Fair City Episode 96. Ellie is devastated when she sees what’s happening to Heather.

Fair City scriptwriter 'Heather's brain injury is my brother's story too'

Sometimes a storyline comes along that is different, that is deeply personal, writes Jennifer Davidson.

AS A SCRIPTWRITER on a show like Fair City you end up writing about many things – affairs, illnesses, births, marriages, people being locked in a box for a year. And no matter what the story, you always have a responsibility, to the characters that you’re writing for, and to the audience, to put your heart and soul into finding the truth of each story. But sometimes a storyline comes along that is different, that is deeply personal.

Anyone who watches the show will know that the character of Heather Daly has had a wonderful soap history – she’s an iconic character. Earlier this year Heather had an accident which left her with a brain injury. As part of the ongoing Ciaran/Katy storyline it was an important twist, but it was more than that.

All of Heather’s little quirks, brilliantly portrayed by the talented actress Una Kavanagh, her struggles to find the right word, her frustrations with not being able to express herself, her insight into her own limitations, and the exhaustion and worry and frustration on Farrah and Renee and Ellie, is all real.

Families all over Ireland are going through this

Fair City Eps 80 Heather has a memory spark Heather has a memory spark.

It’s what families all over Ireland are going through every day. I know this, because it’s exactly what my own family have been going through for the past three years.

Sunday August 24 2014 was an ordinary day until my parents rang me from Holyhead where they were en route to France. My brother Kieran, who was living and working in Scotland, had had a fall the previous evening, and had suffered a traumatic brain injury.

He had been taken from the Shetland Islands to Glasgow where he was in Intensive Care. We were told to prepare ourselves for the worst.

By November, Kieran was still in hospital. My parents were living in their campervan in the depths of the Scottish winter. And all our lives were changed forever. Here was a man who had worked a highly skilled job as a hydraulic engineer, who now struggled to remember his date of birth.

Truth is, we were incredibly lucky. Kieran not only survived his accident, but is now living independently in his own house and has made remarkable progress. But he will always have a brain injury, and the life that he had before his accident is never going to be possible for him again.

Putting the story on screen

When our series consultant, and story editor first approached me about putting this story on screen, I was delighted. But it mattered that we tell it properly.

As the story team plotted Heather’s story, I worked closely with them to make sure that the way we were all writing Heather was as accurate as it could be. And equally, that we looked at the impact on those closest to her – Renee, her mother, Ellie, her daughter and Farrah, her sister.

Seven months after his accident, Kieran got two months of rehab in the NRH. In that short amount of time, you’re only just scratching the surface. Last month there were 209 people waiting for beds in the NRH, and twelve beds closed due to chronic staff shortages. Most of those 209 people are either taking up beds in their local hospitals, or being cared for at home by their families.

At the moment, the care and support that you get depends on geography. If you happen to be from Mayo, like we are, the supports are few and far between. And what is there, you have to fight for. When you’re already caring for a vulnerable family member, finding the time and the energy to fight for support services or fill in endless forms is not a priority.

The team in the NRH are incredible and the work that they do is remarkable. But they are also woefully under resourced and understaffed. Having the opportunity to tell a story like Heather’s in Fair City reflects the impact of a Traumatic Brain Injury and the reality of what so many families in Ireland are going through every day.

Fair City airs on RTÉ One on Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 8pm.

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