'Love conquers all': Reporter Clare Butler visits Ely brain injury centre Fen House to see remarkable care they offer
PUBLISHED: 16:22 24 May 2019 | UPDATED: 17:15 24 May 2019
An inspiring place of compassion, care and courage - Fen House embodies all the values of Ely that I have grown to admire over the past year.
But often this centre that offers community-based intensive rehabilitation for people with an acquired brain injury goes unnoticed in the city.
Tucked away on the Lynn Road between new housing developments and scenic countryside; Fen House isn't your usual care home.
They look after up to 25 people who have suffered often horrific brain injuries from car accidents, falls or medical conditions.
Before my visit I expected a clinical building with bare corridors and sense of loss of what life once was.
But I couldn't have been further from reality - as a welcome of beaming smiles, loving eyes and an energetic force of positivity leaves me in awe.
I meet William Jermyn, aged 29, a biker who was involved in a major crash on his way back from work in January 2018.
On route to hospital he said he died four times with medics frantically keeping him clinging on.
He woke up days later in Addenbrooke's Hospital with a substantial bleed to the brain and unable to recognise any close family.
Five months later he was transferred to Fen House where staff including Lisa Thompson and Louise Bowers helped care for him.
"I survived for a reason," he tells me with a cheeky grin.
"I am still alive for a purpose on this earth and despite everything I will keep going.
"To me, Fen House are absolute heroes, I am the person I am here today because of them.
"They gave me self esteem, helped me to socialise again and remember who I was.
"I now want to go on to help others who have been in similar accidents to me."
Will instantly struck up a friendship with Chris at Fen House, who he now classes as being like a godparent to him.
He explains how he was having a drink with his friend in his garden last summer, when the next thing he knew he woke in hospital after passing out.
"I was told I'd fallen and hit my skull but the impact was worse because I suffer with high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.
"Despite people being so ill at Fen House, there was an aura of positivity and care like no other.
"I gained strength off everyone and eventually became more sociable."
Both Chris and Will have now left Fen House, but were still keen to make friends with current in-patients who enjoyed a slice of cake in the sun.
The centre has courtyards, gardens and various rooms adorned with patients artwork and photography.
Everyone can make use of a gym, games room and arts, crafts and music room - all decorated with messages of hope.
Volunteer Paul is making patients smile in the garden and tells me he loves Fen House as it's "a place of positivity" that is a different role from his day job of manager at a supermarket.
While walking through a corridor I spot a message board with 'we all love you' etched across it, 'be positive', 'hope, goals, love, smile' are written too - which leaves me with a fuzzy feeling inside.
I go on to meet a doctor from Lowestoft - who is now a patient - who was left with a brain injury after suffering a massive heart attack while at work.
He's been at the centre for around 11 weeks, but often is confused.
Happy to face whatever battles lie ahead, 40-year-old Angelo Photi tells me he is ready to get active and start running again.
"This is the perfect environment for me with the best people and such a friendly atmosphere," he adds.
Then there's Ross, a softly spoken soul, who has lost his sight but still manages to sense the tone of my Birmingham accent and have a giggle that I'm not a local.
Roxanne Rolland, service manager at Fen House for just over three years, said: "We make a visible difference in the lives of these people but seem to not be that well known in Ely.
"You get to see people leave with a smile when they've originally came in an ambulance.
"It is an incredibly rewarding job."
I'm struck by an overwhelming sense of enthusiasm during my visit and remarkable strength from everyone.
The phrase 'love conquers all' comes to mind as I leave with a burst of positivity and pride that my newspaper can highlight this wonderful care facility in Ely.
- Fen House relies on donations from the public for activities and resources to continue to carry out the work they do. They are this year's Ely Hero Awards chosen charity.