Abscess (subdural empyema): Joey

Joey, 16, tells us about her brain injury at the age of 12, determination to recover and how her ‘second chance’ has led her to inspire others.

Joey headshot

Published: June 2021. Date of brain injury: March 2018 (child aged 12 years)

Hello, my name is Joey and I am a 16-year-old teenager from Northern Ireland. I may seem like your average little girl, but I tell you, I am much more. Unbeknownst to many of you, this is my second life.

Joey in hospital bed

My brain injury

In March 2018, I began feeling rather unwell, and it all started with me falling out of bed in the morning and screaming that I could not get up. Soon that scream became a faint whisper. My voice getting quieter. 

I went to get checked out by my GP, and he saw nothing wrong with me… until I returned the next day, my legs unable to move, my body, an inescapable chasm for what holds the little life I have left. 

It was clear something was wrong with me but he didn’t know – so he sent me to the children’s hospital in Belfast.

Joey physio

Belfast Children’s Hospital

Nurses, doctors, everyone surrounded me, rushing to my aid – slowly my eyes closed and went with it, my hope for a life. My brain was filled with subdural empyema, and a burr hole evacuation procedure was performed that same day.

Next was a craniotomy whereby the bone flap was placed in my abdomen. I hadn’t the strength to breathe by myself and was intubated, along with being hooked to a ventilator in the Paediatric Intensive Care Unit.

My eyes peered open, and I was surrounded by white – I thought I had died, this was where it ended. However, this wasn’t true. God sent me down once more to fight for what was rightfully mine, and that was the right to live.

When I woke up I was surrounded by a cascade of nurses, machines, therapists and my family. I tried to speak but my voice was robbed of any movement, any life. 

I was affected by vocal cord palsy and was unable to eat for over a month – only surviving from my NG tube and fluids. My left side, ruined by hemiparesis, and I was stuck in my own body, unable to break free.

Joey birthdays
Joey school

A challenging recovery

The next few months would be the most strenuous and challenging months of my life. Everyday I underwent extensive IV antibiotic treatment to treat the infection of my brain, physiotherapy to treat my leg movement, occupational therapy to treat my fine motor skills, and to restore any faith I had for a future as a musician.

I was speechless throughout, without a voice, with little hope and happiness. Recovery seemed bleak, like a distant future that would never become reality, but it did. It really did. In June, there I stood as a 13-year-old girl who defied reality and became a superhero. 

There are times, and still are times, when I question why this happened to me, why was I chosen, but I understand that this has become one of the best things to ever happen to me. 

Why? As I have learnt that I am stronger than I think I am, this is my second life, and it was given to me for a reason, because I have a purpose in life – and that purpose is to share my story so the world knows if I can do it, so can anybody. 

Joey outside

Take it from a 16-year-old girl in 2021, who still struggles with epilepsy and seizures, that life will throw obstacles at you, but if they challenge you, just put up a good fight and they will soon fall and quiver at your knees.

I do not believe that I am lucky, but I do believe that I was chosen for a reason. I want to be the voice for children and teenagers who don’t have a voice, who can’t speak up, who don’t know how to fight. I am their fighting spirit and I want people to contact me if they are struggling because I will be your fighter. 

Joey will be writing more blogs in the coming months. Let us know if you have a question for Joey and she may be able to cover that topic in her next blog! 

Lewis at The Children's Trust

AVM: Lewis

In 2015, 15-year-old Lewis was left with a brain injury. Now aged 21, Lewis shares his experience of school, college and university.