Thousands of people in the North-East are living with brain injuries, many of them suffering in silence because their symptoms are not immediately obvious. Described by his family as a ‘walking miracle’, Giles Hudson is proof of what people in his situation can achieve, as Andy Walker found out.
“MY life changed forever on December 18, 1985,” recalls Giles Hudson. “Driving home after a coffee with friends, in wet conditions on a leafy road, I had an accident trying to avoid an oncoming car, which resulted in me hitting a tree.”
Then aged 19 and with the world at his feet, he was suddenly plunged into a three-month coma and facing a very different future, not to mention fighting for his life. His parents were told that he had just a 25 per cent chance of making it through that first night. When the coma eventually subsided, Giles was left with the challenge of re-learning everyday skills like reading and writing, while also battling memory loss.
His accident, near Kirklevington, just outside Yarm, resulted in severe bruising of the brain, a fractured skull and pelvis, as well as paralysis of the legs. It has been a long journey, but Giles has recovered so well that nothing appears amiss at first glance.
Now almost 30 years since the accident, Giles’ main source of frustration is a delay in his short-term thinking pattern, which means it can take him a little longer to articulate his thought process. As well as receiving expert medical care, Giles has been guided every step of the way by his parents, Gwen and Ron.
Brain injuries have arguably been more in the public eye than ever before in recent months, with seven-time F1 world champion Michael Schumacher still in a medically-induced coma in a French hospital, following a skiing accident in December. It was reported yesterday that doctors are stalling plans to begin the waking-up process amid fears of complications.
Closer to home, NHS stats showed that there were 16,240 cases of traumatic brain injury in the North-East in 2012-13, with more than 650 cases in Darlington alone. Giles is now 47 and lives with his wife, Helen, in Ingleby Barwick, near Stockton. Last year, he took up the voluntary position of chairman of the Darlington and district branch of brain injury charity Headway.
When serious brain damage turned his world upside down, Giles was left to grapple with a more uncertain future. He attempted to carry on as planned, enrolling on a degree course at Durham University, but leaving when it became clear he was not as well as originally hoped.
“I was still healing and my parents were very encouraging,” he remembers. “Prolonged periods of concentration left me quite tired. Short-term memory has improved, but still remains slightly impaired. I am able to study, but the process of assimilating information just takes a little longer. Outwardly, physically, I appear to have no problems at all, which works against me.”
Giles’ refusal to give up eventually led him to a teacher training course at Middlesbrough College and ultimately to ten years of paid employment as a tutor to small groups of people struggling to read and write. It was a rewarding career move, says Giles: “It was amazing to see the light in their faces when they began to understand and want more. Ex-clients have stopped me in the street and thanked me for changing their lives for the better.” A long period of successful employment ended with redundancy in 2011, when the company he was working for missed out on the renewal of a Government contract.
Such has been Ron and Gwen’s single-minded dedication to helping Giles over the past 28 years, they admit they ‘almost lost’ their youngest son, Brent. Thankfully, that was avoided and the Hudsons are a strong family unit. Gwen says it was Brent’s teenage understanding of the need to prioritise Giles that ultimately helped see his brother through the early stages of recovery.
Socialising can be another challenge for people with brain injuries, something Giles can relate to. “My social life was virtually nil,” he recalls. “Everyone I used to know had moved on.” Seeking new friends, Giles joined a singles club, with unexpected results – he found love and rediscovered his sense of humour.
“In November 2004, a new member joined and the sun shone again for me,” says Giles. “Helen brought back my ability to laugh. I was unable to laugh normally, then Helen did something very funny and suddenly a true belly laugh flowed from me for the first time since December 1985. It was a truly amazing feeling. Mum cried – another milestone in my recovery.” Giles and Helen were married in May 2007 - a day he admits he thought would never come.
Despite all optimism, the fight for recognition goes on for Giles and others in his position. The majority of symptoms related to brain injuries are invisible – they can include hormonal changes, loss of taste and smell and, like Giles, changes in the various skills and abilities that come under the umbrella of ‘executive function’. These include problem-solving, self-awareness, decision-making and concentration. Giles and his achievements can serve as inspiration for others affected by the trauma of brain damage. In his words: “I believe everyone should have the opportunity to be everything they are able to be.”
:: Charities like Headway are there to provide care and support for everyone affected by a brain injury, including their families and carers. The next meeting of the Darlington branch will be held on March 4, from 1pm to 3pm, at the BHP offices, in Faverdale. For more information, visit headway.org.uk/headway-darlington-and-district.aspx or call 0808-800-2244.
BRAIN INJURY FACTS
• It is estimated that more than 500,000 people of working age have permanent disabilities as the result of a head injury;
• About one million people a year are taken to hospital with a head injury each year;
• About half of all deaths in people under 40 are caused by head injury;
• Men are up to three times more likely to receive a brain injury than women. This increases to five times more likely in the 15 to 29 age range;
• Road traffic accidents, falls and accidents at home or work are the major causes of head injury.