Against the hushed natter of half-studying students, a group of local adults filed into the foyer at Omagh Library.
At a glance, onlookers, browsing the bookshelves or reading the papers would have had little chance of guessing what united the group.
Those who entered, laughing, joking, chatting and teasing were all part of Headway Omagh, a support group for local people with acquired brain injury (ABI).
On the day I met the members, along with group coordinator, Sam Duncan, they were in the library to open an art exhibition that they had put together to mark ‘Action for Brain Injury Week’ (ABI Week), which ran from May 15 to May 21.
Around their handmade mosaic, the members spoke about how an acquired brain injury has the potential to derail your life, and how Headway helps them stay on track.
Taking the lead, Sam, who appeared to be universally admired and appreciated among the group, explained what Headway Omagh is, and what they it provides for people in our community.
“My name is Sam Duncan, and I am the Headway coordinator for the Omagh ABI support groups,” he said.
“At Headway Omagh, we run an activity group in Omagh Leisure Centre every Tuesday morning from 10.30am to 12pm.
“But today, we are here at Omagh Library to launch an art exhibition that the participants have put together.
“The exhibition has been created and assembled as part of brain injury awareness,” he continued.
This year’s theme, ‘Take A Second’, and it’s focused on a powerful statistic: Every 90 seconds, someone in the UK is admitted to hospital with a brain injury.
“ABI Week,” said Sam, “Seeks to raise awareness of the effects of acquired brain injury, and how it only ‘takes a second’ for a life to be completely knocked off course.
“Across Tyrone, there are countless people living with acquired brain injuries, having suffered strokes, falls, road traffic collisions, assaults, brain tumours, meningitis… the list goes on.
“Brain injuries can be acquired innumerable ways, and they are often – but not always – invisible.”
Sam, with the backing of the group, said that brain injuries can have devastating, life-long impact on survivors and their loved ones.
However, regular support, guidance, opportunities to socialise, and the provision of regular activities can help those living with a brain injury to lead a more contended and fulfilling life.
“All you have to do is talk to the 15 or so people who regularly attend our Tuesday morning meetings in the Leisure Centre, and they will tell you the positive part that Headway plays in their life,” he said.
“Many will speak of the friends that they have made, the skills they have learned, and the sense of belonging they feel.”
One of the core aims of Brain Injury Awareness Week, said Sam, is to raise awareness of acquired brain injury, its prevalence, effects, and the support needs of survivors and their families.
“They hope that the public will take a second to learn more about the prevalence of brain injury, find out about the long-term effects, and take a second to understand the support and service needs of survivors and their families.”
Sam then thanked local artist, Sharon Kelly, for her help creating the mosaic, before concluding by emphasising that Headway is there for absolutely anyone in the community who is living with an acquired brain injury.
“You can see yourself just how much the participants get from this coming to Headway.
“It can be life-changing, but there are still people out there who could benefit a lot from coming, who aren’t.
“Please, if you think we could help, come along. Give it a go.
“It could make a big difference.”
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