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'I know the loneliness, the desperation'

Woman who's battled for Kiwis with brain injuries recognised for 40 years of hard work.

More than 40 years ago, Alison McLellan's son suffered a severe brain injury, drastically altering both their lives.

Alison McLellan is being recognised for her work to set up support for families of those with brain injuries. Source: 1 NEWS

In the years since the 1976 accident, McLellan has dedicated years of her life to advocating for New Zealanders living with brain injuries and their whānau - making a promise to herself that no other parent would face the same challenges she did alone.

Now, she's been named as one of the semi-finalists for the Senior New Zealander of the Year for her work in setting up Headway, which is described as a gateway to brain injury support.

While she says she's proud and humble at the recognition, McLellan admitted to Breakfast this morning that she at first thought the nomination was an email scam.

After realising it was true, she said she "burst into tears".

But her reason for setting up the support groups wasn't about the recognition.

"What I did, I did because I wanted to do it," McLellon said.

Trauma and stress from her son Allan's accident, where he was in critical care for six months then sent home with no wheelchair or ability to even feed himself, affected the whole family, she said.

"It was devastating and lonely."

But then she decided with some others to set up a group for parents in the same situation to talk and get support from one another.

About 20 to 25 parents went along to the Tuesday night meetings initially, then fundraising meant centres have now been set up throughout the country.

McLellan retired on Friday, but she said she'll never completely leave the organisation behind.

"Forty years, it was full of wonderful people. My life has been full of sadness, stress but also I've meet some very, very wonderful people, families. It’s been enriched in a way by meeting all those people and being able to help them.

"I think I've been able to help them more because I'd been down that road. I know the loneliness, the desperation of knowing that the son you've got isn't the son you have anymore and the learning to love that son again.

"I decided that I wasn’t going to let anybody slip through my fingers if I could help them."

The New Zealander of the Year awards gala will be held on March 31.