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Mandy Donaldson

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Mandy Donaldson

Mandy Donaldson

Don't struggle alone

In 1975, three-year-old Mandy Donaldson waved goodbye to her dad from the bedroom window as he set off for work.

When Mandy's mother heard a thud, she thought it was the postman knocking at the door.

But Mandy had fallen from the first floor window of their Teeside home, sustaining a brain injury, fractured skull and broken arm.

She was rushed to University Hospital of North Tees, before being transferred to James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough.

"The doctor took one look at me and told my parents to make me comfortable because I would not make it through the day," said 45-year-old Mandy. "How wrong they were."

Despite the bleak prognosis, after spending 14 days in a coma and several more months in hospital, Mandy was eventually sent home.

But surrounded by people who didn't understand brain injury, and suffering from regular seizures, Mandy struggled through her formative years.

"My schooling suffered terribly," she said. "I was quiet and kept myself to myself. My school reports said I must concentrate more, and ask for help if I needed it. But because I was a child, I didn't realise I was struggling."

Mandy's parents were given no advice on caring for a child with a brain injury and brought her up as, in Mandy's words,"normal."

They noticed things weren't right, but they didn't want to put pressure on me. They were just so grateful I had survived. They felt so lucky to have me.

As Mandy grew up she continued to struggle with memory loss, fatigue and emotional outbursts. For many years, she simply accepted these traits as part of who she was, while working full time caring for people.

When she was 35, Mandy moved away from her family to be with her new partner in Durham. 

"It did me good and bad," she said. "I started a college course because I wanted to train to do clerical work. But I found I was struggling to remember anything I learnt. I felt so low, like I couldn't go on."

When Mandy went to her doctor and told him about her memory problems and childhood accident, she started to turn a corner. She was able to accept her brain injury and understand how it affected her. 

"Visiting the doctor was very hard because I had to go over my accident and start all over again. But it helped me a great deal. I started to accept that I have a brain injury and that I have a disability."

An occupational therapist started visiting Mandy, teaching her methods to help her tackle her memory problems.

"I had always pushed myself. But accepting my brain injury made me take a step back and decide not to put too much pressure on myself to achieve things."

In 2010, Mandy met Alastair White, a network support manager for Headway who signposted her to Headway County Durham. She attended the group and was given Headway information booklets to help her understand her brain injury and what she was going through.

At the same time, Mandy was supported by Momentum Skills, a charity that provides work placements, training and support to people living with brain injury. Mandy started two work placements doing clerical work.

But Mandy was forced to give up the placements she enjoyed so much when her ESA payments were stopped and she had to look for work.

"It was so disheartening to lose my benefits," she said. "It was horrible. My work placements were something I really wanted to do.

"I remember after my benefits interview I felt absolutely wiped out. I had to concentrate so hard and afterwards I was so tired.


"But I look normal, I can write my name, I can get dressed. I've been turned down for two disability benefit applications now."

Mandy went back to her former career in caring, and for the first time in her life, she decided to tell her employers that she had a brain injury.

"My employers are really supportive. I'm still hard on myself but I'm good at my job, I know I am."

Mandy is happier now than ever. She accepts her brain injury, loves her job as a carer and takes everything one step at a time.

"To anyone else who is struggling, I would say go to the doctors and get help," she said. "Don't struggle alone. Talk to your family. Talk to people who can help. If you keep the problems inside they will stew and get even worse."

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Headway - the brain injury association is registered with the Charity Commission for England and Wales (Charity no. 1025852) and the Office of the Scottish Regulator (Charity no. SC 039992). Headway is a company limited by guarantee, registered in England no. 2346893.

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