Hero Stories is an original Medical Travel Compared blog series. It highlights the extraordinary work done by genuine heroes – people who have dedicated a part of their lives to helping others in need. For this piece, we spoke to Maureen Mellor, one of the founder members of The Brain Haemorrhage Support Group.
Almost 1,500 people are members of the Brain Haemorrhage Support Group on Facebook.
It has attracted the attention of individuals from all over the world – including the US, Australia, and India.
But its roots are very much in Liverpool.
“It has attracted a global following”, said Maureen, our featured Hero, and a co-founder and committee member of the above-mentioned Facebook group.
”Different countries have different health issues, and systems, so we try to keep it UK based”, she added.
“But we would never refuse to help anyone who asks for our support.
Nonetheless, there is no doubt that the power of an online support group has aided people on an international scale.
Although the group was set up in 2010, the story that led to its formation goes back a further seven years.
In 2003, Maureen suffered a brain haemorrhage.
It happened on February 18th – the day before she was due to have a scan, which had been arranged due to facial pain she’d been having for months.
Maureen spent the next eight weeks in hospital, including time in intensive care because of complications.
“I was on a life support machine on two occasions”, she said.
“Initially this was to stabilize me, but when they tried to take me off it the first time, my windpipe was torn so I had to be put back on the machine.”
During this time, Maureen also had a heart attack, and a pulmonary oedema.
The problems didn’t stop there, either. Whilst in hospital, Maureen’s hearing and vision became very sensitive, the thought of eating food made her nauseous causing her to lose two stone in weight.
Then she developed hydrocephalus - water on the brain - which required further surgery to have a shunt fitted.
Other side effects included issues with short term memory, chronic, fatigue, physical disabilities and mental health problems; Maureen was also diagnosed with post-traumatic stress.
“My eight weeks in hospital were very confusing for me. There are things I don’t remember, things that happened to me that made me feel as if I was dreaming, and other painful confusing times that I wish I could forget”, she said.
Maureen credits the Walton Centre, a neurological hospital based in Liverpool, with saving her life.
According to the NHS, around 50% of cases are fatal.
But even though she recovered, and was released from hospital, Maureen still had a long road back to her healthy old self.
“My discharge from hospital was where my journey began”, she told us.
Upon the advice of liaison officers at the Walton Centre, Maureen attended a session for people who had suffered from a brain haemorrhage.
“It was nice walking into a room of people with the same condition as me”, she said.
The group were encouraged to keep in touch, and regularly attended meetings together, to discuss what each of them was going through.
Fast-forward to 2018, and the team has an online Facebook group that has grown from a handful of people to almost 1,500.
It holds monthly support group meetings, has a separate website that provides information, and funds and supports a Road to Recovery Course provided by the Walton Centre.
Maureen states there was nothing like this available for her, when she had her brain haemorrhage back in 2003.
So, she spends a lot of time supporting, and offering advice to people who are going through a similar experience.
“No two people are the same. It affects people in different ways.
“Listen to your own body, and take it one day at a time”, Maureen advises.
The effects of a brain haemorrhage are dependent on where the bleed is on your brain – so people really do have different experiences.
But the advice is always the same – pay attention to the signs your body is giving you, and take it day by day.
Don’t expect too much of yourself too quickly.
And don’t be afraid to ask for help.
This group was established to make it easier for people to do so – whether online or in person.
Beyond this, suffering from a Brain Haemorrhage has also taught Maureen to make the most of life and the opportunities available for her.
In particular, she has now made time to travel more, especially enjoying trips away during the winter months.
The Brain Haemorrhage Support Group is a phenomenal organisation.
Working closely with the Walton Centre, where Maureen was treated (and saved, by her account), they could help people in many ways.
Hearing the experiences of surviving a Brain Haemorrhage from members of the Support Group, the Walton Centre agreed to fund a Specialist Neurovascular Nurse to work directly with patients and continue to support after their discharge.
This proved to be so successful that the hospital now has four specialist nurses in post.
They also offer a road-to-recovery course – which is run by health professionals over a four-week period – suitable for both those who have had a brain haemorrhage, and their relatives.
Attendees are given all the information they need to deal with their recovery, as well as the relevant contact information needed to get further support.
One of their more creative initiatives, however, is the buddy scheme.
Those who have had a brain haemorrhage can be partnered with someone who is further along in the recovery process – to get a better idea of what they can expect to happen in the near future.
Maureen said: “Other people get comfort in knowing people further down the line have been through the same.”
Although this is not something that was made available to Maureen through her illness, her desire to ensure a more positive, productive recovery process for others is what makes her our Hero.
“A Brain Haemorrhage is a long-term life changing event that you have to learn to embrace and not fight”, she said.
“The experience of my brain haemorrhage has made me the person I am, and I have met some wonderful people during this time, who have encouraged and empowered me so much.
Also, please lend your support to The Brain Charity.
The Brain Charity offers emotional support, practical help and social activities to anyone with a neurological condition; and to their family, friends and carers.