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Hertfordshire woman who survived freak kayaking accident wins national award Main Image

Hertfordshire woman who survived freak kayaking accident wins national award

Fri 08 Dec 2023

A Hertfordshire woman who survived a life-changing accident has won a national achievement award from UK charity Headway – the brain injury association.

Each year, Headway holds a glittering awards ceremony at the Landmark London hotel, celebrating the achievements and contributions of people with brain injuries and those who support them.

In 2016, while kayaking, Stef Harvey, 51, from St Albans, sustained a life-changing brain injury. The accident left her with significant challenges, including speech and balance difficulties and problems recognising once-familiar objects and people. Stef said:

"Sustaining a traumatic brain injury turned my life inside out, stamped on it and rolled over it with a steam roller, as well as the lives of my family who relied on me. I was in denial for a long time."

However, Stef has made remarkable progress since her injury and has been busy ticking off an incredible list of achievements. She helps others in her job as a Healthcare Assistant, has created and delivered disability awareness training, learned to ski and has even attracted praise for her poetry from award-winning author Lemn Sissay OBE.

Stef has now received Headway – the brain injury association's Alex Richardson Achiever of the Year Award - sponsored by Slater and Gordon. It was presented by Olympic gold medallist James Cracknell and Headway Vice President James Cracknell at the Landmark London hotel.

When asked how it feels to win, Stef said: "My mind is blown. It's so magical to be in a room full of amazing 'have done, can do and will do people', and I am honoured to be given this award. Thank you to Headway for everything."

In February 2016, Stef was white water kayaking on the Olympic course near her home when her life changed instantly. Stef struggles to remember the details clearly but knows she was thrown from her kayak and remembers feeling a thud on her forehead. Fortunately, she was saved from the water by quick-thinking onlookers and taken to hospital. She was discharged from hospital a day later with a concussion, a form of brain injury. However, the accident changed Stef's life significantly. Her memory was severely affected; bright lights, noise and fatigue became overwhelming, and she struggled with her emotions and balance.

Stef was nominated for the Alex Richardson Achiever of the Year Award by Anna Michau, an occupational therapist at Headway Hertfordshire, which supported Stef with her brain injury. Anna said:

"Stef is always fun, enthusiastic and willing to be involved in supporting her local Headway group.

"Her willingness to share her thoughts and struggles helps her peers. Stef is also notable for her passion to educate and support others and raise public awareness of brain injury. She has shown strength and tenacity in her recovery from brain injury and continues to make steady progress. I have never worked with an individual like Stef; she has taught me more about brain injury than I ever considered and enriched how I work as an occupational therapist with brain-injured clients."

Luke Griggs, Chief Executive of Headway – the brain injury association, said:

"Stef's courage and determination to overcome adversity is truly inspiring.

"She has made remarkable progress since her accident, and her commitment to helping others despite her many personal challenges is a shining example to us all."

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Headway - the brain injury association is registered with the Charity Commission for England and Wales (Charity no. 1025852) and the Office of the Scottish Regulator (Charity no. SC 039992). Headway is a company limited by guarantee, registered in England no. 2346893.

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