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Lived Experience: Wojciech’s story

At 40, Wojciech knew only a hand full of people in the UK, and due to the Covid pandemic he was cut off from his family in Poland. Then he suffered a ruptured aneurysm, and his life changed forever.

Wojciech had moved to England from Poland, working as a construction worker in the building trade. Despite being in good health, in October 2021, his flatmate came home from work, found him unconscious, and called an ambulance. Wojciech takes up the story:

I have no memory of that day; I don’t know what happened. I just woke up in the hospital a few weeks later.

When I woke up in the hospital, I was unsteady on my feet and felt really uncoordinated; my memory was full of holes, I struggled to remember basic things about my life, but I could still speak English. After a few weeks, my childhood memories started to return, but the present was still a mystery.

When this kind of thing happens, family and friends can help, but because of the pandemic, no one could help me find my memories. Then my mum died while I was in the hospital, which was really hard for me; I couldn’t go back to Poland for the funeral and grieve with my family, and I felt very down.

First steps to recovery

The ruptured aneurysm resulted in a haemorrhagic stroke, which caused a severe brain injury. Although physically well, Wojciech was still suffering from severe cognitive and memory impairment and was moved to one of Brainkind’s neurorehabilitation centres – Thomas Edward Mitton House in Milton Keynes for further cognitive rehab to develop his insight and independence.

Wojciech says:

The people at Thomas Edward Mitton house have been brilliant and helped me recover. I learnt English at school back in Poland. However, when I woke up it felt like everyone was talking so fast, I couldn’t keep up.

Sometimes halfway through conversations, I change languages and speak in English and Polish, which can be annoying as I don’t always realise it, and people look at me surprised. I find it hard to find the right words, and I use any word I can find as a word filler, usually a swear word which isn’t good, but I can’t help it!

With my memory problems and sight issues, I had to work really hard with the physiotherapist, occupation therapists, care team and speech and language team.  Everyone worked so hard to help me.

Towards the end of 2022, a place became free at Brainkind’s supported living service in Browns Wood, Milton Keynes. Wojciech explains how moving to this service has helped with his recovery.

All the hard work paid off, and I moved to a supported living house in November 2022. The house at Browns Wood is part of the Brainkind services, and it’s just down the road from Thomas Edward Mitten House, so all the teams know me.

It gives me a chance to go back and volunteer once a week at Thomas Edward Mitton house which is really important to me; I want to give something back and help others like me so that they can see with hard work, they too can recover.

What the future holds

Although he has recovered physically from the stroke, Wojciech faces many cognitive challenges; he explains:

I struggle to follow movies now, and my memory problems make it hard to keep long stories straight in my head, but I love watching stand-up comedy and always enjoy comedy specials.

I don’t know what the future holds for me. I can’t work construction anymore because of my sight; I’m considering selling all my tools now because I know I won’t be able to return to that way of life. I want to stay in England – this lovely country feels like home now.

And being supported at Browns Wood helps Wojciech to focus on the things he enjoys. He says:

I live with two other people in supported living who I get on well with; we do some things together, but we have 24-hour support if we need it. The staff who support us here are great. They help me to do things that I find difficult, like shopping, long journeys, those kinds of things.

We cook together; I’ve made some of my favourite Polish meals, and they have shared how to make things they like. We clean the house, go shopping, work, and volunteer, whatever we can do. With support, I managed to fly home to Poland last Christmas for three weeks and again in June 2023 for a 3-week visit.

I am unsure if I will ever be able to live independently again, which makes me sad. Still, the thought of being alone is pretty scary. What’s great about our place is that we can get help when needed, and the staff are just like friends who are here if we need them, but they leave us be if we don’t.

My rehabilitation and recovery have been challenging and sometimes very lonely without my family, but the staff and my flatmates have become a family to me, and I am strong now.

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