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Gwen and Natalie Milham

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Gwen and Natalie Milham

Gwen and Natalie Milham

We couldn't have managed without Headway

For almost 20 years, Gwen and Natalie Milham, from Hurstwood Park, have provided ongoing daily support for Nathan Milham, their son and brother respectively.

In July 1996, Nathan had been on his way to meet Natalie when he was hit by a car and suffered a severe brain injury.

The then 17-year-old was rushed to the Royal Free Hospital in London. Tragically, he developed a brain aneurysm and was to spend the next year in a coma. Life for the Milham family became a rollercoaster of emotions as they were repeatedly asked to consider turning off Nathan's life-support machine.

"We were asked three times to consider switching off Nathan's machine, but we never gave up hope that my son would eventually defy doctors predictions and get better," said Gwen.

Our devotion to Nathan paid off, as he slowly began to improve, though he was left with a brain injury that massively altered each of our lives.

"After what seemed like a lifetime, Nathan had finally recovered enough to be allowed to return home. My husband, Dave, and I became Nathan's primary carers, providing around the clock care for our son and helping him with everything from washing to eating.

"In the early days of Nathan's recovery, we even adapted our house to provide him with the support he was going to need for the rest of his life."

Meanwhile, Natalie's health also took a serious knock as she suffered from kidney failure. She may have died had her elder sister not stepped in and donated one of her own kidneys, saving Natalie's life. Thankfully, the transplant operation was a success and Natalie was able to resume her life as normal.

But things were to get much worse before they got better for the Milham family.

In 2005, tragedy struck again as Dave suffered a brain injury of his own and, although Gwen's husband could still communicate, he became totally immobile. Like Nathan, he too was in sudden need of 24-hour care.

Gwen began juggling her time between her husband and son until Dave sadly passed away in 2009. Less than a year after Dave's death, Gwen received yet another piece of devastating news; she had breast cancer.

Determined to face this additional life challenge in her usual stoical manner, Gwen's only concern was for Nathan and, once again, the family united to confront this next crisis together.

Natalie took over the caring duties for her brother and, even though Gwen has thankfully made a full recovery, Natalie continues to share the load and cares for Nathan on a daily basis.

"Every day is a challenge," said a humble Natalie. "But Nathan is lovely and we wouldn't have been able to get this far if we didn't have such a close family support network. Similarly, we could not have managed without the support of Headway.

"When doctors treat you, it is expected that they will instantly fix you. But when they say recovery will take years, they really mean years.

"It has been 18 years since Nathan's accident and, with help from Headway Hurstwood Park, he can now eat on his own and walk with the help of a walking aid. He's doing well."

In December, Gwen and Natalie's continued devotion to Nathan was nationally recognised as they were jointly crowned Carer of the Year in this year's Headway Annual Awards.

Gwen said: "Although Nathan continues to need a high level of support, we constantly encourage him to progress and celebrate all his achievements. Nathan's favourite expression is "We're victorious!" and Natalie is usually heard shouting it with him on a morning.

"Despite all the trials our family has had to endure, we believe it is important to remain positive and share much happiness andlaughter together."

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Headway - the brain injury association is registered with the Charity Commission for England and Wales (Charity no. 1025852) and the Office of the Scottish Regulator (Charity no. SC 039992). Headway is a company limited by guarantee, registered in England no. 2346893.

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