The time in hospital

In 2011, Les Clarence’ fit and healthy 55-year-old wife Franziska suffered a stroke in her sleep.

When he found her unresponsive early the next morning, he called an ambulance and she was rushed to Emergency before being transferred to a Stroke Ward.

“At that time, my knowledge of strokes or other forms of acquired brain injury was next to nothing. I was suddenly faced with an extremely frightening and overwhelming experience,” Les said.

With no warning signs and no time to prepare, Les was in hospital watching his unconscious wife being treated by a team of medical professionals and sent for a range of tests. He was unsure about what was happening or what he could do to help.

“That first day, a speech therapist came to assess her for rehab, but I didn’t understand why because she couldn’t talk. There were lots of complicated medical terms being used, but I didn’t know what they meant. Different specialists were making clinical decisions about her viability for rehab, but I didn’t know what that entailed.”

As he continued to watch Franziska over the next four days, Les became increasingly anxious about whether she would pull through and increasingly lost in the hospital environment.

“This was the hardest thing I’d ever been through, and I felt isolated, confused and powerless.”

Les understood that, vitally, the medical team were focused on his wife’s prognosis, but he didn’t know what questions to ask or where to access information.

“I didn’t know what I should be doing while she was in the hospital to make things easier if she made it home. All I could do was sit by her hospital bed and hold her hand.”

Grieving and helping others

Tragically, Franziska never recovered and she passed away while still in hospital. To help Les work through his grieving process, he decided to walk the Camino De Santiago Trail, the ancient Catholic pilgrimage route stretching from southern France to north-western Spain.

“I decided to use this expedition to raise funds for a very specific purpose. I wanted to use what had happened to Francesca to help develop a service that would support other families facing a similar situation following an acquired brain injury.”

Developing the Brain Injury Family Liaison Service

Working with Synapse, Les developed the Brain Injury Family Liaison Service that comprises Family Liaison Officers who have a lived experience of brain injury. The service provided one-on-one support and information during hospital, rehabilitation and at home.

“It is my sincerest wish that this Service provides families with a loved one affected by an acquired brain injury, some guidance, support and direction during this difficult time,” said Les.

Synapse gained additional iCare funding in 2019 to expand the program and Synapse Family Liaison Officers are now located in Brisbane in Queensland, and the Illawarra and Hunter regions in NSW.

Read more about the Family Liaison Service

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