Damien is our Synapse Family Liaison Officer for the Hunter region in New South Wales and has lived in the area his whole life.
Before his injury Damien ran his own roofing business, and outside of work he and his wife were busy raising their four boys.
In October 2016 Damien acquired a traumatic brain injury through a workplace accident. He was on a three-metre-high steel scaffold when the handrail slipped. He fell backwards, landed on the driveway and was taken to John Hunter Hospital where he was diagnosed with a brain injury.
The Road to Recovery
Damien said that it was a long process of recovery and rehabilitation to get from where he was to where he is today. He went through rehabilitation at the Brain Injury Rehabilitation (BIRs) Unit which lasted for three years.
“Just before I finished rehab, I had a moment. I felt like there was nothing out there for me and I had to start again,” he said. “To be part of a society, be a better father, husband and friend. My old identity was gone, and I had a new identity that I had to adjust to.”
“A quote that I wish I knew back then and trusted is, ‘Trust the process’. That’s what I’d encourage people to do. That would have been easier for me to go along my recovery if I’d trusted the process,” Damien said.
Damien still has issues with fatigue and working memory. For Damien, all of his years of physical work in his roofing business were not as tiring as the mental fatigue he now experiences.
“My battery is never full, and I understand it never will be. For 30 years I got up before 6am and I could work all day on a roof. Now the mental fatigue drains my battery,” he said.
To assist him with his working memory, Damien has two note pads, one labelled “today” and one “tomorrow”. He lists all the things he needs to do in these notebooks and ticks them off as they are completed. He also focuses on one thing at a time rather than trying to multi-task.
Embracing a New Direction
As part of his rehabilitation, Damien participated in the Vocational Intervention Program (VIP) for people with traumatic brain injury hosted by iCare which including retraining.
“Along my recovery I’ve had the best people and support, and that’s why I’ve gotten to where I am. As part of the VIP I was linked up with people to support me in studying and retraining. Without those people supporting me, I wouldn’t have gotten the job with Synapse,” Damien said.
When Damien saw the job of Family Liaison Officer with Synapse, he thought it was perfect for him.
“The role involves making contact with patients and families in hospital after a brain injury and helping with the transition back to normal life,” he said.
Damien started with Synapse in February 2020. Although his contact with his clients is currently over the phone due to COVID-19 restrictions, a typical day as a Family Liaison Officer usually involves visiting people who have been admitted to the general neurology ward at John Hunter Hospital. He makes contacts with the families to listen to them, share support and information, and give them hope.
While some families are not responsive, others are happy to have someone to talk to. He also visits the brain injury rehab ward where patients are a little further along in their recovery. Damien provides advice on transitioning from hospital to home, and ongoing emotional support to the family both in person and over the phone.
Damien’s favourite part of his job as a Family Liaison Officer is being able to connect with people and listen to their experiences.
“Talking to someone validates their experience. It’s the most powerful thing. They are not alone.”
Damien's Handy Memory Tips
Damien regularly shares strategies that have helped him along the way with his clients and in the Synapse Reconnections Facebook Community.
To help him remember where things are at home, he uses a basket which he calls his memory box. In this, he keeps everyday items like keys, phone, wallet and sunglasses. The basket is kept in his office and he checks it before he leaves.
He also wears a Synapse band on his right wrist. If he moves the band to his left wrist, it is a visual reminder that he has started a task, such as turned the oven on. Once that is finished, he will place the band back on his right wrist. These strategies help him remember tasks he has through the day.
Join Damien and the Reconnections Community
You can join our Reconnections Facebook group today to connect with Damien and the rest of our supportive community of people living with a brain injury.