Kerry Jeffs had been cycling to work near to her home in West Sussex in 2012 when a car crashed into her bike. Tragically, Kerry had not been wearing a cycle helmet and was left unconscious on the road with a devastating traumatic brain injury.
Having spent six weeks in hospital, Kerry thankfully regained consciousness but she struggled to speak and walk. It soon became evident that there were other subtle hidden changes to her ability to think, feel, and complete daily activities she had once enjoyed.
Kerry describes below her thoughts and feelings upon finally returning home from hospital after the accident, and how Headway West Sussex has helped her take back control of her life.
'Importance of wearing a cycle helmet cannot be understated'
"I had intended to buy a cycle helmet in the weeks leading up to the accident but sadly did not get around to it," Kerry remembered.
"Whether you are completing a charity cycle ride or simply nipping to your local shops, the importance of wearing a cycle helmet cannot be understated."
"When I first regaining consciousness after the accident, my speech made no sense at all," she continued. "As time went on, I realised that my life would never be the same again.
"Although I didn't want to stay at the hospital, I was also petrified to face the outside world. Everybody expected me to be happy to go home, but during the long car journey home I was silent, my hands were sweating and the journey made me feel nauseous.
"I felt completely useless, ashamed, confused and frustrated. My partner's wide smile was greeted with a breakdown. I was a mess.
"For several months I had to wear sunglasses indoors because bright lights hurt my eyes, and I needed to sleep most of each day. I became incredibly tired just by doing the simplest of things like making a bed. I didn't even have the strength to open a can to feed the cat, let alone make myself a sandwich or do any housework."
Sadly, Kerry's long-term relationship broke down a year after sustaining her brain injury and, although she did return to work, she was unable to complete the tasks that were part of her pre-injury job description at a local garden centre.
"It was traumatic for me to realise that the things I'd previously found easy I could no longer do," said Kerry.
"My colleagues felt helpless as they watched the person who had once been the most competent in the team struggle to answer their questions.
"Even today, communication continues to be one of my key challenges after brain injury.
"It can often feel very frustrating that many of my disabilities are not visible, because it means people can't see the enormous struggle it is for me and others with a hidden brain injury to do the basic things that others take for granted like talk, walk and function in everyday life.
"Unlike somebody with a visible disability, people with a brain injury frequently have to cope with impatience, misunderstanding and ignorance from others who may not understand, on top of everything else they are experiencing in their personal life."
Headway helped change my life for the better
In the months after Kerry returned home, she realised her road to recovery would be a rocky one. She eventually turned to Headway West Sussex for support in building her confidence.
"Unlike so many others in my position, I was lucky enough to be introduced to Headway while in hospital. The charity's national website and information leaflets were invaluable to helping me and my family understand and manage the complex consequences of my brain injury.
"My therapist then put me in touch with the Headway West Sussex support group in Worthing at a time when life felt hardly worth living and they provided me with continued support and the tools necessary to slowly rebuild my life.
"Joining Headway was the best thing I ever did. I guess the most important thing was to discover that I wasn't alone.
"At first, I was so shy that I refused to even introduce myself to the group, but being around people who truly understood me made it so much easier. I can genuinely thank Headway West Sussex for being so patient and supportive. The team helped to change my life for the better."
"Changes have not all been negative," said Kerry.
"During my long journey to recovery, I started doing arts and crafts to improve my concentration and was surprised to discover a new passion and creative streak for producing unique art.
"As soon as I felt confident enough to go outside, I became determined to find something to develop my concentration and so I bought some beads and an ornament from the local shops and started to glue them to a small model of a duck. Despite the figure being only two-inches wide, it took me two whole weeks to finish as I did it between very long sleeps due to my fatigue after brain injury.
"The process was very difficult but I was determined to finish it. I didn't realise that this was the beginning of a new adventure and life plan.
"Next, I went back to the same shop to buy some coloured wire. I had no idea what I'd use it for but I knew I'd think of something! I made 3D dandelions by twisting them at the end.
"My love of art just took off. I started experimenting and had the fantastic idea of making a pictures out of wire, including seascapes and scenes featuring landmarks, famous people and musical instruments. I've now launched my own art website!"
Much to Kerry's surprise – and delight! – a number of people showed interest in her project leading her to publicly exhibit and commission her artwork.
This summer, Kerry became one of just 12 brain injury survivors to be shortlisted by a panel of judges from Headway UK and Thompsons Solicitors in a national art competition.
The competition, organised by Headway UK, saw entrants get creative and produced a design to become the law firm's official 2016 Christmas card.
Ballet voting to select the winner took place at Headway's annual brain injury conference, called The Way Ahead, in Staffordshire this weekend (1-3 July) where brain injury survivors chose their favourite card design.
Kerry Jeff's entry, called 'Under Construction', depicted a deconstructed snowman to echo the process of putting yourself back together and rediscovering your sense of identity after brain injury.
"I was so pleased to hear my design has been shortlisted and feel excited to represent Headway following the incredible support they have given me," said Kerry, who now runs craft workshops at Headway West Sussex.
"My card design represents how head injury can throw your life into chaos but you just need to get out there and discover a new angle or perspective. I want to inspire and encourage other people with an acquired brain injury to never give up.
"It is hard for me to believe that such an unwanted trauma of brain injury has transformed me from leading a daily routine life working in retail to an increasingly well-known and respected local artist!
"Meeting others faced with similar life challenges after brain injury at the Headway West Sussex art sessions I now run has resulted in my developing some great friendships with like-minded people. Seeing others trying to navigate through a new world of brain injury also made me realise how fortunate I was to have found an appropriate lawyer through Headway UK's Solicitor Directory.
"Without the support of a legal representative who had specialist training in brain injury, I would never have received the invaluable provision of a multi-disciplinary team to help me regain a new sense of self and purpose after such a difficult ordeal."
You can see a full range of Kerry Jeffs' artwork by visiting her website, www.wirepictures.com.
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