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Denise Johnson

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Denise Johnson

Denise Johnson

I want to be his reason to get better

Imagine finding out that your loved one has been discovered alone with serious head injuries in a foreign country while you are more than 4,000 miles away and powerless to reach them.

This was the devastating reality that confronted Denise Johnson on 15 July 2013. Denise was at home in Baildon, Bradford, when she began to worry that Don had not called her as promised from Saudi Arabia where he was working as Vice President of an insurance company.

After hours of trying to contact him, she eventually resorted to calling the emergency services. When paramedics found him in his bathroom, the room was covered in blood. It is thought that he had suffered a brain haemorrhage while in the shower, causing him to fall and hit his head on the sink.

"I flew out to Saudi Arabia immediately. By the time I arrived, he was in a coma," said Denise.

"Three days after the incident, Don began to regain consciousness but he was disorientated and distressed.

He recognised my face but, if I'm honest, I don't believe he truly understood who I was.

On 22 August 2013, Denise was finally allowed to bring her husband back to England. He was immediately transferred to the Bradford Royal Hospital where he stayed for three weeks before moving to a rehabilitation centre.

"Don would only sleep for around one hour each day," said Denise. "He wanted me there all the time and so I too got very little rest. He would often become scared or angry as a result of the brain injury and would frequently try to escape from the rehabilitation centre.

"It quickly became clear that Don's recovery was going to be a long process. When we returned to England I was desperate for answers and eventually 'googled' brain injury.

"Thankfully, the Headway website provided me with so much information about brain injury. Whenever Don had a bad day where he would become confused or uncharacteristically aggressive towards the hospital staff, I would consult the Headway factsheets for reassurance.

"Before his brain injury, Don was a highly-organised person, but today he leaves everything to the last minute and he struggles to remember even basic instructions," said Denise, who is now a member of Headway Bradford.

"My high-flying husband had to accept early retirement and stop driving following his brain injury, while I had to put my life on hold as we waded through the worst year of our lives.

"However, we began running together as part of Don's rehabilitation, which gave us both something real to focus on."

On 5 March 2014, Don was finally well enough to return home. In June, he began helping Denise train for the Yorkshire Marathon, which she went on to complete, raising nearly £700 for Headway Bradford.

"Brain injury has definitely had an impact upon our relationship. If you met Don in a room full of people you would not realise that he suffers from the effects of brain injury but, living with him as his wife, I can tell that things are different.

"We also have really good weeks too, and I want to be his reason to get better."


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