The invisible disability that affects over 1.6 million Australians.

Jonathan Thurston


Still reading? Great. Unfortunately, some people wouldn’t have read past the headline. This is a post about acquired brain injury (ABI). The invisible disability.

Still reading? Even better. ABI isn’t glamorous, trust me, I have one.

It isn’t fashionable or trendy and Hollywood won’t be tweeting about it. True, ABI is boring, confusing, tiring and bloody scary at times, but it affects over 1.6 million Australians. And of those with ABI, three quarters are under the age of 65.

I had a routine appointment with my Neurologist, Rob, the other day. Rob’s a nice enough guy but I kinda wish we’d never met.

I don’t remember our first introduction but it was early 2005. I was 24 years old and had just had a brain haemorrhage – like a stroke. That’s right, young, fit and healthy, non-smoking women have strokes and acquire brain injury too.

While Rob stepped out for a few minutes, I passed the time by admiring the ‘artwork’ in the room. There was the OH&S poster reminding staff to wash their hands, an eye chart and a few atomically detailed diagrams. But what really caught my attention was the brain wall.

Ok, it didn’t have Warhol-wow-factor but it was pretty cool. The wall was adorned with pictures of brains. Countless photos from CAT scans, MRIs and other nuclear medicine imagery. No really the sort of picture you’d want to tag on Facebook.

Anyway, it got me thinking. Who were these people? Who owned these brains?

One of these brains could have belonged to Einstein, Kylie Minogue, Richard Branson or Mia Freedman and how would I know the difference?

A scan of Paris Hilton’s noggin could have been right in front of me or perhaps it was a Kardashian brain in the top right hand corner on the wall?

Anyway, back to my story. So I’m surrounded by pictures of brains. Not the highlight of my week but it really got my neurocognitive functions firing.

Without the layers of makeup, designer clothes and accessories, we’re really all the same. Miranda Kerr looks no different from you and my boyfriend will be delighted to know that in a CAT scan he looks just like Ryan Gosling.


I did nothing to cause my brain haemorrhage. Like many who acquire a brain injury it was just “bloody bad luck” (the highly technical medical terminology used by one of my specialists).

As was the case for wonderful Molly Meldrum who shared a bed with me. Ok, serious exaggeration there but we both ended up in the same intensive care unit, in a coma and on life support with the same type of machines keeping us alive.

Our loved ones waited and wept in the same visiting area while  Molly and I both had our heads scanned with the same machines before we received the same diagnosis – acquired brain injury.

My point is, Molly’s an A-grade celebrity and I’m just another no-name Australian. But ABI, like so many disabilities, can happen to anyone at any time.

The brand of my sunglasses, the length of my eyelashes and the size of my jeans meant nothing when ABI just turned up unexpectedly. Neither did my gender, age, ethnicity, nor my appreciation for Simon and Garfunkel music – Because ABI doesn’t discriminate.

I didn’t choose to have my life altered so dramatically but I can choose to make a positive difference in the lives of people living with ABI. That’s why I’m asking for your help.

As I said earlier, ABI isn’t glamorous – it doesn’t do red carpet appearances or marry reality TV stars… Which might explain why it doesn’t get the media attention and funding it should. It’s also exactly why I wrote this post – to raise awareness about this invisible disability.

My brain, just a few hours after the haemorrhage. The white blobs on the left of the picture were caused by the bleeding. Pretty snazzy picture hey!
Lisa Cox

Over 1.6 million Australians are affected by ABI (that’s over 1 in 12 people!).  ‘BangOnABeanie’ is the National campaign promoting Brain Injury Awareness Week from 13 – 19 August.   

Visit and buy a blue beanie to show your support for those whose lives are affected by ABI, their Carers’, family and friends.  Alternatively, you can email [email protected] for more information on how to become a partner/sponsor, or to order a media pack.  

The Mamamia editorial team wearing the beanies. From left: Nat, Jamila, Lucy.

Lisa Cox is a National Synapse Ambassador, Author, Speaker and miso soup enthusiast. Her website is here or to learn more about acquired brain injury, go here. Follow her on Facebook here and on Twitter here.

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