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New project offers a vital lifeline to families of brain-injured children

By Laura Abernethy

Published 09/08/2016

Bo Dumigan and daughter Harley
Bo Dumigan and daughter Harley

A Newtownabbey mum has described how a new initiative helped her when her baby daughter suffered a brain injury.

Bo Dumigan watched in horror when Harley suffered a stroke at the age of just two-and-a-half, after falling ill with chicken pox. Harley lost all movement down her left side as a result, and was left with limited mobility.

Mum Bo said: "Harley's stroke had a massive impact on her mobility, her ability to perform simple tasks and her personality. I've had to go back to changing nappies, dressing her, washing her and looking after her very intensively - it's like having a newborn baby all over again.

"And, while she used to be very sweet-natured, she now gets frustrated very easily, which does require a lot of patience to deal with."

The Dumigans were helped by the Family First Programme, funded by the Big Lottery, which aims to support families throughout Northern Ireland deal with the challenges of helping a child with a brain injury.

An internationally recognised programme, it aims to intervene early to minimise the risk of long-term difficulties after brain injury.

Charity Brain Injury Matters, and Belfast Health and Social Care Trust have teamed up to roll the programme out across Northern Ireland to help around 1,000 children who suffer a traumatic brain injury every year.

Project co-ordinator, Dr Katy Pedlow, explained: "There are a number of ways in which a child can acquire a brain injury. It could be due to meningitis, a stroke, a brain tumour, an accident or various other causes.

"The Family First programme provides a set of therapeutic and practical tools which families can use to help to them find solutions to the problems they face."

The Family First team has provided a range of practical and emotional support for Harley and Bo, including strategies to help manage Harley's frustration, and techniques to help Bo cope with her anxiety that Harley might have another stroke.

Bo explained: "When Harley came back home after two months in hospital, I suddenly realised, 'That's it - we're on our own now'.

"Harley does still attend the hospital for check-ups, but the doctors and nurses are very busy people, and they can't be there for you every time you're finding it difficult.

"That's why Family First has been so fantastic. You feel they really understand what it's like and they'll go the extra mile to provide support.

"It's made such a difference. I really can't thank them enough."

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