Being sent back into the community without any support is a tragic but all too familiar scenario for many brain injury survivors.
The story was no different for Kiran Higgins, from Edinburgh, who was discharged from hospital 11 days after her brain injury without a care package. Kiran has shared her story in the hope that no other survivors will be let down after their brain injury.
In 2008, Alan and Kiran had gone on an overnight stay in Scotland and were on their motorbike. Alan is an experienced rider and they were both were wearing all of their safety gear. On a tight bend travelling at 20 mph they skidded on diesel and came off the road.
Alan had a broken ankle, a broken collarbone and two breaks in his arm, while Kiran was flown to Ninewells Hospital in Dundee by air ambulance. She was dead on arrival and rushed to intensive care to be resuscitated.
Heavily dosed on morphine, a doctor told Alan his wife 'might not make it' and left him with no further updates on his wife's condition. Kiran doesn't know how long she spent in a coma, but when she woke up Alan was the only person she recognised.
A week later she had a memory retention of 10 minutes and repeated the same things over and over without realising. She had lost the ability to carry out her basic functional tasks, such as personal care and dressing herself and didn’t know whether it was night or day.
But the couple were sent home after 11 days and Alan was expected to care for Kiran, with no support. Alan recovered well from his injuries, but he received no support regarding the trauma he experienced nor any support to help him take on the responsibility of caring for Kiran.
"We had no family and limited support from friends," said Kiran.
We were just left to get on with it with no help.
After they were discharged from hospital, they stayed with friends for a week, and were visited by an occupational therapist. She took Kiran to a busy area and asked Kiran to cross the road to see how she managed.
Kiran said: "I couldn't work out what to do. There were cars coming from all directions. I just wanted to hold the OT's hand."
After that one and only session, the occupational therapist went on sick leave and was never replaced, leaving Alan and Kiran to continue struggling to manage everyday living. Only twelve weeks after the accident Kiran was back at work, facing a lack of understanding from her employer.
"I was on a phased return to work, doing part-time hours," she said. "But they still expected me to complete my usual full time work load, managing child protection cases.
"They put me in a noisy part of the office which was too stimulating for me and made it more difficult for me to work."
In 2011 she moved to a new job in Dumfries and Galloway, where she received support from Headway.
She said: "They were brilliant. This lady came to my house and she said she could support me for as long as I needed it.
"She would come to see me at home. I was having problems at work at the time and she was great. She came along and guided me."
Kiran later moved to Edinburgh and now works for the NHS. She has had recent conversations with her manager about putting support into place.
After nine years it was the first time someone said 'how can we support you?
"I said, 'I don't know, but let's work it out together.' They have just started putting reasonable adjustments in place for me, like giving me extra time in a recent exam."
Kiran is grateful for her employers support but feels there needs to be greater understanding of brain injury as a hidden disability.
She said: "It's very early days. They do still forget. They look at you and you don't look as if there's anything wrong. I have to constantly remind them."
Kiran still suffers from memory loss, fatigue, room spin and other functional difficulties. She can be accident prone and sometimes has trouble recognising people.
"People don't understand brain injury and tend to confuse it with mental health problems rather than functional difficulties," she said.
Kiran has applied for the Headway Brain Injury ID Card which lists some of the effects of brain injury so she can explain her brain injury to other people if she needs to.
She said: "When I'm fatigued I can have slurred speech as well as a lack of co-ordination and balance problems.
The card will be helpful, because I can show it to people when verbal communication is too challenging and difficulties arise."
As well as holding a full time job, Kiran also helps the Fire Service deliver training to motorcyclists with Biker Down and Biker Fife.
The sessions give motorcyclists potentially life-saving skills to help them make the scene of a collision safe and protect a casualty, like Kiran and Alan when they had their life-changing accident.
Kiran has set herself a goal to undertake her CBT (Compulsory Basic Training) to ride a motorcycle.
Most recently, Kiran has become a patient representative working to improve the patient pathway for brain injured people, their families and carers with the Scottish Acquired Brain Injury Network (SABIN) supporting them in their goal of making sure all brain injury survivors have equal access to the highest quality brain injury care.
Kiran hopes that by sharing her story it will help other brain injury survivors receive the care and support they need when they return to the community.
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