December 2019 Conference – My Brain, My Life, My Story

It somehow always feels right to try and put on a December conference that is both uplifting and inspiring and starts the festive season in a positive way. This was the thought behind our conference ‘My Brain, My Life, My Story’. We wanted to showcase a variety of positive outcomes for ABI/TBI survivors. This is not to say these outcomes were achieved without challenges. Clearly they were but that is also integral to the narrative because it demonstrates just how difficult it is to achieve what must at times seem an unenviable or impossible journey. A packed programme plus a room full to the brim with delegates and we were set for what was to become an inspiring afternoon.

We would like to thank all our presenters for sharing their incredible stories.

Food for Thought – Safi, ex Michelin Star Restaurant Chef, gave us all food for thought as he took us through his journey and how he had to learn so much all over again. He also set up an initiative to provide a free, warm cooked meal by a professional chef for vulnerable residents of Church Street Ward and Paddington Green in London. Safi expressed a desire to do what he can to help others by using his skills and knowledge as an ex Michelin Star Chef and reminded us all of the joy that food can bring.

My new life training plan – Tom Bell talked about his high level work life prior to his injury and how much he had loved this. It was clearly all absorbing but Tom said he enjoyed it so much it never felt like work. The challenge of accepting another version of himself post injury was also a prominent feature as was the importance of rehabilitation. Tom cited continuing challenges but talked enthusiastically about his new life and what that now looks like.

From this moment on” – has significance and there is a little story attached to why – Simon Handcock shared a very personal story amongst the many challenges he recounted facing after his injury. It was poignant and moving to hear how he had asked his girlfriend to marry him and how a nurse had suggested she think very carefully about this as Simon was unlikely to be the same person she had known pre injury. Between them they have found a way of accepting the ‘new’ Simon and a different life and are now happily married with children (?).

 Off The Wall – Dr Jenny Brooks (Consultant Clinical Psychologist) interviewed Mark who provided an open and honest insight into the difficulties faced by changes in behaviour after brain injury but how with the right support, people can live and interact with their community. It was significant that Mark had received the right type of support, not only from the rehab team but also from his loved ones, some of who attended the conference too.

Employment as an AT Mentor – From AT Therapy, Abdi Omar an AT mentor and Fran Sephton, AT mentor Manager & Highly Specialist Speech and Language Therapist demonstrated assistive communication technology and how this not only helps Abdi to communicate but how he has developed the skills to become a mentor for others. Abdi’s charm, wit and speedy use of assistive technology was a joy and a big hit with delegates and the work he and Fran are doing is truly amazing.

Everything is broken’ – life after traumatic brain injury – Jessica Stevens talked us through her journey from the challenge of starting again in so many ways and how whilst in hospital she decided to write a book about this to try and help others. Her book ‘Everything is broken’ is available on Amazon and became a best seller in its category. One of the reviews said “An amazing insight into a traumatic experience and the recovery involved. I would highly recommend anyone to give this a read if they are interested in TBI or recovery from traumatic injury in general”. Final word from Jessica “If my account offers someone else even a sliver of hope after a traumatic brain injury, no matter how it occurred, then that is all I can ask for”.

Looking at life half full – Lewis Unwin and Freddy in conversation brought us an informal way of sharing their experience of support from the service at Headway East London. They also talked about the value of peer support within that setting and the importance of people being understanding and non judgmental. They also talked about what their goals and achievements and it was fantastic to hear how Lewis has trained in weight-lifting and wants to help disabled people via this route.

 #jumbledbrain – Michelle Munt, Survivor. Blogger. Lifecoach kindly allowed ABIL to visit her and make a short film. Michelle has become a constant and prominent face and voice on social media, particularly Twitter and Facebook. Her honesty and openness in sharing her experiences have made her a well known person in the brain injury world. The film provided us with an insight into her journey and how she has taken her life forward in a different direction in which she is now able to help others.

We are so pleased to have been able to put on a conference where brain injury survivors were the main voice and there were a number of important reoccurring themes, which revolved around: –

  • The importance of rehabilitation
  • The importance of accepting and adapting to the new you
  • The importance of support from family and friends
  • The importance of support from organisations such as Headway
  • The hidden injury and how people often struggle to understand the ongoing difficulties and challenges faced by brain injury survivors
  • The desire to try and help others

Michelle Munt’s “Don’t guess what I need” is an important take home message for us all.

It was an incredibly inspiring afternoon that was rounded off with mince pies, cakes and mulled wine, courtesy of Irwin Mitchell who continue to generously support ABIL.

Below are just a few of the wonderful comments ABIL received during and after the event:

“Afternoon spent at the @Abilforum conference hearing from individuals living with an acquired brain injury. I have learnt from the experts about the lived experience of having a brain injury @michelle_munt @j_stevens12

“The positivity in the room about life after head injury and the unbelievable strength of humans was inspiring”

“A key message was about the importance of wider education about what living with a brain injury entails, particularly with employers. The other key message was the importance of getting access to rehab and support resources. The inequalities within what people have access to truly does have life altering consequences”.

“I have been to many conferences over the years. Some have been great, some have been good and some have been not so good but very few have been transformatory but the ABIL Conference was precisely that”.

“It’s so heartwarming to see so many stakeholders who are keen to ensure that the future for brain injury survivors continues to be full of hope. It’s important that you and the team know that your efforts are appreciated. Thank you for fighting for our cause”.

PRESENTATIONS: You can download the conference programme and presentations here:


Safi – Food For Thought

Tom Bell – My New Life Training Plan

Simon Handcock – From this moment on

Jessica Stevens – ‘Everything is broken’ – life after traumatic brain injury (TBI)’

and see Michelle Munt’s film HERE

Thank you to the hard-working ABIL Committee for putting this conference together and thank you as always to Irwin Mitchell for their invaluable ongoing support.

Tony Hart – Chair of ABIL