One thousand potential new cases of acquired brain injury are recorded in children in Northern Ireland each year, according to a rehabilitation charity.
However, Brain Injury Matters said there was uncertainty around the figures due to the lack of a dedicated children’s brain injury unit.
It said early detection of the injury was vital as difficulties may not be initially evident.
Instead, they gradually develop into problems as the brain matures.
One mother whose son was eight when he became ill said he recovered as a completely different boy.
Janet McCullough’s son, Eric, had a kidney infection that developed into encephalitis – swelling of the brain.
“He had been on antibiotics but his body turned on itself and targeted the brain,” said Janet.
“His head was sore and he was sensitive to light and was sick.
“He was hospitalised in the Causeway Hospital, then the Royal Victoria Hospital, but when he emerged he was a different wee boy due to the infection.”
‘Still my boy’
One year on, the family is keen to raise awareness alongside Brain Injury Matters.
Janet said her son becomes tired, both physically and mentally, much quicker than before – and has no concept of time.
“From being a bright wee boy he is now dyslexic and needs a lot of help – he finds it hard to concentrate,” she said.
“But he’s still my boy – he’s great.”
Acquired brain injury has become more prevalent as medical advances in care have led to decreased mortality.
It can occur as a result of a road traffic accident, a fall, an infection, a lack of oxygen or, perhaps, a stroke.
While it can affect all ages it tends to peak in early childhood years up to the age of four, from the ages of 15 to 29, and in males more than females.
Fiona McCabe, the chief executive of Brain Injury Matters, said the charity was helping an increasing number of families.
‘A new Eric’
“From evidence elsewhere in the UK and what we know anecdotally, we suspect that there could be as many as 1,000 new cases of brain injury in children per year in Northern Ireland,” she said.
“If we don’t know just how many children collectively have a brain injury in Northern Ireland we are on the back foot as it is difficult to allocate resources.
“An increase year on year makes this an even tougher task.”
Eric’s mother said her family was receiving help from both Brain Injury Matters and the Child Brain Injury Trust.
“We are getting a lot of help at home, especially with the other children,” she said.
“It is hard for them, too, to adjust to a new Eric because that is what he is – the other Eric we had before has gone.”