Zoe Rainaki, from Orpington in Kent, became a Headway Hero in 2021 when she signed up to run the Royal Parks Half Marathon alongside her sister, Jodi. The intrepid pair had taken the decision to raise money for Headway after receiving a grant from the Headway Emergency Fund when their brother, Jamie, sustained a severe and life-changing stroke.
Little did Zoe know that during training in the run-up to the marathon, she would be thrust into a new role of full-time carer when she intervened to stop Jamie being transferred to a care home, and agreed that he could come and live with her.
"It was a difficult time, with me and my mum looking after Jamie 24-hours a day," said Zoe. "With so much pressure in the early days, there were times when we thought: 'what have we done?'
"When he first came home, Jamie's brain injury affected everything - he couldn't stand or speak - he couldn't even call my name and had angry, sometimes violent, outbursts. But we were determined to help him get back to being independent, starting with getting him standing again.
"Eventually, with much wrangling with the NHS over what support he could receive, we decided to use his care funding to recruit a PA for Jamie, who helps with daily care and works with a private physio to give him regular therapy.
The difference has been amazing - Jamie is now a member of a local gym which provides him with great support, and is learning to transfer independently from a wheelchair onto an exercise bike.
In October 2021, a neuro-nurse at King's College Hospital, London, suggested that Jamie may have symptoms of hydrocephalus (fluid around the brain) and further tests were conducted, eventually leading to a shunt being fitted to draw off the excess fluid. The difference was "stunning", according to Zoe.
She said: "Jamie still has problems with his mobility, making decisions, memory and anger, but he's making big improvements. One night in the early stages he asked 'what are we having for dinner?' five minutes after he'd finished eating, but now he remembers what he ate.
"Controlling anger was very difficult for Jamie and there was one stage when we thought he'd have to move to a care home because of it, but we've come such a long way.
"When he had an outburst we started explaining that it isn't Jamie, it's the brain injury. We even got him to name this 'darker side' of himself - he called it Ralph.
"Now when he feels himself losing control he says: 'Ralph, go away!', and that makes him much more able to control things."
Although the brain injury has changed Jamie, Zoe and the rest of the family forever, the amazing progress since the bleak early stages has been inspiring, bringing them closer together with a positive outlook on the future.
Zoe explained: "The biggest thing to recognise is it needs patience and time. The majority of the public and even many professionals don't understand the effects of brain injury, the amount of support that is needed, and the impact on the family.
"But I want to help people understand that in the early stages you might have to accept there is now a different version of your loved one. Read the information on the Headway website and accept support when you need it.
We're all learning more about our ‘new’ brother, and loving life with that. He's still a gentleman underneath, and we laugh now more than we've ever laughed before.
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