Tales of horrific head injuries, and the devastating effects they can inflict on victims, never fail to shock. The recent coma battle of Sheffield boxer Jerome Wilson, badly hurt from a knockout punch which finished his career fighting in the ring last month, highlighted again the consequences facing survivors of severe blows to the head.
According to the latest figures from charity Headway, around one million people in the UK are currently living with the effects of a long-term head injury which can include personality and behavioural changes as well as cognitive and physical problems.
In Sheffield, the community brain injury rehabilitation team, managed by Sheffield Health and Social Care NHS Foundation Trust, receives 170 new referrals of people suffering from brain injury every year.
Patient Steph Grant, aged 53, from Arbourthorne, used the service after surviving a head-on car crash in which two people lost their lives, and has since offered his help to the team to support others recovering from head injuries.
The dad said the road smash happened in 1985, killing the drivers of both vehicles involved.
“Alive but unconscious, I was rushed to hospital and spent a week in a coma,” he said.
“I did wake up, but it was like I was a completely different person - I could remember my wife and knew I had a son but recognised nothing else about my life.
“I was eventually discharged but I was confined to my bedroom because it was the only place that felt familiar.
“If I ventured out I got lost as my memory was poor, I couldn’t walk very well and my speech was slurred. I could not understand why I behaved the way I did which made me even more angry and confused. I started to think I was going mad.”
Steph’s trauma intensified when his then wife died after an overdose, and he moved to Scotland to be with his parents.
“I was still having tremendous difficulties but was misdiagnosed with depression which meant I wasn’t getting the treatment I needed,” he said.
Steph moved south again to Sheffield after meeting his current wife, Gwynfa, but without the appropriate help his life became even more chaotic, resulting in him finding himself homeless.
“Things only began to change when a charity helped us to find a house and that’s when a specialist brain injury social worker came to see me and I got a proper assessment.”
Finally he was sent to the city’s brain injury rehabilitation team, which he said proved to be a ‘lifeline’.
“I can honestly say that my key worker has literally saved my life, my marriage and put me back together again. The service has been a lifeline and I don’t know where I’d be without it.
“Finally I started to understand that my behaviour and the problems I suffered were because of my injury. I lived a chaotic life but I now have order so I can be a good husband, father and grandfather.”
But Steph still struggles daily with the effects of his injury.
“I can be articulate and alert one day and then the next my speech is slurred, I stumble walking and froth at the mouth which is difficult, because people assume I am drunk. There is so much ignorance around brain injury and a lack of understanding about how devastating the impact can be but that is what has spurred me on and is why I now do all I can to raise awareness.”
Over the past 10 years Steph has worked on a variety of projects with the head injury service, including a creative writing group, as well as helping to boost staff recruitment. He recently won an ‘award for excellence’ from the NHS trust to recognise his volunteering.
“To know that I am contributing to society again and being recognised for that work is an incredible feeling.”