A Ballymena woman who has used her experience of brain injury to help others affected by it has been named as a finalist in a UK-wide awards scheme.
Kathleen Ballantine, 60, is one of only three people from across the UK to have been named a finalist in the Volunteer of the Year category in the annual awards run by Headway – the brain injury association.
In 1996, Kathleen’s son, Mark, sustained a severe brain injury following an unprovoked assault.
In an attempt to provide support for his complex needs, Mark was moved between various hospitals across Northern Ireland.
Eventually, Kathleen took the decision to take Mark home where she could provide the 24-hour care he needed.
At that time, there were no community-based support services for Mark or the family and, in Kathleen’s own words, “it was a case of being left to your own devices”.
Kathleen took over the role of principal caregiver while also looking after her young family, with the support of her husband, John.
Shocked by the lack of support available to people affected by brain injury, Kathleen then became one of the founding members of Headway Ballymena, the local branch of the UK-wide charity that supports people affected by brain injury.
Since its launch in 2001, the branch has provided support to hundreds of people across the region and has evolved into a thriving community.
Having served on the committee since day one, Kathleen has used her determination and passion to not only help develop the branch but also shape brain injury services across the region by taking part in numerous consultations and health board reviews.
On hearing she’s been named a finalist in the awards, a humble Kathleen said: “I’m shell-shocked! I can’t believe I was even nominated. I’m sure there are many people more deserving than me.
“When you’re put in the situation we were, you just tend to get on with things without thinking too much about it.”
Frances McGarry, Chair of Headway Ballymena, said: “Kathleen is, quite simply, a stalwart of our branch. She has used her own personal experience of brain injury to help others similarly affected. Having been a founding member, she has been instrumental in developing the branch, which simply would not be able to function without her.”
The Volunteer and Achiever of the Year awards will be presented at a glittering ceremony at The Dorchester Hotel in London on December 6, and Kathleen will be attending, accompanied by husband, John and son, Mark
“I’m very much looking forward to the event, albeit with nervous excitement,” she said.