A VOLUNTEER whose life has been dramatically affected by brain injury has been praised for generously giving her time to help fellow survivors.

Gillian Richards, 58, was one of just three finalists from across the UK to be shortlisted for the title of Volunteer of the Year at the national brain injury awards ceremony organised by Headway, the brain injury association.

She was announced as the runner up at the awards luncheon last week at the InterContinental London Park Lane, Mayfair.

Gillian, originally from Cornwall but a Brighton resident for more than 30 years, said: “I was deeply touched when I found out I had been nominated for Headway’s Volunteer of the Year Award.

“For me, it’s not just recognition of what I’ve managed to do, but of the work of my clients, their families and my colleagues, along with the support of my own family, friends and healthcare specialists.

“It’s a real honour to be recognised for the work we’ve all done within and beyond the community of people affected by acquired brain injury in East Sussex.”

Gillian’s first experience of brain injury began as a teenager when her grandmother suffered a stroke. Gill and the rest of her family spent many years caring for her and learning to come to terms with the effects of the injury.

In 1997, Gillian once again experienced the devastating consequences of brain injury after she herself was diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome.

She was swimming at a local leisure centre when she hit her head on the pool wall.

“I knew something was wrong as soon as I pulled myself up out of the water,” said Gill. “I felt very dizzy and kept drifting in and out of consciousness.

“I spent the next few years feeling incredibly dizzy and sick, often sleeping for 20 hours a day.”

The injury, which followed a series of previous concussions, left Gillian with severe balance and co-ordination problems, limited mobility, visual processing difficulties and chronic fatigue.

Prior to her injury Gill had worked as an educational team manager, but the fluctuating and often hidden effects of her injury meant that she was unable to return to her much-loved job.

“Although I didn’t know it at the time, that injury would prove to be life-changing,” she said. “I loved my job so much and I’d been adamant that I’d be able to return.

“It took me about two years to really get used to the effects of my injury and accept that my life had changed. It was difficult to come to terms with the fact that I couldn’t do the things I used to be able to do.”