Having suffered a brain injury which left her struggling to rebuild her life, Helen Whiteley found salvation in running. Here, she tells how she went from running for the first time to completing the Virtual London Marathon in only eight months.
“On November 24, it will be eight years since I suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) from a fall at home. I was found unresponsive at the bottom of my staircase at home by my husband Simon; I have no recollection of how I got there.
“I was initially taken to Huddersfield Hospital but once I was stabilised I was transferred to the Leeds General Infirmary neurosurgery department. It was here I was diagnosed with an acute subdural hematoma and fractured skull and was taken immediately into surgery for an emergency craniotomy to evacuate the hematoma. I was then placed in an induced coma on the neurosurgery ICU ward, where I stayed for a number of weeks.
This period was extremely traumatic for my family, especially my daughter Isobelle and son Isaac, who were only 13 and 9 at the time. My family were told that is was unclear as to whether I would regain consciousness once the drugs were withdrawn, and if I did, what permanent physical and mental disabilities I could be faced with for the rest of my life.
Fortunately, I did recover, albeit very slowly, although the brain injury has changed my life and who I am.
Following my accident, I suffered acute anxiety and was unable to leave the house and struggled with my balance needing a stick to help me walk. When I eventually was able to go out, I needed to be accompanied at all times. The simplest things were a struggle due to my lack of self-confidence and awareness of situations; I was taken out regularly by my physio to ensure I was able to cross a road safely.
I found it difficult to interact and communicate with people and was unable to cope in busy or new surroundings. I had, and still have, a very poor memory, struggle with cognitive functions and have lost my sense of smell and have a reduced taste.
I needed coping strategies like lists to ensure simple daily tasks like cleaning my teeth were completed. In February 2014, I suffered a seizure and have been diagnosed with epilepsy which is now controlled by medication.
I know I am not the same person I was before. I have no filter, speak my mind and can be immature, much to the horror of my children. These are all consequences from my brain injury.
Furthermore, I no longer work full time as an accountant for the NHS, as I had to retire due to ill heath, but I now work part time in a library which I do really enjoy.
I have been on a long challenging journey to get to where I am today but I have had the support of my family, my parents, occupational therapy, physiotherapy and the independent living teams.
Running came into the equation in January 2020, when my friend Gill signed me up for the Couch to 5K beginners running program with my local Northowram Pumas Running Club. I found the prospect of taking part in this extremely scary, very challenging and somewhat out of my comfort zone, having never run before.
At the first session I nearly went straight home but the support from the club run leaders was amazing. I progressed slowly on the programme, first running one minute then walking one minute, and slowly increasing this. On March 7, I did my first 5K park run with the Pumas. I was overjoyed that I had achieved this but then lockdown happened and everything changed.
During lockdown, I continued with my running. Through challenges set by our C25K run leader I felt confident to go out and run on my own and eventually I tried running off-road. The running club have been fantastic during lockdown, setting challenges for us to do and I set myself mini challenges, slowly progressing to run 5 miles, 10K, 10 miles, and 2 half marathons.
I had never taken a selfie before I started running, but as I made progress the pictures began to get posted on the running clubs social media. I have totally embraced the running bug and I am amazed by how far I have come in such a short period of time.
Prior to January of this year, I had never run or even thought I could after walking with a stick for the majority of my recovery to help with my balance issues. Running has helped in my recovery by increasing the confidence I have in myself and making me more independent, as well as introducing me to a new social group.
In hindsight, if it hadn’t been for lockdown, I wouldn’t have continued to run as I have. I would have been unsure of running with groups of different people and would have felt pressured. Lockdown enabled me to build up my running at my own pace with virtual support from the Pumas.
I decided to take on a new challenge and registered to take part in the Virtual London Marathon on October 4, running alongside Gill and Nic from the Pumas and following a route mapped by the running club, finishing in my hometown of Halifax at the historic Piece Hall.
This would be just a month before my 50th birthday, and nearly eight years since my life changing accident – as well as being only 8 months since I put on my first pair of trainers!
I only had one month of proper training prior to the marathon and the furthest I had run to that point was 18 miles, but I was determined to complete it. I committed to raising funds for Headway, as well as for the neurosurgery department at Leeds General Infirmary who cared for me after my accident.
I wanted to give something back, which hopefully in a small way will help support patients and their families at this critical time and to say thank you to the brilliant consultants and nurses who saved my life.
On race day, we set off from the Wraggles in Queensbury at about 8.40am. We had so much support during the run. Cars beeped and total strangers clapped and cheered us on. I was so emotional and absolutely amazed that I’d done it and finished it in 05:37:45.
I know how very lucky I have been to recover from my injuries with only minor disabilities, but there are many people who are not as fortunate as I have been in my recovery. What I am doing is for them.”
To support Helen in her fundraising for Headway and the Leeds General Infirmary neurosurgery department, visit https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/helenwhiteley
New cycle helmet test discovers true level of protection for cyclists
The effectiveness of bike helmets in protecting against brain injuries caused by collisions at speed has been tested for the first time.
New helmet technologies have emerged in recent years to mitigate the instances and severity of traumatic brain injury (TBI) in collisions from cycling, but the way this is traditionally tested leaves room for doubt in their findings.
The majority of real-world cycling-based TBIs are caused by rotational forces on the brain, which are generated by the head hitting the ground at an oblique angle, mostly seen when cyclists fall or collide while moving.
However, current methods test whether heads are protected from falls at right-angles, which happen mostly when bikes are stationary, and do not account for the rotational forces at play when cyclists fall to the ground at speed.
Now, a new Imperial College London paper has demonstrated a new simulation-enabled helmet testing technique that tests how well helmets protect heads from rotational forces.
Testing 27 different helmets in a purpose-built rig at Research Institutes of Sweden, the project found that newer technologies reduced whole-brain strain compared with older helmets.
However, they also found that the effectiveness of newer helmets depended on their technology and location of impact – some helmets which were designed specifically to reduce rotational forces didn’t appear to accomplish their aims.
Its findings could be significant in ensuring future safety innovations in cycling helmets, the research team said.
“The amount of people cycling since the COVID-19 pandemic began has doubled on weekdays and trebled on weekends in parts of the UK,” says lead author Fady Abayazid, of Imperial’s Dyson School of Design Engineering.
“To keep themselves safe, it’s important cyclists know the best way to protect their heads should they have a fall or collision.
“Cyclists falling from motion will most often hit the ground at a non-right-angle. These angles produce rotational forces that subject the brain to twisting and shearing forces – factors contributing to severe TBIs, which can be life-altering.
“However, current testing standards for bike helmets don’t account for this issue, so we designed a new analysis method to address this gap by combining experimental oblique impacts with a highly detailed computational model of the human brain.”
Senior author Dr Mazdak Ghajari, also of Imperial’s Dyson School of Design Engineering, adds: “With cycling’s popularity soaring, we are seeing more requests from the public and cycling communities for a thorough review of new helmet technologies to inform their purchases.
“However, this is hard to do without testing that accounts for rotational forces.
“Our research could help to address this gap, inform customers, improve safety, and reduce the frequency and severity of TBIs from cycling.”
The authors are now looking into testing standards for motorbike and industrial helmets and the Dyson School of Design Engineering has also just built its own rig to carry out future experimental helmet impact tests.
Calvert Reconnections strengthens senior team ahead of opening
A groundbreaking neurorehabilitation centre is helping to plan for its future even before its opening through strengthening its management team.
Calvert Reconnections is set to open on June 21 and is set to deliver new possibilities in brain injury rehabilitation through its UK-first residential programme which combines traditional clinical therapies with physical outdoor activities.
The centre, based on the outskirts of Keswick in the Lake District, is now making new additions to its senior team as is prepares for its long-awaited opening, which has previously been delayed due to COVID-19.
Claire Appleton has become head of service at Calvert Reconnections with Lorna Mulholland appointed as registered manager.
Claire, an occupational therapist, has 23 years’ experience working in the NHS and has held various community roles including in acquired brain injury, long-term neurological conditions, neurological splinting and stroke rehab.
Five years ago, Claire moved into a management post in the NHS leading the Eden Community Rehab Team, developing strategic specialist leadership and management skills, and gaining valuable experience delivering high quality health services.
Lorna has 12 years’ specialist experience within the social care sector, principally in acquired brain injury, learning disabilities, mental health and autism.
She has an extensive knowledge base in delivering care within a residential and supported living setting with experience in complex challenging behaviour.
Sean Day, centre director at Calvert Reconnections, says: “As part of our senior management team, Claire and Lorna have a key role to play in the delivery of our service.
“Everyone at Calvert Reconnections take great pride in what we do and the difference we can make to people’s lives.”
UFC adopts concussion protocols for MMA fighters
An official concussion protocol has been created for mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters competing in the UFC, in a first for the sport which builds further on global efforts to safeguard sportspeople from the effects of head injury.
The UFC Performance Institute has published its protocol, aimed at both fighters and coaches, as part of a 484-page study based on data collected between 2017 and 2019.
Hailed as the most comprehensive MMA study ever undertaken, it details the UFC’s five-step rules around returning to the sport following concussion or TBI.
“The goal is we really want to support the ongoing development and performance behaviours and activities in the MMA gyms in the combat community globally,” says Duncan French, the UFC’s vice president of performance.
“We are slowly aggregating our own insights and our information here in the Performance Institute, and we want to share that. We don’t want the PI to become an ivory tower where the information is only retained for a discrete 600 roster of fighters.”
Further investigation into any different needs for female fighters will be undertaken, the vice president adds.
“Now, we need to do more work to understand how we can potentially support the ladies if they do have a concussion,” says Duncan.
“Because that method, that approach to return to play following a concussion in females, might need to be different.”
In the new protocol, the details its return-to-sport approach as being similar to that of the NFL, beginning with up to two days of rest, followed by two stages of no-contact workouts.
The UFC wants fighters to use its concussion assessment tool, the SCAT5, to monitor progress, and as they improve, fighters can go from no-contact workouts to moderate contact, although still with minimal risk of head contact.
The final stage includes a return to sparring, and the UFC PI recommends starting with one session each week with no more than three rounds of five minutes, gradually adding more over a period of four weeks until they reach two full sparring sessions of five rounds per session.
Returning to full contact will need medical clearance, the protocol states.
“For brain injuries like concussion, even if you are feeling symptom-free, a fighter should go through all stages of a return-to-sport protocol to ensure a full brain recovery,” the report says.
“Further, resuming activity too quickly, especially in contact sports like MMA, not only increases the risk of subsequent musculoskeletal injuries and longer recovery times but also further concussions (e.g. second-impact syndrome) which can lead to chronic neurological conditions, permanent disability and death.”
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