Your Stories

Brain injury survivors and their carers have many stories to share about life after injury.

We would love to hear your story and, if you wish, publish it on our website - please phone or email us to discuss how you can contribute your story.

 

Gary Wilson - Real Life Hero

It is a rare thing to come across a real life hero - and the Optimal Speech Pathology Team has had the amazing privilege of watching this fellow become exactly that.  

Gary Wilson was one of the survivors of a Blackhawk crash in Afghanistan on 21st of June 2010 that claimed 4 lives and left 11 severely wounded. Gary's injuries were catastrophic - crushed left foot, broken knee, broken pelvis, broken ribs, broken forearm, broken nose, broken jaw, broken tooth - and, as he likes to put it, a broken brain. Gary sustained a severe traumatic brain injury that left him in a coma for three months and in rehabilitation for three years, quite literally dragging himself from the brink of life and death just as he had when he crawled from the smoking Blackhawk wreckage.

Gary has battled spasticity in his limbs and a severe motor speech disorder.  He has embodied all the bravery and tenacity of the Digger spirit as he first walked, and later ran, a marathon.  

In 2013 he came to the Optimal Speech Pathology Team as he was about to embark on yet another challenge - this time a vocal marathon. Gary has just completed a National Tour with the Sydney Theatre Company in "A Long Way Home' - a moving, confronting account of the lives of return soldiers which has garnered acclaim and standing ovations all over our country. Gary's involvement with the play, as a person with a voice and motor speech difficulty, is just plain heroic.  We'd like to stand and offer our virtual salute to one very brave soldier.

You can read Gary's full story at the links below or follow his Facebook page to watch the adventure continue.

Brain Injury Australia would really welcome hearing from any defence force personnel who have sustained a brain injury – often referred to as the “signature injury” of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, for example – during their service. Please feel free to contact Brain Injury Australia’s Executive Officer, Nick Rushworth at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or on (0417) 373 622.

 

 

 

 

The Australian (Paid subscription required)

Stage Noise

Sydney Morning Herald


Daily Telegraph

(Story contributed by Optimal Speech Pathology)

   

Steve Knott’s life after injury

Steve at RRCS"My name is Steve Knott and on Sunday April 9th 2006 while out for a drive I had a serious car accident on the Old Pacific Highway. I was cut out of my car and then airlifted to Westmead Hospital with a severely damaged left arm, a broken right wrist and ankle, but most serious was the traumatic brain injury I had sustained as a result of the accident. I spent 10 days in a drug-induced coma, a total of 3 weeks in intensive care and then another 2 weeks in the Westmead neurological ward.  On the 11th of May 2006 (my birthday) I was moved to the Royal Rehabilitation Centre Sydney, where I stayed until September 2006.  I suffered Post-Traumatic Amnesia (PTA) for 14 weeks – I couldn’t make a cup of coffee or butter a piece of toast, find my way to or from a rehab. session, and the smallest noise distracted me.  While there have been several ‘ups and downs’ along my recovery path, thankfully my wife (Andrea), my family and close friends never let me give up, never accept the ‘I can’t do it’ or ‘it’s too hard’ excuses and helped me discover I can do things I didn’t believe I could. After returning home in September 2006 I focused on returning to my pre-accident role with the organisation that had been my employer since 1995, and while the Company were very supportive, the impact of my brain injury meant that I could not return...Late in 2008 I was getting despondent because despite applying for numerous jobs and trying a couple of different employment options I had not been able to secure a role.  So when my wife asked me what it was that made me happy and therefore what type of job I would really like – I responded by saying “I wanted a role that will give me a sense of wellbeing, where I could be part of a team and that was related to one of my passions – coffee, music and animals”. I made the decision that I would undertake study to help me achieve the ‘dream role’ and have enrolled in a TAFE Cert III Companion Animal Studies course.  I am now volunteering on a regular basis at Doggie Rescue (doggierescue.com.au) – I have been doing many different things on my days at Doggie Rescue, including feeding, meeting and greeting people and walking dogs."Steve's car.
 
Steve has also taken up rowing.

"Steve Knott began rowing at Balmain Rowing Club in April 2010, in Balmain’s Learn-to-Row program.  During the two months of the learn to row program, Steve learned the basics of the rowing stroke and rowing in a crew.  After April, Steve was keen to continue training, but due to other circumstances, was unable to get back down to the club until October 2010. From October 2010 until January 2011, Steve trained in a tub single scull, and in a double-scull with one of his coaches, Barbara Ramjan or Anne Craig.  At first he trained only sporadically, but as his ability grew so too did his enthusiasm. In January 2011, he entered the small boats regatta – more for experience than to attempt to win the event.  However, he managed a second place, and for his first race in a single at the adaptive level, rowed a very respectable time. 

Having realized now what competitive rowing was all about, Steve began land training, supplementing his time at the club with time on the ergometer.  Less than 3 weeks later, Steve rowed at the State Championships, and came second in the single, with a third in the double, partnering with an able-bodied rower. Steve took close to 45 seconds from his time in the single, resulting from both more strength and better technique in the boat.

Photo of Steve with his medals.A month later, at the National Championships (and only 6 weeks into his racing career), Steve again placed second in the single taking a further fifteen seconds from his time.  In the adaptive double his crew came second also.  Although he was now rowing in a double with another adaptive rower, they rowed the course in a time less than one second slower than his state championship time. Finally at the Edward Trickett Regatta, Steve reached his goal and won both the adaptive single and adaptive double events. Yet again he improved his time in the single, although adverse weather played a key part in his double scull time being half a minute slower than his previous time.

All up, in 3 months Steve has gone from a non-competitive rower to a highly competitive adaptive rower: Next season he will also look to row in novice able-bodied crews where possible.  He has never failed to achieve a personal best time in his single, and is aiming for representative selection.  He is enthusiastic, powerful, willing to both learn technique and work hard to improve his fitness, and is utterly determined to overcome every obstacle that appears in his path to achieve his goals.  In short, he is a fantastic new sportsman and role-model for every novice at our club.

Liam James
Club Captain, Balmain Rowing Club"
Photo of Steve rowing.

   

Brain Injury and the Legal System - Simon's Story

Simon is a successful businessman in his 50’s who sustained a work related severe brain injury in 2010.  He is fully mobile and living alone. Simon has a severe aphasia as a result of his injuries. This results in significant difficulty in finding the words he wants to say – and he is often reliant on spelling and gesture to help convey his meaning.  He is also prone to shift to irrelevant topics and can provide excessively long responses.  He is greatly assisted by familiar communication partners who are able to support his communication.  

Photo of Simon preparing for his court appearance  In recent months he was required to attend a court hearing after an incident in his former workplace.  He was prepared for the hearing by his rehabilitation team who were given support to attend and brief his legal team.   Several concessions were requested prior to the hearing to accommodate his communication disorder. Many of these were not permissible (eg quiet room for preparations, access to written and spoken information, provision for a private hearing, provision of a trained communication partner to assist with proceedings).  Simon’s experience of the process, however, was greatly facilitated by the additional time provided by his barrister and magistrate in all communications before and during the hearing. Instructions were repeated and simplified in a respectful manner.  Some latitude was given for Simon’s interjections, and his therapy team were called on to translate and support the court process. There was a significant precedent in how the outcome was determined (in terms of provisions under the Mental Health Act) and of critical importance was the stipulation that his rehabilitation team and trained communication partners were viewed as integral to supporting the court orders.  Simon was both pleased with the outcome and the concessions made to accommodate his communication deficits as the following interview reveals:

Read more: Brain Injury and the Legal System - Simon's Story

   

Jonathan Koenig Talks About Work and Perseverance

A young man who has overcome enormous odds to show how people can recover from severe brain injuries has started work in the local Liverpool office of the national law firm, Slater & Gordon.

Read more on the Slater and Gordon website, or download a recent newspaper story [Adobe Acrobat PDF - 192.77 KB] about Jonathan and his work assignment.

   

Inspirational story of recovery

Have you ever ridden a horse? Did you wear a hard protective helmet? The debate about whether to use a hard hat or not often receives a passionate and mixed reception in the Northern Territory. Often old stockmen are dead against it, but increasingly the large corporate beef companies are making them mandatory in employment contracts. Most outback sports clubs also require hard hats to be used in novice competition.

Awareness and attitudes in the Northern Territory, have certainly come a long way in just four years, and that's where a special story about the recovery of Quita Docking, from a debilitating camp drafting accident, begins.

Read the beginning of this personal story, on the ABC Rural Queensland website  - or continue on to the story of Quita's 450 kilometre horse ride which starts below.

 

Timber Creek to Daly Waters

The ride was fantastic. Quita and two other ladies rode all the way and two of the men took it in turns to ride and drive the trucks. We had a rough start with one of the horses being a stallion and Brumby being the only mare. She went skittish and Quita was very nervous about riding her. She was racing around, bucking, calling out, etc. and we were most upset and angry. All the work that Quita and Tracy had done earlier in the year to get her ready was thrown out the window just by the presence of a stallion. We got Kevin to ride her often and his wife Karen rode her as well. These two were very competent and Kevin had a way with horses and was able to calm Brumby down so that Quita was able to ride her. As a matter of fact, Brumby was extremely well behaved whenever anyone was riding her. She played up something fierce at night and on one night; we know the stallion got to her, but not too sure if he was able to fully mount her. When we got home, we gave her a needle to abort any fetus that may have been there. Quita rode Brumby most of the time, although we got Kevin or Karen to ride her for the first couple of km at the beginning of the day to make sure she was settled. She was fine. So well behaved, especially when Quita was on her back.

Read more: Inspirational story of recovery

   

The truth about recovering from a brain injury

Life after a brain injury teaches you a lot about yourself. But mainly it teaches you about the grind of illness and recovery.

A couple of weeks ago, I took a small stepladder into the back garden and climbed a few rungs to fix a light that had stopped working. It doesn't sound much but I glowed with achievement for the rest of the day. Six months earlier, I would have been too unsteady to risk it, and tilting my head to do the repair would have brought on a surge of vertigo and violent sickness. A year ago, I wouldn't even have attempted it – or cared: I was lying on the sofa, intermittently vomiting and being pumped full of industrial-strength antibiotics to see off a mysterious brain infection that had nearly killed me.

Read more on the website of The Guardian

   

Brad Schmitz's Story

 Brad Schmitz sustained his brain injury as a 13 year-old riding his bicycle around his hometown near Boise, Idaho in the United States. He and his wife and child recently moved to Australia.

Read more: Brad Schmitz's Story

   

One wrong step: my father’s fall

On October 26th 2009 I returned home from a conference to find two ambulances on the street and my father, Dennis (aged 59), lying in a pool of blood on our driveway. Dad had fallen 3 metres off a ladder while connecting power on our roof. My husband was there, quite obviously distraught, and the ambulance officers were working on Dad, who was conscious, but writhing in pain. My Mum arrived soon after, and we were told Dad would be taken to the Royal Adelaide Hospital and that we were to follow. To this day, I do not remember driving to the hospital.

In the emergency room, my family waited anxiously for news, while comforting each other. A doctor soon came in to inform us that Dad had been given some drugs to relax him, and that he would be moved to the ICU [Intensive Care Unit] upstairs. My family and I rushed to the ICU to see Dad only to wait, yet again. After a few hours, we were allowed to see him in pairs. Even though I had seen Dad on the driveway hours earlier, covered in blood, nothing prepared me for what I saw when I walked into that ICU room. Dad was attached to every tube and machine possible, lying still on a bed in the middle of the room and large, black bruises had started to form on his face, not to mention the swollen eye where he hit the ground.

Read more: One wrong step: my father’s fall

   

Jess's Story

Photo of Jess, New Year's Eve 2004

At the age of 22, I left my home town in the south of Sydney to move to London and travel the world. I had one great year from the end of 2004 to the end of 2005 when, after thinking I just had a typical London-winter-flu, I was diagnosed with Leukaemia. I completed nearly 9 months of inpatient treatment and when I was told I could leave the hospital and continue with daily outpatient appointments, I got a chest infection in August 2006. Thinking nothing of a little cough, I didn’t react quickly enough and the fungal chest infection spread to my brain. I was in a coma in the I.C.U. for 2 weeks.

Read more: Jess's Story

   

Ross Cottee's Story

Ross Cottee's speech to the Victorian launch of 2010's Brain Injury Awareness Week, Melbourne Town Hall, August 15:

Good morning everyone, my name is Ross Cottee.    Seven years ago, I suffered a serious, fall-induced brain injury, and today I’d like to talk to you about the process of falling in love with ABI.

 

 1. Falling in love with ABI

alt You might think of falling and think: aging population, nursing homes, the elderly.  On the other hand you could think of a toddler learning to walk for the first time or a penny thrown down a wishing well.   Perhaps an unexpected fall in the stock market? You might have fallen out of your bed once upon a time or tripped over your shoe lace. You might think of American autumns, rivers, lack of co-ordination or gravity. Falls are experienced all the time. For me, the word ‘fall’ reminds me of brain injury - a tragedy? Or a new beginning? Like any piece of art: it is what you make of it.  How will you view ‘fall’? - The onus falls onto you.

Read more: Ross Cottee's Story

   

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