Next week is Brain Injury Awareness Week and this year’s theme is Every Brain Injury is Different. This pivotal advocacy week focuses on creating awareness in the community about the 700,000-plus Australians impacted by brain injury and their daily struggle to live in a world where their “disability” is often invisible.
And the scary thing is, brain injuries don’t discriminate. One day that person could be you.
- Olympic bronze medalist, Owen Wright, sustained a brain injury five-and-a-half years ago when he was free-surfing at a notorious Hawaiian break, Pipeline, ahead of the end-of-season finale. On a normal day, during a normal surf, something went very wrong.
- Knocked out from a high tackle in the middle of Suncorp Stadium during the Magic Round, Melbourne Storm fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen, was the latest in a surge of NRL players to experience a brain injury while doing what he loved – playing rugby league.
- Jordan Carroll was 11 when he had his first brain bleed caused from a brain tumour. Now 24, he spent three months of his life in hospital before starting a new life with vision impairment, short-term memory loss and a pituitary illness.
- Forty-seven-year-old, Urs Birrer, was a maintenance engineer and avid cyclist before his mountain bike accident in March 2019 that left him with a Traumatic Brain Injury.
- Just after his 30th birthday, Todd Hawkins went for a motorbike ride. Minutes later, he rode into a parked truck. After being revived several times, Todd was taken to hospital and diagnosed with a severe brain injury.
- In 2014, Danny Trestrail sustained a hemorrhagic stroke. He considers himself one of the lucky ones because he is back working full time and even driving again. But, by the same token, he finds it challenging when people must see a disability to believe it exists. He asks the question, “a brain injury isn’t visible, so how can you appear disabled?”
- On 22 March 2015, Anne Marie Hart sustained a brain injury after being assaulted by her then partner. Along with her brain injury, she was diagnosed with seven trauma-based mental illnesses. She says the feeling of being sick doesn’t ever go away.
- In 2017, French-Canadian Veronique Theberge became ill out of nowhere with a viral brain infection called meningo-encephalitis, leaving her with an acquired brain injury.
Synapse is Australia’s peak brain injury organisation. According to CEO, Jennifer Cullen, brain injuries are as individual as people and as our examples above prove, they can occur in a variety of ways from sporting injuries and brain tumours to car accidents and degenerative conditions such as dementia.
“We use the term brain injury to refer to any type of brain disorder or neurological disruption, which is sustained after a child is born rather than developmental. There are a wide range of causes, and the long-term effects differ for each person,” Adjunct Ass. Prof. Cullen said.
For example, causes of a brain injury include:
- Degenerative conditions (e.g., dementia)
- Hypoxia / Anoxia (lack of oxygen)
- Brain tumours
- Infection or disease
- Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)
- Misuse / Abuse of alcohol and/or drugs
“Following a brain injury, the person impacted can develop medical difficulties, altered sensory abilities such as impaired vision, touch and smell; impaired physical abilities as well as significant memory loss cognitive fatigue and concentration problems. And one of the biggest changes most will experience is a change to their behaviour and personality. They can become short tempered, lethargic, flat or depressed taking their frustration out on their loved ones or primary carers,” Associate Professor Cullen said.
In Danny Trestrail’s case, he says he now has a propensity, “to shoot his mouth off; to be reactive and to speak without forethought. I often stuff things up completely by being inappropriate and, I suppose, potentially offensive. At those times I’ve been known to chuck an extra wobble on as I walk by, to remind people that it’s not intentional … and to get me out of a tight spot!”
But, it’s not just the people with the brain injury that are impacted. Many family members or friends have become carers and take on the full-time load of looking after and providing additional support to the person whose life has irrevocably changed.
Jordan Carroll’s mother and carer, Marie, put her life on hold when Jordan had his brain injury and although she admits to carers’ fatigue she is still his biggest advocate.
“My son’s story is long, painful and heartbreaking, but there have been incredible moments too. Every little achievement has been like a jump to the moon – he has amazed us all with his resilience and determination,” Marie Carroll said.
“Jordan’s dreams keep changing but he’s like a chameleon, forever adapting with the most wonderful attitude. Don’t get me wrong, he gets down and upset as anyone would, but he just starts again. I’m very proud of all he’s achieved and hopefully there is nothing but success ahead for him.”
Join with us during Brain Injury Awareness Week to hear stories from our community, gain insights from the experts, tackle the big issues and explore the work Synapse is doing to create change for people from all walks of life who have been impacted by brain injury.
For more information or to set up an interview with Jennifer Cullen, contact:
National Marketing and Communications
Ph: 0400 411 455