'Act of compassion left me with a career-ending brain injury'
Michael Mabon, 39 and from Kilmarnock, in East Ayrshire, had moved to Swansea to begin a nursing course when he stopped to buy food for a homeless person outside his home and fell victim to a brutal gang assault.
Michael is one of just three finalists from across the UK in the running for the Alex Richardson Achiever of the Year award to recognise his outstanding personal achievements after brain injury.
The accolade, sponsored by Slater and Gordon Solicitors, will be presented at a ceremony organised by Headway – the brain injury association in London on Friday 16 December.
In 2007, Michael had been living in Swansea for just two days when a moment of selfless generosity backfired and he fell victim to an unprovoked attack by a gang.
Michael and his girlfriend were less than 100 yards from his home when they spotted a homeless man begging for help on the street.
"We bought the man some sandwiches from a nearby shop," said Michael. "Little did we know that a 12-strong gang of thugs had previously rowed with the rough sleeper, and I was caught unawares when the mob returned and launched an unprovoked assault on me from behind."
Michael's moment of selfless compassion left him with a life-changing traumatic brain injury.
The next thing Michael knew he was slowly regaining consciousness a month later at Morriston Hospital, in Swansea, before he was later transferred to Crosshouse Hospital in Kilmarnock, East Ayrshire, to be closer to his family.
"I was reluctant to give money but wanted to help the homeless man in a way that would best benefit him, so we went over with a couple of sandwiches," Michael remembered. "Next thing I knew I was regaining consciousness from an induced coma a month later."
Thankfully, Michael survived the attack, but the subarachnoid brain haemorrhage he suffered during the assault left him with a devastating traumatic brain injury and put an end to his imminent plans of starting a Nursing training course.
He remained in hospital for a total of six months and has no recollection of the event.
After spending time at Astley Ainslie Rehabilitation Centre, in Edinburgh, Michael was eventually discharged to his mother's house and referred to Headway Ayrshire, a charity which helps local people rebuild their lives after brain injury, for support.
"When I was first discharged from hospital I was not at all well," said Michael. "I suffered cripplingly severe headaches and my short-term memory was terrible.
"To go from wanting to train as a nurse to help people to not being able to use the toilet without assistance was a really big life challenge to process.
"For the first two years of recovery I was completely paralysed down the left-hand side of my body and, as I was missing part of my skull, I was forced to wear a safety helmet to protect his brain. It took months of intensive physiotherapy to regain mobility in my arm. Even when my movement began to return I had to use a wheelchair to get around.
"My mother was forced to turn the dining room into a bedroom so I could move back into their house. She became my full-time carer, helping me with everything from washing and eating to going to the toilet.
"From being at the beginning of a potential new career in nursing to not being able to move was such a big thing to happen."
Before brain injury, Michael was a keen traveller and had even lived in Portugal where he ran his own gardening business.
After the attack however, Michael lost his confidence and motivation, which soon caused him to feel socially isolated and very low in mood. In the early stages of recovery, he also struggled with paralysis down the left-side of his body and battled through daily pain.
Chronic pain and fatigue
"I struggled with chronic fatigue after my brain injury which destroyed my motivation and made me very emotional," said Michael. "My short-term memory and concentration were also severely affected."
Michael began attending weekly art group sessions at Headway Ayrshire a year after sustaining his brain injury.
"It is a privilege to be nominated for this award and I do not know where I would be without the amazing team at Headway Ayrshire," said Michael.
"The charity has done a phenomenal job at helping me relearn key life skills, and they encouraged me to reassess my aspirations when nursing fell through as a career prospect after my brain injury.
"I've always loved art and the support sessions at Headway enabled me to build my confidence."
Having completed a course in Cognitive Education and attended the charity's Adult Literacy and Numeracy classes to help relearn his language skills after brain injury, Michael completed a course in Art and Design in 2015.
Achiever of the Year national finalist
Today, Michael lives with his girlfriend Tina and is currently at university studying for a degree in Art at university. Now a volunteer and fundraiser at Headway Ayrshire, he was nominated for the award by the charity's Chair, James Ross.
The awards ceremony will be made extra special as it will be his mother's birthday and she will get the see the son she helped relearn how to walk and talk take to the stage to claim recognition as an Achiever of the Year national finalist.
"Michael has made such phenomenal progress," said James. "Despite his ongoing daily challenges, Michael continues to grow in confidence and strive to be the best he can be.
"He is a valued member of our group and his paintings are fantastic, albeit very dark and moody!
"Michael's love of life and high spirited character makes him an inspiration to all who know him. Everyone at Headway Ayrshire takes great pleasure in nominating Michael who is most deserving of this award."
The Alex Richardson Achiever of the Year award is named after a University of St. Andrews student who tragically passed away following a brain injury at the tender age of 21. Alex's family have since been invaluable supporters of Headway, dedicating their time to raise vital funds for brain injury survivors around the UK.
Each year, Headway Annual Awards celebrates the exceptional efforts of survivors of brain injury and their carers. Michael will discover if he is to be named Alex Richardson Achiever of the Year at a glittering ceremony at The Dorchester Hotel, in London, on Friday 16 December. Awards for Volunteer and Carer of the Year will also be presented, alongside the Stephen McAleese Outstanding Contribution to Headway Award.Back