REAL LIFE: ‘We nearly lost him... three times’

Suffering a brain injury is life-changing. When Kevin Pratt fell ill 14 years ago it turned his life upside down, leaving him disabled with wife Lorraine giving up everything to care for him.

Suffering a brain injury is life-changing. When Kevin Pratt fell ill 14 years ago it turned his life upside down, leaving him disabled with wife Lorraine giving up everything to care for him.

Lorraine and Kevin Pratt. Picture Ian Hargreaves (171235-1) PPP-171019-152406006

Now the couple from Milton, Portsmouth, who have been married 32 years, have learnt to live with his condition.

It started in January 2002 when Kevin was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukaemia. He had a bone marrow transplant from his younger brother and eventually returned to work as a prison officer at Kingston Prison, Portsmouth.

But the following year Kevin, a father-of-two, suddenly became dangerously ill.

‘He came home one evening saying he didn’t feel well,’ says Lorraine. ‘I woke up in the morning and he had fallen in the bath.’

Lorraine and Kevin Pratt. Picture Ian Hargreaves (171235-1) PPP-171019-152056006

Lorraine noticed his mouth looked odd, a major sign of stroke. They got in the car and headed to hospital, but half-way there Kevin stopped breathing. ‘We were in the outside lane of the motorway. I called for an ambulance. He was taken away. I was left there and chased after the ambulance.

‘Because of his transplant we were aware something could go wrong, but we didn’t know what this was. We had our lives ahead of us and overnight it all changed.’

Kevin, 44, had viral encephalitis, an airborne virus which causes brain inflammation. ‘I didn’t know which way was up,’ adds Lorraine, 52. ‘I had children asking if dad was going to die. I had to be honest and say I didn’t know. That was very hard.

‘We nearly lost him three times but his determination kept him going.’

Kevin went into intensive care and spent the next 11 months in Southampton, Gosport and Portsmouth hospitals.

‘While all this was going on he lost the ability to swallow. He had no movement in his right side. He didn’t know who we were.

‘It was frustrating for him. He couldn’t speak but he could swear. That was difficult for me because Kevin never swore.

‘Social services said I couldn’t have him at home, we had to be assessed. We live in a typical Portsmouth terraced house. But I’m stubborn. I wasn’t going to be told he was going into a home.’

The house was made wheelchair-accessible and eventually Kevin returned home with carers visiting four times a day.

‘He was very disabled,’ Lorraine adds. ‘There was no speech. He was angry and depressed. It was horrendous.

‘I had to give up my career working for Portsmouth City Council in the education department, my first full-time job after the children, but it was a no-brainer.

‘I had no income. I had to pay the mortgage to keep a roof over our heads. My mum and dad were fantastic and lent us money, but it was hard.

‘We just had to get on with it. We’ve had dark days and when I look back I don’t know how I coped.’

In 2015 Kevin had a second bout of viral encephalitis which set him back causing more damage.

‘His memory is a lot worse,’ says Lorraine.

‘He doesn’t remember things I tell him, but he will remember the Pompey score from three weeks ago.’

Luckily, Lorraine and Kevin can communicate.

‘There’s never been a point where he couldn’t understand me. There’s a fine line for me for not putting words in his mouth or ideas in his head. ‘We recently changed the mortgage and I feel he still needs to be involved in these decisions.

‘He does have an opinion – it’s just knowing which words to use to get him to say what he thinks. I get a lot of thumbs up from him.’

The couple have had support from brain injury charity Headway.

They visit the Portsmouth centre each week and socialise with other people in similar positions.

‘If we hadn’t been for Headway I don’t know where we would be. One of us would be in a wooden box.

‘For both of us it’s been a tremendous support. Nobody judges you. We’re all in the same boat. Kevin gets so much from going there.’

Now, Lorraine gets a carer’s allowance and Kevin a disability allowance plus a pension. They also have use of a mobility car.

‘Life’s all right now,’ Lorraine says. ‘It’s not what I would have chosen, but it is what it is. We go to the theatre and we go out for meals, we meet friends and we go on holiday.

‘We don’t know what’s coming so we make the most of our time.’

ESSENTIALS

What are the causes of a brain injury?

Varied but can include stroke, traumatic assault, fall, road accident, brain tumour, work accident, or brain haemorrhage.

How can it affect your brain?

A brain injury affects how you control your body including slowed responses, lack of initiative, inappropriate behaviour, poor communication, loss of physical senses, poor memory and personality changes.

How can Headway help?

It runs courses to build confidence, skills and employability. Staff offer support and advice, run weekly groups with activities in various areas and help improve health and wellbeing.

It also lobbies for improved services locally for people with brain injuries. Headway runs courses including a confidence course and cognitive therapy.

This year the charity was 30 and held celebrations throughout the year.

To find out about the charity and to make a donation, visit headwayportsmouth.co.uk.

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