Sunday 1 February 2015

Home is where the healing is

The prospect of life in a nursing home at only 42 was too much for Peter Bradley's family to accept.

Sarah Breen found out how their intervention has revolutionsied brain injury care in Ireland.

Home comfort: Barbara O'Connell and Peter Bradley, who can now manage his life very well

I put forward a business plan and got the HSE to commission us to provide the care on their behalf. They paid for the staff and we fundraised

In March 1980, a week before he was due to sit his final solicitor's exam, 23-year-old Peter Bradley was involved in a motorbike accident and was severely injured. Following surgery in St Vincent's Hospital, Dublin, Peter survived, but was left blind in one eye, deaf in one ear, physically disabled and with little or no memory of life before the accident.

"Peter was a very clever, very outgoing person," explains Barbara O'Connell, Peter's sister, who is co-founder and CEO of Acquired Brain Injury Ireland, an organisation that aims to rehabilitate and support people with brain injuries and provide help to their families.

"He was engaged to be married. But after the accident, his college years were all wiped and he had no memory of his fiancée. She stayed with him for 12 months and pulled him though his coma, but it was very hard when his memories of the relationship were gone.

"As well as his physical disabilities, Peter's concentration wasn't very good and he'd often say things without filtering them first. We know now that these are all normal problems for people who've had brain injuries but it's very sad when the person you love is no longer there.

''He tried going back to college but he'd forgotten everything. He retained his intelligence though. He still speaks fluent French and can hold an intellectual conversation."

"Acquired brain injuries are most commonly caused by trauma, like road traffic accidents," says Dr Mark Delargy, a Consultant in Rehabilitative Medicine at the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dublin. "They generally affect the male population and people who are working at-risk jobs, like on building sites.

"Then there's the people who simply fall down the stairs at home and crack their skulls. People who have a brain haemorrhage from an aneurysm can also sustain a brain injury. There's the traumatic cause, the vascular cause and then causes from infection and all manner of other problems that can impair the brain in a damaging way."

Unable to return to his studies or hold down a job, Peter travelled to the Philippines where he volunteered in a prison under the supervision of a family friend. Tragically, while there in 1992, he suffered another head injury as the result of a car accident in which he was a passenger.

"After a long series of events, Peter ended up in Beaumont Hospital," says Ms O'Connell. When he was discharged from there, at 42, the only place that would take him was a nursing home for the elderly. At that time I was an occupational therapist in the National Rehabilitation Hospital and I knew there were no services out there for people like Peter with brain injuries. I knew he was destined to stay in that nursing home forever.

''It was very upsetting for my family to visit him because he could walk and talk, and was so caring, but he just sat in front of the telly and smoked all day. A person with a brain injury needs to relearn all their skills again. The system didn't provide the support and personnel to help him do that. I decided I wanted to bridge that gap.

In just six months, Peter's condition had improved dramatically and he was well on his way back to independent living.

Today, he can manage his own affairs with minimum staff support.

"He went from sitting doing nothing all day to using a mobile phone and getting up and out and going into town by himself," says O'Connell. "People function much better in their own homes. The results for the other two men were just as miraculous in such a short period of time.

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