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Rehab Conference 2024: life after brain injury

By Jack Fox

Published In: Brain and Spinal Injury, Clinical Negligence

It's Action for Brain Injury Week 20 – 26 May. This year's theme, A Life Re-Written, highlights the journey of regaining identity after brain injury.

Leon Clarkson and Kate Heward

Our recent rehabilitation conference shared the story of ‘Steve’ and his experience with life after injury.

Breaking from the main story, we were joined by Leon Clarkson, a brain injury survivor, who shared his own experiences with rebuilding his career, relationships and identity. He was interviewed by his Occupational Therapist from Rehabilitate Therapy , Dr Kate Heward .

Leon’s ‘sliding door’ moment came when he suffered a from glandular fever in 2010. He was 28 years old at the time. Leon explained: “All my glands swelled up causing my airways to close and there was limited oxygen to my brain for around 40 minutes which resulted in a brain injury.”

What were the main symptoms of your brain injury and how did you learn to manage them?

Leon shared how his injury has left him with symptoms of fatigue, confidence issues, and low mood / depression.

After discharge from hospital Leon struggled to come to terms with his new life. He was bed bound for quite some time and dependent on his Mum for care and assistance.

“I didn’t know anything about brain injuries at that time and was getting angry all the time but didn’t understand why. I was trapped in a vicious circle.”

He lost a lot of confidence. He no longer felt able to cook his own meals, something he enjoyed doing before his injury.

Leon eventually returned to work in a DIY shop where he’d worked for some time before but struggled with fatigue and bouts of anger. He unfortunately lost his job as the business went into liquidation. He then found himself in limbo and struggled to find a new employer who was similarly supportive of his brain injury.

Leon eventually managed to find another job with the British Heart Foundation as a volunteer. He added: “The BHF saved my life”. At the time he was stuck in a box room at his Mum’ house. The new job gave him the routine he needed. “I didn’t expect special assistance from my employer I just wanted them to understand that when my fatigue and anger issues kicked in, that it was down to my brain injury.”

How did your life change once you started rehabilitation?

Leon began rehabilitation around 2018 on a slow but steady basis which he could cope with. Leon recalled how it took him some time to accept his new life and the help available. Once he did, he started to properly engage with his therapists, and this is when he started really seeing the benefits.

“It’s all about having the right rehabilitation team in place to push you in the right direction but also knowing when not to push, knowing what the limits are.”

His rehabilitation team consisted of a case manager, a neuropsychologist, an occupational therapist and a support worker. He soon learnt coping mechanisms for many of his symptoms. He learnt his anger issues were due to his brain injury and learnt how to control this with use of breathing techniques and exercise.

“Exercise has always been a massive part of my rehabilitation”. Leon explained how after every therapy session, his brain was overloaded, so as a way of coping he’d unwind with exercise almost immediately afterwards.  “I needed that reset button”.

Leon still suffers with low mood, depression, and times where he “can’t stop talking” , but through rehabilitation, he now knows how to manage his symptoms much better than before.

How has you day to day living changed – from life immediately after your injury to now?

Leon spoke of how part way through his rehabilitation, he began to live independently again, as part of an ‘independent living trial’. He re-learnt how to do all his own general housework such as cooking and cleaning. “One of my biggest achievements during my rehabilitation was being able to clean my house on my own, going from room to room.”

He found planning with the use of a whiteboard as a memory aide a real game changer, which he still uses today, to help him manage his day to day living. He plans his meals for the week, so he knows what food to buy when he does his weekly shopping, and also sets out any appointments for the week.

What are some of your major achievements since your injury?

With the help of his rehab team Leon learnt to drive, something he never thought would be possible due to his brain injury. He worried he wouldn’t be able to pass on medical grounds. With the help of the team, Leon found an amazing driving instructor who was willing to be trained on dealing with people with brain injuries. He recalled one incident where he made a mistake during a driving lesson, which ended up being a real turning point for him.

“My brain is like a volcano - all it takes is for one thing to go wrong to set the lava over the top. I made a mistake, but my instructor calmed me and broke everything down into stages. I actually ended up driving home for the first time after that session.”

He also shared his love for walking in the outdoors. Leon went away on holiday on his own for the first time, for a week in the Lake District and Peak District. This was a real turning point for Leon and gave him a lot of confidence in his ability. This year he’s going to go one step further and go abroad to the Costa Del Sol, Spain on his own. 

Leon is now employed by Rehabilitate Therapy as a client liaison, supporting those in the client community impacted by brain injury. Using his own experiences and struggles, he’s gone from being a participant of the weekly social men’s group to now helping to run it. With his newfound identity Leon now helps people overcome, amongst other things, confidence, adjustment and social anxiety issues. 

 Support following brain injury

 Headway is a charity organisation providing specialist help and support for brain injury survivors and their families. Visit their website to find out more.

 Brain injury compensation

 If your brain injury was caused by someone else, you may be due compensation. Our solicitors work with some of the UKs leading medical and rehabilitation experts, to help you find a way forward. Call and have a no obligation chat with our friendly team today. Call us on 0800 138 0458  or email


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Jack qualified as a Solicitor in 2019. He’s a member of our Medical Negligence team.


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