Debra Jones sustained a traumatic brain injury while on a night out with friends between Christmas and New Year in 2015.
Her story and experience of living with a brain injury will resonate with many – as will her frustration and anger about a general lack of understanding about the long-term and often hidden effects of brain injury.
It was a frustration also felt by her family. Until, that is, her son Kieran Nolan Jones decided to make a film documenting the effects of Debra’s brain injury. The result, called Jelly Brain, is both powerful and emotive.
We spoke with Kieran to ask him about the challenges and rewards of making such a personal film.
“Ever since I was 11, I have been interested in filmmaking,” said Kieran, now 29. “I had always harboured ambitions to have a career in television or film. Those hopes were enhanced when I was accepted onto a post-graduate course in production management at the National Film and Television School.
“I was 24 at the time and living at home with my mum and sister, Abi. In what now seems like a classic piece of role reversal, Abi and I stayed in one night just after Christmas while Mum went out with her friends.
“Abi then received ‘the call’ at 1am. Mum had fallen and hit her head. When we arrived at the hospital, she was conscious but glassy-eyed. At first, we were relieved, thinking it was just a concussion. But she then started retching and asking me to help her.
“She was immediately whisked off for further examination before being transferred to a neuro ward. It was a scary time as Abi and I gradually came to the realisation that something was seriously wrong – a feeling that was confirmed when we overheard a nurse saying Mum had fractured her skull and sustained a bleed on the brain.
“Despite this, Mum was discharged after just seven days and it was down to me and Abi to look after her. She struggled to walk unaided and needed help with basic tasks such as showering.
“She was always in pain. Her personality had changed and she was always angry.
“It was as if there was a toxic cocktail of emotional change, lack of empathy and constant pain.
“The anger was also fuelled by a lack of understanding among friends of what she was going through. She kept hearing ‘you look better’, or ‘glad to see you’ve recovered’, when in reality she was really struggling.
“I was desperate to help her raise awareness and to give her a voice, so I asked Mum and Abi to appear in a documentary film that would shed light on the hidden effects of brain injury and how it can impact the entire family.
“Thankfully, they agreed – largely because they thought it would never actually happen! But happen it did – and Jelly Brain is the result.
“It was incredibly challenging for all of us. Despite being around my friends and colleagues who agreed to help me with the filming, allowing me to be in the unusual position in front of the camera for a change, we all shared far more of our feelings than we had done previously.
“It was a cathartic experience for us all. But most of all it’s helped to raise awareness.
“It’s my gift to Mum.”
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