Conor's Road to Success

Thursday 08 February 2018

Conor McHugh from Dungannon has been telling us about some of the challenges he has experienced and how Cedar has helped him overcome them. Conor was born prematurely at 28 weeks weighing just 1lb 11ounces, undergoing a tracheostomy operation at just six weeks old and then spending his childhood in and out of hospital fighting a number of health conditions. At 12 he then suffered a severe seizure, going into cardiac arrest on his way to hospital and was expected to be pronounced dead on arrival. His brain had been starved of oxygen resulting in a brain injury. He was in a coma for 7 days and suffered serious effects after this including hallucinations, mood swings, losing all awareness of danger and a weakness down the whole left side of the body.

However Conor, who is now 27, is overcoming all these challenges and with the support of our Inclusion Works service, is working towards a degree in Youth Work through the Open University alongside completing a work placement in the Drumcree Community Centre to develop his experience. Conor’s personal life is also busy as he has a three year old son.Conor was referred to Cedar in 2012 by the Acquired Brain Injury Rehabilitation Team to focus on getting back into training or employment. He worked with his Cedar Case Officer, Sinead McGrath, to set goals to be achieved over a five year period. Together they selected some suitable courses and searched for youth organisations who could offer work placements. Cedar then linked with Start 360 who allowed Conor to take part in a short course and recommended a BA Hons degree with Open University. With help from Sinead on applying for adjustments and financial support Conor registered on the course. 

Sinead commented “Conor took a year to develop his strategies and took part in short-term courses such as Peer Education Skills and Child Protection training. During this time he created a CV and completed Cedar’s ‘Personal Effectiveness After Brain Injury’ training. This training allowed Conor to gain awareness of his own challenges and consider how he communicated with others about his brain injury. Conor used to get extremely anxious at things like time management and planning how to get from A to B, the training taught him ways to manage that anxiety. In September 2016 he began his degree in Youth Work with the Open University. The University was very good at supporting Conor, they visited him at home and allocated him ICT equipment which would allow him to study remotely. Cedar sourced a quiet area with WIFI for him to take part in his first on-line tutorial and also loaned him a laptop until the equipment came from OU. He was able to use his new time management skills to ensure his assignments would be submitted to deadline.”

When asked about how Cedar had helped with his development Conor said “I feel that I have come a long way from the first day I was referred to The Cedar Foundation. When I first joined Cedar I was a very frustrated young person with quite a lot of insecurities around my own personal development.  I was very unhappy at that time in my life due to some personal circumstances. I can only describe my life as a storm, I wasn’t the easiest to live with and I couldn’t deal with life on life’s terms with regards to my responsibilities or anything else.  I found in my case worker, Sinead, someone who believed in me, she could get through to me in ways not many others could when obstacles and barriers came into my life. I have loved every minute of studying for my degree although it has been tough at times.  I passed last year’s module with an overall score of 78 and was able to fill in various forms this year by myself for my next module. At present I have just completed my second assignment of this academic year and continue to engage with young people at my current placement in the Drumcree community centre in Portadown and  I enjoy spending time with my young son.  I will always have a debt of gratitude to Cedar, they helped me take my dream and turn it into a reality.  I now feel I can achieve anything I put my heart and soul into and that is the result of the work, time and effort Cedar put into me”

As well as his studies, placements and being a dad Conor also participates in the Southern Trust Brain Injury walking football team who train once month and play matches against similar teams in the other Trusts. Conor added “The walking football has taught me patience and given me a sense of being part of a team and a fantastic organisation. I really cannot put into words what Cedar has done for me on a personal and career basis. I hope and believe that in June 2021 I will have achieved a 2:1 in my degree and will be in full time employment working with young people.  I couldn’t have dreamt that to be possible before I came into contact with Sinead and the Cedar Foundation. Thank you so much.”

The Cedar Foundation’s Inclusion Works Programme is a service that supports people with brain injuries and disabilities to gain employment or get back into work or education. The service is person centered and flexible so the individual can design their own programmes around their needs and aspirations. The project is part funded through the Southern Health and Social Care Board, Northern Ireland European Social Fund Programme 2014 – 2020 and the Department for the Economy.




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