Ciara holding Dylan and smiling

Former service user and current Cedar employee Ciara returns to Cedar this week after a year of maternity leave. It has been a year like no other and here we share her story from stroke survivor to pandemic mummy and beyond.

In 2009, at the age of 24, Ciara had a spontaneous brain hemorrhage and stroke. Being a newlywed and having recently purchased a house the sudden life-changing event dramatically impacted all her plans. After being treated in the Royal Victoria Hospital and accessing further care, such as speech therapy and physiotherapy in Thomson House Hospital, Ciara was referred to Cedar.

“Initially, when I was discharged from hospital, I thought I was fine to leave so it would just be life as normal. However, I quickly discovered that was not the case. Activities and tasks I once took for granted were difficult and sometimes impossible for me to do. However, as my planned career was cut short, I was keen to find alternative employment."

She added:

"Sustaining a brain injury is an isolating experience, particularly when your friends are continuing to do all the things you would or should be doing, so I also wanted to establish social connections with people that understood. All this meant that the referral to Cedar was a massively positive step.”

Ciara set objectives and goals with her Project Officer Nicola and during her time as a service user, she made great friends, developed skills to manage and adapt to her new life. She was motivated to get a book published and reached that achievement by securing a deal with a US-based publisher. As her time on the project came to an end Ciara applied for a part-time administrative job in the organisation.

“I actually enjoyed the interview process. I had the regular nerves, but I felt confident that I could hold my own amongst the other interviewees and my experience gave me a unique insight into what it is like to be a service user. I understood the challenges of, and perceptions people have about disability.”

Ciara was successful in obtaining the position and has since moved from a 12-hour contract in administration to working administration across two directorates and she is currently doing 25 hours a week as a Communications Officer.

“It is very important to me that people know what services are out there. Now more than ever people need support. Cedar gave me the tools I needed to be independent in a world completely uncharted for me. Learning the different ways in which I could work within and around unforeseen challenges opened up opportunities.”

Now to today. In March 2020 Ciara became mum to long-awaited baby Dylan. 

“It was a very surreal and frightening time because Dylan was born around the time of Lockdown One. My husband and I did not have the support or experience we had planned for and Dylan had to meet the family through a glass window which was very emotional for everyone. However, I do believe adaption was the key to managing both the brain injury and becoming parents during a global pandemic. My time at Cedar taught me to adjust to my given circumstances.

Dylan is a happy, thriving baby and we have memories that may not be traditional but fun all the same. From our walks around the park to our Halloween family photoshoot to marking Dylan’s 100th food before 1. Santa was also very generous at Christmas but there was no harm in that in 2020.”

Ciara continued:

“I think it is fair to say that everyone now knows, as the phrase goes, life can change on the turn of a dime. What has happened with the pandemic gave a small insight into what people living with disabilities have faced for a very long time; being isolated, issues with mobility and access, and the loss of or limitations on income. I hope the realisation promotes the embracement of diversity and commitment to inclusion in the future.”

When asked about how it felt to be returning to work given all that has changed, Ciara answered:

"I am excited to return to my virtual office and to see how Cedar continued to deliver services throughout the year. They have helped people in the community for almost eighty years with a vision for an inclusive society for all and they will continue to do so. I’m glad to be a part of that and proud to spread the message that Cedar helped me bolster the resilience I was reared with and successfully adapt to my life as a brain injury survivor.”

Baby Dylan as a newborn, dressed as a little chef with whites on, in mum

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