Bedridden at home and struggling with what she thought was a migraine, Alison Heard was hoping her illness would quickly pass so that she could get back to looking after her baby son Xavier.But with her hot sweats and vomiting showing no sign of stopping, her mother feared something more serious was wrong when she visited, calling an ambulance which thenrushed Alison into hospital.
Discovering she had meningitis and septicaemia, caused by meningococcal infection, Alison had suffered swelling on her brain. Doctors said had she been seen by medical staff any later, Alison may not have survived.
Survive she did, but after two weeks in hospital in the run-up to Christmas 2013, her life was forever changed.
The illness affected her attention span, concentration and ability to filter out background noise, count, or carry out basic tasks. Her reactions were slow and she struggled to care for Xavier, now three, having to move in with her parents.
Alison, 32, from Skirlaugh, East Yorkshire, said: “It was heart-breaking. My hand and eye coordination was awful and Xavier was only seven months old at the time. My brain couldn’t tell my hands to catch him quick enough when he threw himself back.
“I forgot how to do basic things like cooking and I couldn’t count, so I couldn’t handle money. After five months, I hit an all-time low. Everything that defined me as a person, my personality, making memories, going to work, being a mum, it was all affected. All I could think about was what I used to be able to do and what I then couldn’t do because I was bed bound.
“I didn’t have any feeling in the side of my face and I was sensitive to light, so I couldn’t leave my house without my sunglasses and I couldn’t watch television. I was quite depressed and I felt like I was a nobody.”
Not knowing where her life was heading and how to find a positive focus, Alison went to her doctor, who advised her to have an occupational therapist visit her at home and help her ‘retrain’ her brain.
It was the first time she had been made aware of such support in the community, and although it offered her the first major step on her road to recovery, she was angry that she had not been directed to that support earlier.
“I cried. I was in pain and I was useless. I was so cross because I couldn’t understand why the hospital didn’t tell me about anything like this,” she said.
As Alison began to find her feet again, she organised jewellery parties with a friend to learn how to count again and how to cope in a group of people, which she said allowed her to regain a sense of purpose and take control.
Then she met Paul Spence, 36, who had survived a brain haemorrhage himself after being the victim of a violent, unprovoked attack four years ago in Hull city centre.
Paul has made a remarkable recovery, raising thousands to support improved treatment of those who suffer brain injuries through running marathons and arranging community events.
He then established his own charity, PAUL For Brain Recovery, which has seen Paul dedicate his life to supporting others to make a positive recovery.
As an official ambassador for brain injury legal specialists Hudgell Solicitors, he provides one-to-one advice and mentoring for brain injury victims.
Now he has opened his own community support centre for people with brain injuries, at the Wilberforce Health Centre in Hull city centre.
Alison said Paul’s support and guidance, as someone who understands what she has experienced, has been overwhelming.
Such has been her recovery, she is now training for the Hull Marathon in September, and has been able to return to her work.
Alison, who also underwent private hyperbaric oxygen therapy as part of her recovery, helping her to overcome headaches and regain feeling in her face, said: “I had to get into a frame of mind to be determined for my little boy.
“When I met Paul at Hull Fashion Week last year, our stories were so similar in terms of how we’d been affected.
“Paul encouraged me to be more positive because I was so down. There were days when I didn’t want to get out of bed but Paul would ring. It hits home when someone has been through something similar because you are less patronised by what they say and they understand.
“I started running a mile and trained with Paul, and he encouraged me to go further. He has helped me to become more determined and focus on what I can do, rather than what I can’t.”
Before her illness, Alison worked as a business development manager for online advertising in the motor trade, which involved a lot of travelling. She has recently returned to the role on a more local level, covering Hull and Doncaster.
Although she does not have any major lasting effects following her illness, she said her ability to retain information on a short term basis can be difficult, which means she has to write things down.
Alison said she is determined to support Paul in any way she can as he officially opens his new drop-in centre.
She said: “The charity is amazing and I will help wherever I can. Paul mentored me and now I feel I am coming out the other side, I want to do the same. It’s horrible when you feel like you’re drifting and you need someone to catch you and bring you back in. It’s a lonely place and you’re in the wrong frame of mind.
“I think I have come further because I have had Paul mentoring me. He helped me to focus and filter out what I should not be worried about. You only have so much brain space, so you need to be selective over what you use it on.
“Without Paul, I would still be in recovery but I wouldn’t be training for a marathon or be back at work. He gave me the kick I needed.”
Paul said Alison’s determination is an inspiration to others.
He said: “What Alison has achieved is unbelievable. She is doing so much and has grown in confidence. I’m so happy to have played a part in that and she is living life again.
“Her story shows other brain injury victims that you can get out of that difficult place and back to positivity with understanding, awareness and love. Hopefully we can help many like Alison at the new centre.”