An inspirational local woman has been named as a finalist in a UK-wide awards scheme for the way in which she has used her personal experiences of brain injury to help others similarly affected.
Maureen Hurrell has been short-listed for the Achiever of the Year title having battled back to rebuild her life after sustaining a life-threatening brain injury.
Kind-hearted Maureen, who lives off Kilbegs Road in Antrim, is a former teacher who loved taking on fundraising challenges for charity.
However, after years of raising money for charities, Maureen found herself in desperate need of support when she sustained a devastating brain injury in 2011.
Prior to her brain injury, 56-year-old Maureen had lived a very active life.
A teacher who worked in an educational facility for children with behavioural difficulties, Maureen spent a great deal of her time travelling the world to take on incredible challenges to raise money for charity.
She’d visited Cameroon, Ethiopia and Romania to work with impoverished children, volunteered in Lourdes to chaperone people with disabilities on their personal pilgrimages, run the New York and London marathons, climbed Kilimanjaro, conquered the Inca trail in Peru... the list goes on.
But on January 31 2011, Maureen’s life changed forever. Having returned home after a night out with her sisters, she fell down the stairs. Her niece heard the ‘thump’ and was found her unconscious at the foot of the stairs.
Maureen was rushed to the Royal Hospital in Belfast where she remained in a coma in for five weeks.
Maureen’s family were naturally delighted when she eventually regained consciousness. However, Maureen’s journey was just beginning.
Like many people waking from coma, Maureen’s brain struggled to process information. Her words and mind were scrambled and she’d lost the ability to walk. Over the course of the next month, Maureen gradually began to relearn the basic everyday skills that she’d once taken for granted.
But for Maureen, one of the hardest things to accept was the fact that she would not be able to return to her role as a teacher.
Her calling in life had been to help others less fortunate than herself and being unable to continue her role hit her hard.
For the next two years, Maureen struggled to rebuild her life and spirits with the help of Headway Ballymena.
And she’s made tremendous progress. So much so, in fact, that earlier this year she signed up to hike up local mountain Slieve Donard, proclaiming that if she could do it, it would signal to her that she was on the road to recovery.
Having conquered that one mountain – both physically and metaphorically – many more followed.
In May this year Maureen – who had to relearn how to walk – managed to complete nine miles of the Belfast Marathon, raising more than £500 for Headway in the process. She is now planning to walk the Great Wall of China.
“I’m overwhelmed,” Maureen said.
She added: “I nearly fell off the chair when I found out I was a finalist. I can honestly say, from the heart, that every step I take is a blessing, which makes being chosen from people in the brain injury community across the UK all the more special.”
Frances McGarry, Chair of Headway Ballymena, said: “Maureen has shown incredible strength, determination and enthusiasm to be where she is today. Her positive spirit is so uplifting and inspires other members of the branch in their own recoveries.
“We are so proud of both of them.”
The Achiever of the Year awards will be presented at a glittering ceremony at The Dorchester Hotel in London on December 6.