Wife of man who communicates only with eyes is up for major award

Heather and Gary Beaumont pictured before he suffered his life-changing brain injury.
Heather and Gary Beaumont pictured before he suffered his life-changing brain injury.

The wife of a Northern Ireland man who suffered a life-changing brain injury in his sleep has been shortlisted for a UK-wide carer award.

The wife of a Northern Ireland man who suffered a life-changing brain injury in his sleep has been shortlisted for a UK-wide carer award.

Heather and Gary Beaumont.

Heather and Gary Beaumont.

Heather Beaumont, 55 from Carrickfergus in Co Antrim, is one of only three people from across the UK to be shortlisted for the title of Carer of the Year.

The nomination recognises Heather’s outstanding devotion to her husband Gary, 56, after his brain injury in 2013 left him wheelchair-bound, and able to communicate only with his eyes.

The couple, who met at a gym almost three decades ago, had been enjoying a weekend away in London in November 2013 when Gary suffered the near-fatal hypoxic brain injury in his sleep – something which can occur when the brain is starved of oxygen.

Gary was rushed to a nearby hospital for emergency treatment before being flown to Belfast.

A long and anxious time then lay ahead for the family.

But Heather never left Gary’s bedside and, thankfully, he regained a low level of consciousness, though brain injury left him unable to talk, move, or eat independently.

Three years on, Heather continues to successfully juggle hospital visits with family life and her job working for Oakland Insurance, based in Belfast, to maintain a stable income and network of support for Gary.

She still visits Gary at Thompson House Hospital in Lisburn every day, and now is working to adapt their home with a hope that Gary will finally be able to move back home in time for Christmas.

Although Gary’s only method of communication is still through eye contact, he continues to make slow but definite improvements with the support of his wife.

Heather said: “Even today, I’m not always sure whether Gary just knows me from after his brain injury or actually remembers me from our lives before.

“This feeling comes and goes and there are times I get upset.

“But as long as he keeps trying to get better, I will keep trying too.”

Heather was nominated for the award by Frances McGarry, chairperson at local brain injury charity Headway.

“Heather is an inspiration,” said Frances.

“For the past three years, she has dedicated her life to Gary and cares for him always with a smile on her face, never asking for anything for herself.”

The Carer of the Year accolade will be presented at an awards ceremony organised by Headway in London on Friday, December 16.