'I was one of the ones that slipped through the net... The hospital taught me how to physically function, but Headway has taught me how to live again.'
Today, 46-year-old Joanne Davis lives a happy life in Wisbech, in Cambridgeshire, with her second husband, Peter, and her 12-year-old daughter, Shannon. In addition to learning how to make her own jewellery, Joanne is looking to set up her own business and she often helps run a peer support group at Headway Cambridgeshire.
To some, these may seem like humble, everyday achievements. But, after the incredible journey that Joanne has faced over the past decade, they are nothing short of extraordinary.
In August 1999, Joanne was travelling home from work when she was involved in a car accident, which left her with serious head injuries and a devastating brain injury. After spending the next month of her life in a coma, Joanne was transferred to a general hospital ward where she stayed for a further four months, before she was finally allowed to go home - just in time to celebrate the turning of the millennium with her family.
"Before my brain injury, I was a personal assistant to the chief executive of a Peterborough Company in Cambridgeshire," said Joanne. "I was in the process of starting an executive course to push my career to the next level."
"When I returned home from hospital I received no follow-up care - nor was I made aware of the long-term implications of her brain injury. I was one of the ones that slipped through the net.
"I therefore returned to my job after a mere month after being discharged from hospital because - aside from needing crutches to walk - it appeared that I had made a good physical recovery.
"Despite telling myself I was back to my normal self, I immediately began to struggle with a number of cognitive skills - so much so that I could not even remember how to turn on my own computer. It was hard for me to understand why I could no longer function as I had before the accident."
Joanne's accident had left her with many physical problems and, even today, she finds it difficult to balance and walk, occasionally suffering from bouts of severe agony.
Shortly after being discharged from hospital, Joanne received more devastating news - she may never be able to have children.
I made it my goal to prove them wrong
In 2002, Joanne remarkably fell pregnant with her now 12-year-old daughter Shannon, marking the start of a new life for Joanne and her family.
"When the doctors said that it was unlikely I could carry children after my pelvis was damaged in the accident, I made it my goal to prove them wrong," said Joanne. "I've been very lucky with the kind of person Shannon has become - she's my absolute star!"
Sadly, things were to get worse before they got better. The cognitive and behavioural issues caused by Joanne's brain injury put great strain on her first marriage and it eventually broke down.
Unable to cope with the work-load she once took for granted, Joanne soon also found herself unemployed, and was forced to face her daily challenges alone as a single parent to Shannon, who was only a baby and was entirely dependent upon her mother at the time of Joanne's divorce.
It was not until years later, in 2003, that Joanne reached rock bottom and turned to Headway Cambridgeshire for some much-needed support.
After attending 11 weekly support course run by the Headway group, Joanne's memory, quality of life and ability to manage her limitations began to vastly improve.
Today, her confidence has grown so that she has even recently helped continue the weekly meeting, called Headway Friendship Group, to enable people in Wisbech who have been affected by brain injury to meet up for a couple of hours each week for drinks and a chat.
"My daughter Shannon is getting older now and, being needed less, I started to feel useless, so I started attending rehabilitation sessions Headway Cambridgeshire," said Joanne. "The hospital taught me how to physically function, but Headway has taught me how to live again.
"When I began attending sessions at Headway Cambridgeshire it was like waking up. There are still daily challenges. I don't recognise people I should know easily, and I have bouts of headaches and pain, meaning I sometimes have to walk with a cane in order to balance.
"With the support of Headway Cambridgeshire, I can now accept my limitations and be proud of what I do achieve on a good day, knowing it's okay to rest on a bad day.
"My jewellery-making has particularly been a great benchmark for me, as I can pick it up at my own pace without the risk of letting anyone down. If my eye-sight is poor one day, I can simply use bigger beads!
"For me it's not about dwelling on what I used to be and looking back at my life before brain injury while thinking 'what if' - it's about building a new future based upon what I can do now."
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