When 52-year-old Mel Lightfoot, from Gosport, slipped on a wet pavement and hit her head while on a shopping trip to B&Q in 2010, she feared that she may be suffering from concussion. Little did Mel know that one knock to the head was all it would take to change her life in an instant and eventually result in her losing her job.
After the fall, Mel was rushed to hospital in an ambulance but was discharged after just a few hours later with nothing more than a head injury leaflet.
However, in the days following the accident Mel began to struggle significantly with poor concentration, language difficulties and memory problems. Determined to resume her routine as normal, the mother-of-two initially ignored the symptoms.
It wasn't until several weeks later when the troubling warning signs persisted that Mel eventually realised that something was seriously wrong and sought medical advice - only to be misdiagnosed months later with severe depression.
"In reality, my seemingly innocuous head injury had left me with a life-changing brain injury and I was, in fact, suffering from the effects of Mild Dysexecutive Syndrome, which can occur when the frontal lobe of the brain is injured," said Mel.
"After I slipped and hit my head, I struggled with language difficulties and found it a challenge to remember basic things.
I suspected that the head injury may have caused concussion, but I thought the difficulties would eventually go away.
"However, as time went by and the problems persisted, I knew something wasn't right, but I found it a real battle to get a brain injury diagnosis. When I was misdiagnosed with depression it just didn't feel right to me, so I paid for a private consultation and was eventually diagnosed with Mild Dysexecutive Syndrome the following year.
"Before sustaining a brain injury, my life was lived at speed and everything was done in a rush. There were never enough hours in the day. After my head injury, I found it incredibly difficult to complete tasks I once completed with ease."
But things were about to get even worse for Mel.
"I worked as a Home School Link Worker in a primary school, which I had retrained to do and it was my dream job," said Mel.
"After sustaining my brain injury, I struggled to remember basic details about the children I worked with and I eventually lost my job. I was devastated.
"I tried to fight and save my career, but I couldn't. I had to accept that I had gone from being a capable member of staff to being unreliable and needing all of my work checked as I was making mistakes. It was a horrible feeling. I used to be able to help the children, and their parents, with any problems they were having and all of a sudden I couldn't remember details about them - I felt really bad.
"The impact upon family life has also been a huge strain. One of the most difficult problems is that I look 'fine' and, while I may look fine, I'm not.
"Brain injuries are often invisible and so it is difficult for people, even friends and family, to understand or even acknowledge it exists."
Unable to work in permanent employment because of her difficulties after brain injury, Mel found that taking a step back from her usual busy routines led to weight gain and she struggled to stay positive.
Eventually, Mel discovered Headway Portsmouth and South East Hants and, with the charity's support, she began to rebuild her life.
"It shocked me how little follow-up support or guidance the NHS offers after brain injury and I didn't know where to turn," said Mel, who lives with her husband Clive and their two children, Hollie, 18, and Alex, 16.
"Headway Portsmouth and South East Hants has been my major support and lifeline for more than three years now. I don't know where I would be today without their team.
"It was the friends I made at the Gosport support group that have helped me get to where I am today. We support each other on a weekly basis and I'm grateful to every one of them.
"They helped me so much. I even started volunteering at the charity's office at the Mountbatten Centre, in Portsmouth. It is only a couple of hours a week, but it gets me out of the house and it feels a bit like being back at work.
"I am still struggling to come to terms with my complete change in lifestyle and with the person I am after brain injury. I am determined not to let my injury define me - I'm still me, albeit a slightly different me.
I count myself lucky that I am still alive. Although my life is different now - at least I have one. Some people who sustain head injuries are not so fortunate.
Mel signed up to a local slimming group to improve her physical health and last year joined 152 members of the group to tackle a six-week 'Slim for Good' challenge to raise funds for Headway Portsmouth and South East Hants, raising £350 to help others living with the effects of brain injury.
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