Scarlett shares the moving story of her personal affinity with brain injury and her experences volunteering with Headway Nottingham.

I have absolutely loved volunteering at Headway these last few months of my time in England, and only wish it could be a bit longer! I’ve been asked quite a few times why I decided to volunteer with you all (after people find out that I’m not studying psychology or a related subject) and the reason that I’ve given all of them is that it’s really just fun. And when it comes down to it, it is exactly that—fun. The guys are all great, and I feel like I’ve learned so much from them in these last few months.

The main reason that I actually was interested in volunteering with Headway was because I too, had suffered a brain injury when I was an infant, which was due to being shaken on at least three different ocassions by my biological mother, when I was around 3-4 months of age.

Along with a brain injury, I suffered a skull fracture and retinal hemorrhaging from the trauma that I endured—and was hospitalized for almost two weeks.  Some of that time was in the pediatric intensive care unit back in the States.

I ended up having to have two VP shunts placed as a baby, as a result of that trauma, because of the pressure/fluid that built up. Despite these awful events and the presence of the shunts, I never really had any long-lasting effects from the abuse, and the shunts were always downplayed and almost normalized for me growing up so I didn’t think much of having them.

I never found out any of this information until I was 19 years old and read about it in old newspaper articles that I found.  I’ll be 22 this October. After my mother was convicted and served just a few years of time in prison in the States, she regained custody of my sister and I and has been a part of our lives ever since and up to the present day. 

I arrived in Nottingham for my year here, back in September. I finished up my first day of classes at uni in the fall and that same night, I had a pretty massive seizure. 

I was transported to A&E by ambulance that night, had a CT scan of my head, and was referred to a neurologist here who then ordered an EKG, EEG, and MRI, all of which came back normal. That was in October / early November. He didn’t start me on medication at that time, but he wanted to see me back for a follow up appointment in February 2019.

Over the Christmas holiday from uni I traveled through Europe on my own, going to Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Poland, and the Czech Republic. I returned back to Nottingham later in the day on January 11th, and had a second (seemingly more intense) seizure late the next day/early on the 13th. Again, I was transported to A&E by ambulance, and didn’t really 'come to' after that seizure for several hours, and only after I had slept for quite a few hours, at that.

After that seizure they started me on medication, since I'd had two pretty intense tonic clonic seizures by that point, only about three months apart.  Before then, I’d never been on (probably) lifelong, twice daily medication. I’ve had medical/health issues, but none of them have ever been 'chronic'. 

Volunteering at Headway NottinghamI began volunteering at Headway just a few days after that second seizure, on January 17th.

About a week after my follow up appointment in February, I received the official report—which said (amongst other things) that if I ever stopped taking the medication that I’m currently on for some reason, that there was a 50% chance of relapse and having more seizures—because of my shunts (the shunts that I would’ve never needed, if I hadn’t been shaken as an infant). I also received an 'official' diagnosis of 'unclassified epilepsy', after that appointment.

Needless to say, this spring semester has been especially rough for me—in more ways than one. I would’ve never thought that I’d go through any of these issues during this year abroad, that I’d be heading back to the States officially diagnosed as an 'epileptic', and I definitely would’ve never thought that I’d be leaving with a lifelong prescription for medication to prevent seizures.

It’s been stressful, I’ve been angry/upset more than I have ever been in life, and everything has just brought up unresolved issues regarding the communication/dynamics in relationships with my family members, too… especially my mother. 

It’s been a lot to work through, but volunteering at Headway this spring has been a constant and the highlight of my last few months here. Most people don’t know any of this information about me unless I tell them, and I doubt most would know that I suffered a brain injury at such a young age.

I’ve always been a pretty good student, I’ve played alto saxophone since I was about 10 years old, I do a lot of volunteering back in the States and here in Nottingham, I graduated high school in the States with high honors, and I’ll be graduating with my undergrad degree in Communication Studies and minors in Anthropology and Nordic Studies back in the States, in 2020. 

I’ve now been with you all at Headway for a few months and I still find it pretty difficult to 100% know who has gone through a brain injury and who is an employee/volunteer/carer/etc on most occasions. It does not matter in the slightest though, because it’s one of the most caring, non-judgment filled, and happy environments that I’ve ever found myself in.

To my knowledge, I’ve never met anyone else that has suffered a brain injury before I started volunteering at Headway Nottingham, and I’ve found it fascinating to be able to interact with and get to know people that are similar to me in that regard, even though our brain injuries have been acquired through completely different circumstances.

I’ve learned more capitals of foreign countries and played more games of Blackjack with John than I can count, I learned how to play Blackjack in the first place from John and Gary, I’ve played numerous games of dominoes and Connect Four with Michael, John, Pete, David and Gary. I hope I'm not forgetting anyone!  I’ve been amused by Pete and the other John’s antics.  I’ve talked about America and my thoughts on life in Nottingham with numerous people, and I’ve shared so many laughs with all of the guys that regularly spend time in the Rec Room on Thursday mornings.

I’ve learned, and more importantly, witnessed the happiness and positivity that these guys exude, despite the hand that they have been dealt in life—and it is quite inspiring.

To put it simply—the people of Headway and my time volunteering at Headway Nottingham has made such an immense impact on me personally in these last few months. I’m confident that the experience will stay with me for life.

Thank you so much for the opportunity to serve with your organization. I have deeply valued the opportunity, and will look forward to my last few weeks volunteering with you all.