A CORK man has praised a charity for saving his life after suffering two strokes and two heart attacks while driving.
Gerard Byrne said that in the space of a few minutes his life changed dramatically. After being left with an acquired brain injury the White's Cross man admitted he was losing his will to live.
However, after being introduced to Headway-a charity supporting people with acquired brian injuries-Gerard is slowly starting to get his life back.
Gerard remembers little of his accident.
"All I know is that one day I was driving a lorry and the next I was in hospital suffering from two heart attacks and two strokes," he said. "I don't feel lucky. For a long time, it never bothered me whether I lived or died. That was just how I felt. If I hadn't found Headway I wouldn't be here today. "
Headway restored much of Gerard's hope. Nonetheless, he acknowledged that every day is still an ongoing struggle.
"The reminders of what I've lost hit me sometimes. Before I could drive anywhere in the country on my own. I was completely independent.
It's like having everything go well and then suddenly hitting a brick wall. There are times when the reality of it all takes you by surprise. For instance, I might wake up in the middle of the night to walk to the bathroom only to realise my mobility isn't the same as it was. Dwelling on the situation only makes it harder to get back to sleep."
He revealed how the charity taught him to listen to people despite the frustrations of his brain injury.
"I still have a license that means I can drive cars, taxis or buses. However, now I'm depending on public transport and my wife to drop me wherever I need to go. Being a lorry driver I was spoiled because I was spending so much time on my own. I can't run away from anybody now so I've learned to stop and listen. Headway has taught me not to ignore people, but rather tune them out."
He highlighted one personal story by way of explanation.
"A man on the bus one day started telling me about a heart attack he had ten years ago. When I told him that I had two strokes and two heart attacks four years ago I could see the shutters coming down. I knew what he was going to say before he even said it. He said that he spotted a friend of his and went to sit somewhere else. I don't go into detail about my life but if I need to bore someone I will! If I'm sitting on a bus and something is annoying me I can just close my eyes and hum and bring myself to another world."
He explained how much of the time brain injuries can be misunderstood.
"When people ask me why I use a stick I say I hurt my back, because it seems to be easier. It's even difficult to explain to members of your family. There are times where I've wanted to ask if I could take their head and they could take mine. Unless you are inside the mind of someone with a brain injury you can't really understand the difficulties."
The Headway service user underlined how the brain-injury has affected his life.
"One of the effects of the strokes and heart attacks was short term memory loss. I can remember where I was when I heard Fairytale of New York for the first time. I know the farmer I worked for and the reg of the car I owned at the time, but I can't remember what I did at 4pm yesterday."
Gerard also said he has difficulties interacting with more than one person at once.
"I don't go to weddings anymore. I don't even go to funerals. Since the brain injury, I find it impossible to talk to more than one person at once. I'll have to give my undivided attention to one person alone in order to be able to concentrate."
Since joining Headway, Gerard said he has made significant progress.
"I was lucky to get into Headway. I often dwell on the negative side of life, but they have taught me so much.
Before going I was barely able to send a text. Now, I'm skilled at using an ipad."
He explained how the support he receives from his fellow service users is equally as valuable.
" When I come here I don't have to explain myself to people. Everyone in here is brain-damaged but they're also carrying around baggage from every part of life. It's only when you talk to people in Headway that you realise they understand you a hell of a lot better than your own family does. People in Headway don't judge. I will help anybody and they will help me. "
Gerard often reflects on life before his brain injury.
"I used to pass this place (Headway) in the lorry but never knew it existed until I got a brain injury."
To find out more about Headway or to donate visit https://headway.ie/