t…Paul being Paul he wasn’t one to just say okay and he decided to go out alone on a bike ride that we had regularly completed together.

When I finished my PT, my phone had 8 missed calls so straight away I knew that something was very wrong and was soon told that Paul had fallen off his bike, was badly injured and was about to be air lifted to Aintree Hospital.

By the time we got to the hospital, the Trauma team were working on Paul and he was then transferred to the ICU at the Walton Centre, extremely distressing but at least we knew he was in good hands. When we got to ICU we were not allowed in due to Covid 19 and this became the theme for the next four months as the pandemic took hold and began to affect every aspect of our lives.

Paul did not wake up for over 2 weeks and on day 17 I received a call by an ICU doctor asking our family to consider Paul’s wishes, a tracheotomy was mentioned and potentially a nursing home if Paul did pull through. You can imagine our shock and despair so I asked for a meeting with the doctors to discuss our “options”.

I and our two sons, Tom & Alex, met with the Walton ICU team and to our amazement that morning, Paul had started to breathe on his own. The conversation went in a completely different direction and we were told that we had to give Paul every chance as it was “only a minute past midnight” in head injury timescales. We left the hospital elated that our lovely Paul was starting to fight back but had no idea how long and tough the journey was going to be.

Paul went from ICU to high dependency and then a ward, we still could not visit but we learned that we could facetime so we did each afternoon to update Paul on what was happening; news from family and friends and to try to encourage him to wake up or at least open one eye and then one day he did!

We then learnt that our Wigan postcode meant Paul had to move hospitals into the Greater Manchester area due to funding and he would soon be going to Salford Royal L1, this felt like a huge upheaval for our family as we had grown used to the lovely staff at the Walton centre with their great ways of communication and making us feel like we were in the loop for Paul’s care even though we had never met them. The thought of a new ward, new staff and new accents was very distressing as we felt powerless to have any influence in who or how Paul was going to be cared for.

On Friday the 16th July Paul was transferred to L1 at Salford Royal and stayed there for 8 weeks before being transferred to his 3rd hospital which was INRU Ward 3 at Trafford General in September 2020.

This third phase was both challenging and very inspiring for Paul, myself and our family. We desperately wanted to have the old Paul back, fully recovered with all of his former abilities but also recognising that things were going to be different.

In early December, the team decided that Paul should have an 8 week extension to his rehabilitation as it was felt he could achieve more of his potential so we had to accept Christmas 2020 would be spent in hospital when all Paul wanted to do was come home.

After 8 months in hospital, January 2021 brought the countdown to coming home. The therapies increased and we began to work on Paul’s discharge plan, 8 months in hospital finally coming to an end. We were introduced to the Wigan Neuro rehab team and worked closely with them once Paul was back at home. We felt much supported and made the decision to move a bed downstairs and convert our bathroom into a wet room.

This was where reality kicked in and we were home alone now with a man who had a traumatic brain injury, Diffuse Axonal and needed 24/7 caring for. As a family we were in the honeymoon phase of being so glad he was back where he belonged but had absolutely no idea what ahead of us.

In April 2021 we contacted Headway and were put in touch with Alex Power, our local HATS contact who advised of several Headway groups in the North West. Some nearby and some were distant but I decided to go for the Sefton group as their Facebook page was inviting and having spent a long time driving to Manchester, I felt a strong urge to head west!

Cathy Johnson quickly returned my message on Facebook and we were invited to the monthly get together in Crosby. This group of amazing people quickly became our new Headway family, to say I was relieved was an understament as the warmth and support we received was just what we needed.

We also had regular meet ups outside of the monthly meeting, went to the annual Towerwood holiday in Windermere and I really hoped that things would start to improve and become more “normal”.

Unfortunately, in our case Paul’s brain injury meant he started to become extremely fatigued and eventually developed significant behaviour issues that meant it was not safe for him to remain at home. When Paul went into respite and then neuro rehabilitation, again, the Headway Sefton team were an absolute tower of strength and guided me through the very difficult process of securing a placement for Paul. Strained meetings with social services and navigating the system would have been very challenging without their unconditional support.

It’s now four years post-accident, things are very different for the Heywood family and we are still very much on our brain injury journey , I feel I have found friends for life and will always be grateful for having Cathy, Carol, Michelle, Cath and the Headway Sefton wonderful team in our lives."