Nikki Strong, who cares for her husband, father and son after they all sustained brain injuries, has been nominated for a Carer of the Year award.
The awards are run by the brain injury association Headway.
Nikki’s journey with brain injury began in 2008 when her boyfriend, now husband, suffered a horrific fall at work.
Tony fell almost 40 feet from the ceiling of a warehouse building, sustaining a traumatic brain injury to his front and temporal lobes, a broken back, and a punctured lung.
He was airlifted to hospital, where he spent several months in an induced coma and later suffered ventilator-assisted pneumonia.
“Those first few weeks and months were difficult, to say the least,” said Nikki. “Once Tony came out of his coma, we both had to learn about the effects of his brain injury, such as memory loss, fatigue, cognitive impairment and behaviour issues. Understandably, Tony was very confused and frustrated.”
Nikki, who was 24 weeks pregnant at the time, prayed no-one else in her family would have to suffer the same fate as Tony. Little did she know what was yet to come.
Three years later, in 2011, their son Vinnie sustained a brain injury due to lack of oxygen during a complicated birth.
“Vinnie was born blue,” Nikki recalled. “Each time I had a contraction, the cord became tangled and trapped, causing Vinnie to repeatedly lose oxygen to his brain. Thankfully, they were able to revive him, but he’s been left with lasting issues such as memory loss, limited social skills and talking with no filter. He too, now just 11, is frustrated and confused.”
Tragedy struck again in 2019 when Nikki’s dad David suffered an ischaemic stroke.
“We were sitting at the table eating dinner when I noticed his face had dropped,” said Nikki. “He was trying to eat and swallow, but he couldn’t. We called 999, and an ambulance arrived so quickly. They were able to give him the clot-busting meds he needed.
“After a week in hospital, Dad was discharged with memory problems, word-finding issues, and fatigue, which again leads to frustration and confusion. He suffered several mini strokes after this, but in 2021, they discovered the cause of the blood clots, and he underwent heart surgery to remedy it.”
Throughout it all, Nikki has been caring for her husband, son and dad, as well as other members of her family, including her mum with fibromyalgia, her eldest daughter with agoraphobia and anxiety and her middle child who has autism, selective mutism and a sensory processing disorder.
Nikki said: “My caring role is kind of mixed up in being a wife, mother and daughter. Life can be chaotic, so I make sure everyone is where they should be when they should be. I attend everyone’s medical appointments so I can make sure the right information is getting relayed both ways. I keep on top of everyone’s medications, what they are taking, when and why and help keep their repeat prescriptions in order.”
Now Nikki has been nominated for Carer of the Year, sponsored by Barr Ellison LLP, at an annual awards ceremony organised by Headway in London.
She said: “I’ll be honest, I’m quite shocked to be nominated. I don’t see what I do as anything other than what needs to be done. My family need my help, and I’m capable of helping, so I just get on with it. I’m a private person and find any attention quite awkward and embarrassing. Don’t get me wrong, I am amazed and overwhelmed that someone took the time and was thinking about me enough to nominate me, but I’m sure there are more deserving people out there.”
In addition to organising everyone’s medications, Nikki helps to handle the household finances and also home schools Vinnie.
“Vinnie is home educated, so my role with him is mum, carer and teacher. He manages very well, but as he gets older, we are noticing a few more issues and having to step in to keep him safe online.”
As well as caring for her family’s complex needs, Nikki also volunteers at Headway Lincolnshire, a local brain injury charity which has supported her for many years.
“Headway Lincolnshire has been a lifesaver for us as a family,” said Nikki. “The charity has been able to refer us to different services as needed, like neuropsychological support and physiotherapy. Both Tony and I and my parents attend the Boston drop-in support group monthly. It is so helpful for me to be with others who understand what it’s like caring for someone with a brain injury and for Tony to be with others who understand him.”
Nikki was nominated by Ann-Marie, co-ordinator and development officer at Headway Lincolnshire. Ann-Marie said: “Nikki has been accessing Headway Lincolnshire’s support for 10 years and is always the first to welcome newcomers to our monthly meetings in Boston. Nikki is always keen to help with our fundraising events and must have put in well over a hundred hours of support throughout the last several years.
“Nikki has taken everything in her stride and does what she does because that’s the way she is. To be shortlisted as a nominee means the world to Nikki and her family. She really is a super woman!”
Nikki added: “Fourteen years on, nearly every decision still revolves around brain injury. It rules our family and our lives. My caring role will continue to evolve as my family’s needs change, and eventually, I hope to work with other families of brain injury survivors during those early days, which can be so scary and confusing.
“I love my life – it’s so very exhausting, but every day is a new adventure.”
Nikki will find out if she has won the award on December 9.