Free program brings new life after brain injury

Joyce Mullemeister and her daughter Charmaine Mullemeister, who suffers from damage to her frontal lobe after an accident.
Joyce Mullemeister and her daughter Charmaine Mullemeister, who suffers from damage to her frontal lobe after an accident. Brenda Strong

ONE life-changing event can take away a person's ability to work, drive a car and even enjoy the most common activities.

It is estimated one in every 45 Australians experience a brain injury each year.

Gladstone Community Health is partnering with the Acquired Brain Injury Outreach Service to provide a free six-week Skills to Enable People and Communities (STEPS) Program.

STEPS Program co-ordinator Ben Turner said more than 800 participants had completed the six-week program at about 100 sites throughout Queensland.

"The program provides an excellent opportunity to develop strategies and skills to continue to achieve their goals after such a life-changing event," Mr Turner said.

Charmaine Mullemeister, 25, knows all too well the impacts of a life-threatening brain injury.

On her 18th birthday, her family was rocked by the news she was in a single-vehicle car accident. At the time, she was meant to begin study at a Brisbane university in the following months.

These plans dramatically changed when she had to spend nine months in Brisbane recovering from the damage to her frontal lobe.

Seven years on and she continues to battle the side effects, impacting her memory, concentration, cognition, hearing and sight.

She is surrounded by a positive support network from her family, including mum Joyce Mullemeister.

Last year Charmaine attended the STEPS program in Gladstone.

"A lot of people don't know where to go. It's not what you know, it's who you know. You get to meet people who can help you at the program," Charmaine said.

She enjoyed the social aspect of it, meeting people who had had similar experiences to her.

"It's amazing, the different behaviours and side effects."

Joyce said, "During the aftermath lots of people get stressed and depressed and they can't continue working. They need to find a way to get their confidence back."

Now, Charmaine attends Community Solutions, a disability employment service.

"She's trying to find a new job, but it's a bit tricky," Joyce said.

This year's STEPS Skills Program begins on Thursday, May 2, at the Gladstone Community Health Centre in Flinders St.

Recovery involves treating whole person, not just the brain

NEUROCAPABILITY managing director Linda Ray is a firm advocate for brain injury support groups.

She said the recovery of these types of injuries required treating the whole person, not just the brain.

"These support groups are really valuable for local communities and should be supported," Ms Ray said.

Previously working with a woman who was recovering from a stroke, Ms Ray said it had been important to find creative ways to rebuild her memory.

"They need to develop new strategies to function and find how to use their brain more effectively," she said.

"There's still hope for people with brain injuries. We can literally change how the brain works."

Ms Ray will be visiting Gladstone in May for the Women in Industry Conference.

Topics:  brain injury employment gladstone steps

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