Headway recognises Isle of Wight supporter for "outstanding contribution"

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As those of you who read our blogs and articles will know I have a particular interest in head injuries and support the Isle of Wight Headway Branch.

Each year the national charity has an awards lunch to recognise the contribution that many make to the charity and those affected by brain injury.

One of the categories is the Stephen McAleese Outstanding Contribution to Headway and I thought there was no one more deserving than Ann Cummings MBE, my fellow committee member and friend, who has dedicated the last 25 years to Headway.  I am delighted to report that she has been named as a finalist. Ann is one of only three people from across the UK to be named as a finalist in this category, which is named after a Cumbrian man who defied a brain injury to dedicate his life to helping others.  The award is part of the annual awards programme run by brain injury charity Headway.

For the last quarter of a century, Ann has been helping people affected by brain injury.  A devastating injury to her own son, Ian, was the catalyst that set her off on this journey.  She knew very little about brain injury until Ian's road accident.  He was a backseat passenger in a car when the driver lost control whilst attempting to overtake.  The car spun and flipped over. There was no legal requirement for rear seat passengers to wear seatbelts at the time and consequently Ian and his fellow backseat passenger sustained serious injuries.  The front seat passengers survived the crash largely unscathed.

Ian was rushed unconscious to hospital. He remained in a coma for one month and in a minimally-conscious state for an additional three months. It was a full year before he was able to return home to be cared for by his parents. But he came home a different person, needing 24-hour support with every aspect of his life.

Ann and her family had to do everything for Ian at first.  He had to relearn the most basic of life skills that most of us take for granted, from walking and talking to eating and cleaning himself.  They did not really know what to expect and little information was given to them about brain injury and its effects.  Everyone focuses on the positive news about the person surviving the initial injury or illness, but not enough help was provided to the families to ensure they know how to care for their loved one when they return home.

"I guess my drive and passion for my work with Headway over the years has stemmed from the fact I want other families to have better support than we received and realise they are not alone." says Ann.

Ann was initially encouraged to start a family support group in East Sussex by a supportive neurosurgeon who helped her get things started. The meetings soon grew in popularity and the group began expanding. After only a few years, Headway Hurstwood Park had its own centre, providing rehabilitation and support to those with brain injury, and respite to carers.

Ann was instrumental in setting up this centre, which is still running today and which is one of the largest Headway groups in the UK, providing help to hundreds of people each week. Ann was the charity's first Chair before becoming its President in 2002.   Ann helped save neurosurgery in sussex by organising the largest petition ever submitted (at the time) to No 10 and it was for this and her work with Headway, that she was nomination for recognition and made an MBE in 2002. Ann moved to the Isle of Wight in 2007 and for the past six years she has been a committee member of the Headway branch on the Island. Ann has helped drive the branch forward and develop its services. It now runs regular support meetings and activity sessions, while there are two 24-hour support lines, one of which is run by Ann, enabling people on the island to receive support at any time.

It is through my involvement with the branch that I got to know Ann.  She is a remarkable woman.  She is tenacious and so determined to fight to improve services and the lives of others affected by brain injury. I'm in awe of her energy and drive! She is constantly available to anyone who needs help, acting as an advocate for vulnerable people trying to obtain vital services or support.  I can't think of anyone more deserving of this award.

I informed Ann of her nomination at our last Support Group meeting.  Ann was completely surprised and turned immediately to husband John to tell him off for keeping the secret.   Poor John, he had no idea!The award ceremony takes place at the Dorchester on December 6th.  I am proud to be attending as one of Ann's supporters along with husband John, Ian and Joy Cleightonhills, the current chair of Headway Isle of Wight. I'll be keeping my fingers crossed for an Island win!

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