Relationships and family life
Hailey had a stroke when she was six years old, more than 20 years ago.
It was a long process before she was diagnosed, and she felt afraid and confused about what was happening.
‘I was experiencing things and feelings that I couldn’t put into words. And I was really scared.’
Some of the effects she had to deal with included aphasia and fatigue, as well as balance issues.
‘At first I didn’t understand what had happened to me. At six, I didn’t know what my brain did or even what a stroke was,’ she says.
‘There was a time where I was quite ashamed of what had happened, and I became frustrated and annoyed with myself.’
To make matters worse, the paediatric system at the time did not cater for child stroke patients, so most of her treatment was through the adult health system.
‘It made me feel isolated, and only because I wasn’t quite in the same ballpark as my peers,’ she says.
‘I remember asking mum, “Where are other people like me?”, and she couldn’t tell me because she didn’t know of anyone else who had experienced childhood stroke.’
Finding out about Heads Together changed things dramatically for Hailey.
Heads Together runs camps for families who have a child with acquired brain injury so they can connect with others and build friendships away from their everyday context.
‘It’s a really good place just to be yourself and not have to deal with the level of stigma that’s out there in the wider community,’ Hailey says.
‘You also get to have that sounding board, that advice network, and an overall focus on the things you’re good at and the things you’d like to improve on, which can be quite overwhelming for young people.’
Now, Hailey has a partner and a step-son, and she works as a part-time carer for young people with mental health issues and acquired brain injury in a residential setting.
She also does a lot of work in her spare time raising awareness about brain injury and stroke, as well as volunteering for Heads Together.
‘I just wanted to give something back, because camp gave me such a great understanding of what had happened to me and who I was and what I could achieve. That community has such a positive outlook on life. I wanted to give kids the same understanding, and how that gave me strength.’
Having family support also provided a source of strength during her recovery.
‘My parents never said, “You can’t do that”, they just said it might take you a bit longer to get there. So that’s the sort of culture I grew up in in my family. I wasn’t treated differently to my siblings, which really helped me to learn not to question myself when learning new things,’ says Hailey.
But they did put Hailey at the centre of all the decisions that they made as a family.
‘My mum always pushed for the things I cared about at the time. So learning wasn’t the biggest thing about me going back to school. It was more about making friends and integrating with the other kids. And we worked on that game plan together.’
‘You’ll be surprised at how much your child will push if they set the goals that they want to achieve.’
At the time, it was thought that Hailey might not speak again, and that she wouldn’t develop intellectually past the age of six. Obviously, this did not come to pass, and she has come a long way to get to where she is today thanks to the support of her family and her determination to recover.
Hailey says keeping a positive attitude is vital.
‘When I was growing up, I felt very alone, and that's something that I don't want anyone else to experience,’ she says.
‘So just know that you're not alone, there are other people out there, especially with Facebook and all the support groups.’
‘You never know what you can achieve. Just because one medical professional says, “Maybe that’s not the best idea,” doesn't mean you can't push for it and make it a long-term goal.’
‘It’s just a matter of learning to accept that these are the cards that you’ve been dealt, and you’ve got to figure a way around the issues you face, and through time that’s what I did.
‘I can do everything anyone else can do, but for me, I have a different way of going about it.’