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Liz and Justina's story A Life Re-written

Liz and Justina's story

Everything changed after mum's stroke
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As part of Headway's ABI Week 2024 A Life Re-Written campaign, Liz and Justina share their experience of how life changed after Liz suffered a stroke at the age of 37.

However, in the years that followed, with the help of her loved ones, Liz found a new path in life. Now she and her daughter Justina Omotayo are sharing their story as part of Headway’s Action for Brain Injury Week, which runs May 20-26.

Now 56, Liz said:

I used to be a very good fitness person; I was passionate about it. I used to run over 20 miles three times a week. But on December 12, 2004, my life was rewritten because I had a stroke.

Despite her high level of fitness, there were many times when Liz wasn’t expected to survive the stroke and she is now a wheelchair user.

This year’s campaign A Life Re-Written, explores how brain injury can affect anyone at any time, focussing on how it throws plans into disarray and can even alter people’s sense of identity. The campaign is fronted by BBC The Traitors star Andrew Jenkins, who sustained a brain injury following a car crash. Andrew interviewed Liz and Justina from Croydon, for a series of videos as part of the campaign.

 “My mum was rushed to hospital, and they discovered that she had a bleed in the brain, an aneurysm, and it had burst. We were told to prepare for the worst.”

Liz underwent 10 hours of emergency surgery overnight as her family anxiously awaited any news.

When Justina visited Liz in the morning, she entered a room full of beeping machines. “I remember thinking, “Oh my goodness, this is the end,” said Justina.

“I’m already from a single-parent household, I only have one parent, and now the parent that I have is vanishing before my eyes. I was quite certain that it was just a matter of time before my mum went. There were many moments when we were called to say goodbye because the pressure in Mum's brain had gone too high.

One thing we would say about Mum is she was a real fighter. I think the biggest moment for me was when she was able to put her thumb up if she wanted to say something or blink her eyes. Those forms of communication – just to realise she was present; she was there, and she could hear us - were key moments. Those were major milestones.”

Once it was clear Liz was going to survive her ordeal, Justina said she wondered what her mum’s quality of life would look like. But being the fighter that she is, Liz has learned to embrace life post-brain injury and always aims to stay positive.

“I believe that God instils in me that fight, the ability to persevere, to be strong, to be happy,” said Liz. “I always tell people I’m quite a happy character. You have to be happy, that’s what I believe. I want to live life.”

It was suggested to the pair that Liz join her local Headway as a way to meet people, build relationships, and to do things in the community.

“My mum’s full of energy she wants to get out into the community,” said Justina. “While this is a different version of Mum there are parts of her life and her personality that she enjoyed that we’re still able to do. Traveling was one. My mum loves a good dance, she was a raver, it’s safe to say. We’ve done Notting Hill Carnival over several years.”

In 2022, Justina and Liz with the help of Liz’s carer Lorna published a book, ‘Unplanned Paths: A Stroke of Life’. The book shows that, despite obstacles, Justina and Liz have made their own way in the world, celebrating diversity and opportunity at every turn, and showing that a disability is not a limit to leading a fulfilling life. The proceeds go to Headway.

“Many people had encouraged my mum to document her life and said it would make for an interesting read,” said Justina. “Life wasn’t rosy before her stroke, and I think Mum’s been able to document more sensitive issues and things that are often not spoken about. We want to continue to support headway with fundraising. My mum is all about community and getting more involved.

I was 17 when she had her stroke. I’ve gone on to have a fulfilling career, I can leave my mum in the support of people who support her and have an amazing life and that’s due to our strong community and included in that community is Headway.

Liz is now hoping to get a job. “I have a positive attitude about life,” she said. My key thing is while you've got life you’ve got hope and you might as well be thankful and happy about it.

Don’t let a brain injury scar you, you are more than that. Think of your whole being not just the brain injury. Make the most of your life, you’ve only got one and this is not a rehearsal. You have to make the most of the life that you’ve got. You only get one shot at life, make it have impact.”

Browse the links below to explore the campaign and the issues covered in this story.


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