A Second Chance

15 July 2021

16-year-old Joey Ho shares her inspirational story of living with an Acquired Brain Injury

A Second Chance

15 July 2021

16-year-old Joey Ho shares her inspirational story of living with an Acquired Brain Injury

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We recently had the pleasure of being contacted by Joey, a 16-year-old from Northern Ireland whose life was turned upside down at such a young age, but who has since faced every challenge that’s come her way head on. This is her remarkable story…

Hello, my name is Joey Ho – and I am now a 16-year-old teenager from Northern Ireland, and 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.

In March 2018, I began to feel 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. It was clear something was wrong with me, but he did not know – so he sent me to the children’s hospital in Belfast.

It wasn’t long before nurses and doctors surrounded me, rushing to my aid. My right brain was filled subdural empyema, and a burr hole evacuation procedure was performed that same day. I had not the strength to breathe by myself and was intubated, along with being hooked to a ventilator in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. My eyes peered open, and I was surrounded by white – I thought I had died. However, this was not 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 its sound. I tried to move, but my left side 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.

These next few months would be the most strenuous and challenging months of my life, every day 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.

Take it from a 16-year-old in 2021, who 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.

My Recovery

After those treacherous months, I was finally discharged from hospital in June of 2018. I suppose it was bittersweet, the nurses who had cared for me, the therapists, doctors, everybody really had become my family and I would never forget them to this date.

It is strange how you look at it once you are older, for once I experienced gratitude beyond compare – strangers becoming saviours and being my superheroes. However, my experience was not exactly over yet! I would still return for appointments with neurologists, pediatricians, neurosurgeons, and pediatric medicine doctors. At least I could step back and take a moment to truly appreciate how far I had come from that first day.

Still today (2021), I am seeing neurology in the hospital for appointments from time to time. I stopped physiotherapy a year ago, as it seemed that I had made a recovery far beyond the belief of anybody – including myself!

I had lost the ability to play piano but am now a pianist. I practice a lot, which was most likely why I had gained all my strength back in my left hand so quickly! I pushed myself to be a musician and go beyond my own limit because I knew that I could achieve it.

How my brain injury affects me 

I suppose anybody with a brain injury would be affected in different ways, some may say it has had its negative effects, some may say it has had its positive effects and some may say both. Personally, I would have to say that I have had both ups and downs with ABI.

Without this experience, I would not value my life as much as I do now – you do not know what you have until you lose it, and it makes me truly grateful that I have been given another opportunity to live.

Throughout this journey, I have met people who were practically family to me for the prolonged hospital stay, and I am forever in their debt for the gracious quality of care they had given me, each day. I came out learning something about myself – and that was the perception that I was not invincible, even if I was stronger than I thought.

However, if I were completely honest, my experience has not been problem free. For months, I had felt helpless and weak and had lost any hope in recovery, thinking that my life would be meaningless afterwards. These emotions were difficult to cope with for a 12-year-old.

Physically, I suppose it has negatively affected me in the sense that I still have epilepsy today – and am still on medication for it, but it does not hinder my life, so it is not too bad.

In terms of my education, it was clear that I was a little slower at learning when with my brain injury, being more tired than usual, and the break from learning did not do me any favours, especially with being in a school where everyone was intelligent!

Although, I have to say, the good does outweigh the bad!

My plans for the future 

Despite having been affected by a brain injury – my hopes for the future have never changed! I am 16 years old now, and have just chosen my A Levels, with the hope of continuing my education in my current school – and I have chosen to take 4 A Levels – Music, Religious Studies, English Literature and Sociology.

I am not certain of what my predicted grades are, but I sat a set of exams in April, in which I got straight A*s and As. Hopefully that will be what my grades look like in August time – but I did everything I could have done!

After I finish my education in secondary school, I hope to go to a music conservatoire in London, which is essentially a school which specialises in music. I know it is difficult to achieve acceptance to a conservatoire, but I have high hopes to attend the Royal Conservatoire of Music (RCM).

As a career, I would like to have a degree in music and then have a master’s in music education, as I feel that I would enjoy teaching. I do not think I could ever have a life without music, so I will work hard with my music theory and piano studies!

Well, I will also want to continue choir, since I absolutely love singing and it is part of my life – but I also would like to further my education in singing, maybe take it as another course in university, just so I am more diverse with my education! It will be interesting to see if I follow through with these plans, but I surely am determined!

My advice for other ABI patients…

I know that an Acquired Brain Injury can be extremely difficult to process, and the recovery may be a long journey – but please take it from someone who has experienced this first hand as a 12-year-old – you are not alone in this! There are many people who have suffered from ABI, and you can always reach out and get support from us.

I want to be the voice for those who are speechless, power for the powerless, and hope for the hopeless. I will fight for you, with you and alongside you.

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