Real Life Stories

Olivia: A Journey of Hope

By January 6, 2017 No Comments

I decided on the story of Olivia, as a topic to cover, because her journey recovering from  a severe head injury was very inspiring to me. Despite her circumstances, she choose be a victor rather than a victim in her fate. This essay tells the story of Olivia, once a very successful actress, who as a result of a
tragic horse accident was barely able to walk, talk, read or eat. Through persistence, determination, courage and faith, Olivia’s journey of recovery of nearly 30 years, is revealed.

Every year, Many families in Ireland are affected by an acquired brain injury. When a loved one has a traumatic brain injury, it is a devastating and life-changing experience for everyone. It is known as a ‘Hidden Disability’ because of the many hidden challenges it can bring for both the person and their families. brain injury doesn’t just happen to one person – it impacts the whole family. In Europe, brain injuries from trauma are responsible for more years of disability than any other cause.

In 1985, Olivia Cronin, at the tender age of 24, was at the height of her career as a model and actress. She was described by many, as one of the most talented actresses in the country. She performed in roles from TV presenter on RTE’s Mailbag, to leading acting roles in the Abbey Theatre, Olympia Theatre, the
Everyman and various radio voiceover work, for leading Irish companies such as Permanent TSB and Easons.

Journalist, Terry keane said that Olivia’s “striking good looks, delightful charm and endless talent, will surely one day make her Ireland’s leading lady”. At the time she was known to have associations with acclaimed film directors Noel
Pearson, Paul Mercier, Neil Jordan and actor Brendan Gleeson. Olivia’s acting career blossomed at the age of 20 in U.C.C.’s Drama and subsequently went onto to study drama at the Oscar School of Acting, in Dublin.

While Olivia was living in Dublin, she had a deep passion for horses. She would regularly  go out horse riding as a form of relaxation from her busy acting schedule. However on one sunny clear day in Sandyford, Dublin, Olivia went out horse riding with her close friend, Catriona. Unfortunately it would be her last time, as she had a tragic horse riding accident on the same day.

Olivia lost consciousness. she lay on the ground helplessly in an unconscious state. blood was coming from her ears and mouth. Her friend Catriona luckily was a nurse and knew how to respond effectively to the situation. Catriona phoned for an ambulance and didn’t move Olivia so that no further damage could happen. The ambulance arrived promptly and Olivia was rushed to the hospital. It was doubtful if she would actually survive.

An Acquired Brain injury (ABI) can happen suddenly to anyone. You can get one from a stroke, a brain infection, a road accident, a fall, a hit on the head, or brain surgery. Brain injury is the foremost cause of death and disability in young people. Those that are between 15-29 years of age are three times more likely to sustain a brain injury than any other groups.

The ambulance came and Olivia was brought to St. Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin, where she  was put into an induced coma. She had major brain swelling and had damaged her frontal lobe, which is responsible for your personality and emotions. The doctors battled to save her life. Olivia underwent emergency brain surgery. Her family were told that if she did survive, there was a
strong possibility that she would be in a wheelchair for the rest of her life.
Olivia was in a coma for almost twelve weeks. When she came out of the coma, she was barely able to walk, eat or speak. Olivia spent 6 months in intensive care. The chances of her recovering and having a normal and independent life, were slim.

It is estimated that approximately 20,000 people experience an acquired brain injury in Ireland annually. up to 30,000 people living in ireland, between the ages of 16 to 65, are also estimated to be living with long term problems
following brain injury. which represents 0.7% of the population.

Olivia was moved to the National Rehabilitation Hospital, in Dun Laoghaire, where she spent over three years. She underwent intensive physiotherapy , occupational therapy and speech therapy. The whole process was very, very slow. Olivia also developed Post-traumatic epilepsy. There were no warning signs for Olivia in regards to when she would have a seizure. It interfered with the quality of her life and she needed to have somebody with her all the time.

She also suffered from severe headaches and tired very easily as well. Her memory was impaired and often failed to recognise even close family members.
the brain is a very complex organ and many possible challenges can arise because of a head injury. They can be Physical and Sensory issues, memory, thinking, emotional and behavioural difficulties and also social and family consequences.

A brain injury can have traumatic consequences for the person and a devastating affect on the whole family. Olivia had to relearn how to talk, walk, eat, sleep and go to the toilet. she also had to learn ways to compensate for abilities, that were permanently changed because of her brain injury. She had very little strength in her legs and her balance poor. with the help of occupational therapy and painful physiotherapy, Olivia was gradually able to walk again. Her speech improved slowly with the assistance of an amazing speech therapist called Paula Keane. Gradually some of her old strengths
emerged. She showed great faith and courage in her 3 intense years in Dun
Laoghaire. When she was discharged, her recovery continued at home with
the support of family, friends and therapists.

Recovering from a brain injury depends on other areas of the brain learning to take over the function of the damaged areas. It relies on the hard work from the patient, their family and the rehabilitation team to strengthen the remaining abilities to maximize performance. It is estimated that only around 29 percent of people with a severe head injury, make a positive recovery.

Thankfully, Nearly 30 years since the original accident, Olivia’s recovery is regarded as beyond a miracle. she now attends an organisation called headway. Headway provides a range of services and support to bring positive change to people with brain injury and their carers in Headway, Olivia now participates in many activities such as swimming, football, “movement to music”, computers and art and design. She also gets the opportunity to visit museums, art galleries, coffee shops and many other places. Just recently she started swimming for the first time in many years, which is an outstanding  achievement for her. This is  something Olivia really enjoys.

Through her courage and supports, she has gained so much independance. As her seizures are now controlled with medication, she can now lives in her own apartment, beside her sister Lisa, who is also her carer. Her apartment overlooks beautiful Cork Harbour, in Crosshaven.

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