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Last Updated: Sunday, 23 January, 2005, 00:21 GMT
'People think I've drunk too much'
By Jane Elliott
BBC News health staff

Dean Harding
Dean suffered two head injuries
Kids standing on street corners shout out 'drunk' as Dean Harding walks by and bouncers often stop him going into their clubs because they worry that the 27-year-old has had too much to drink.

But Dean is not a drunk, he is disabled.

Although he has trouble with his mobility, most of Dean's injuries are hidden - brain injuries.

He says that because he has few physical scars people will not accept his disability - and when he shows them his operation scars on his neck they still dismiss him as a drunk.

Even the police hassle him on a night out, so Dean says he goes out less and only to places where he is known and with friends he can trust.

Head injuries
One family in 300 is thought to have a member with persisting disability after head injury.
Males are two to three times more likely to have a head injury than females.
In the age range 15-29, males are five times more likely to do so.
"Now I can only go to a club if they know me. If doormen do not know me they will not let me in because they say I am drunk.

"People think I am drunk because I have had a head injury. If I say I have had no alcohol then they say I must be on drugs.

"I have been stopped by the police and picked up for being drunk.

"I get nervous walking past groups of kids because they say things.

"The other day I was walking past this group of kids and they kept on saying 'excuse me, excuse me' and when I asked them what they wanted they just said are 'you're drunk."

Binge drinker

Ironically Dean used to be a binge drinker. For two years from the age of 19, he drank from Thursday to Monday night, he got into fights and trouble followed him everywhere.

Life is not about what I could have done, it will be about what I have done.
Dean Harding
But now he drinks rarely and little. After just one drink his speech starts to slur and his movement is affected, so Dean has learnt to be cautious.

It was during one of his drinking bouts that Dean got the first of his two serious head injuries.

He was outside a London club arguing when he fell into the path of a car. Despite his head injuries he says he received no brain scan and was merely given pain killers.

In the second incident he was attacked in the toilets by a group of six men who beat him so badly that he needed six months treatment in hospital and it took him two years to learn to walk again.

Doctors are not sure which of the incidents caused his clot to the brain. This caused a partial paralysis of the left side of his body because of the injury to the motor centers of his brain .

Dean says his injuries were the catalyst he needed to get his life back on the right tracks.

"I was always mixed up in violence. This was a turning point in my life. It has made me think I will make something of my life. Life is not about what I could have done, it will be about what I have done"

Football prospect

Always a keen footballer he played as a youngster for Fulham, Crystal Palace and West Ham schoolboys.

As his drinking became more frequent Dean played less sport, but now he says he wants to get fit again.

He regularly trains at the gym and dreams of running the London marathon. No mean feat for a young man who has just learnt to walk again.

He reckons it will take him another five years before he can run, but says it is a goal to keep him going.

"I want to run the marathon, I know it is a tall order, but I am not going to do it just sitting around."

He is also going to college and studying English and spends his spare time working for the brain injury association Headway, which supports people with a brain injury and their family and friends.

He talks to their members about the dangers of drink and the ignorance about head injuries.

Common problem

Peter McCabe, chief executive of Headway said Dean's story was sadly not uncommon and said that they often heard about members, particularly young men who were being dismissed as drunks.

He said the problem had become so common that they had now produced a brain injury survivors card to help people explain their disability .

"We hear from many people, especially young men who enjoy going out, that they have been wrongly accused of being drunk and disorderly by the police.

"Many people with brain injury will find that their disabilities are emphasised after a moderate amount of alcohol, this may mean that their speech will become slurred and their physical disability may become more pronounced.

"This issue was echoed in our response to the Carers and Users Consultation on National Service Framework Long Term Conditions where we recognised a need for investment in training professionals to reduce discrimination.

"Since this we have also produced Brain Injury Survivors Cards which help people with a brain injury explain their disability"

Anyone who has had problems after an accident, or fall or hitting their head, can find out more about brain injury on Headway's free phone Helpline: 0808 800 2244.

Am I still me?
16 Jan 04 |  Magazine

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