NEW Fall: Michael

At age 16 Michael was on a Duke of Edinburgh exhibition when he fell down some very steep steps and suffered a traumatic brain injury. Michael is now 19 and heading to university – here he looks back on the past three years.

Published: August 2018. Date of brain injury: May 2015 (young person aged 16 years).
Michael and Dalton
Michael in 2017 at a charity 10k run with The Children's Trust's CEO Dalton Leong
I have always been a sporty person who likes to spend a lot of times outdoors. I love running long distance, playing tennis and football. I have always enjoyed hiking as well, and it is on one particular hike that I suffered an injury that had a massive impact on both me, and those people around me. I was 16 years old and on my Duke of Edinburgh silver qualifying expedition in the North Downs. The expedition is supposed to be three days long, however on our second day we were cut short. The five of us were going down a very steep flight of steps with a poor quality rail running down the side of it for support. Unfortunately, being the silly sporty person I am, I decided it would be a good idea to run down these steps, with a heavy backpack on. I lost my footing, went flying and smashed my head on the steps below.

Hospital and rehabilitation

I was airlifted to St George’s Hospital and taken to Intensive Care. I was heavily medicated and put into a sleep so that my brain was able to slowly recover. Over the next weeks I slowly came back around, but was very confused. At first I was talking rubbish and thought I was playing at the French Open tennis tournament! Not only that, but playing a cricket match at the same time! Gradually I began to realise where I was, and my family explained to me what had happened. Following a weekend where I was allowed to go home and see how I got on, I was discharged from hospital five weeks after my accident. I then went to The Children’s Trust rehabilitation centre in Tadworth (actually very close to where I fell). Here I was given a lot of help. I had sessions every weekday, assessing what the effects of my brain injury were and how I could overcome them. At first I struggled with short-term memory and found it hard to take in a lot of information. I had a lot of fun as well during my four week stay, as the physios got me back into running, and there were two other boys a similar age to me staying, and we got on very well. Having good company there was really important for me, as I was feeling very down a lot during my recovery.

Returning to school

I left The Children’s Trust just before the start of the new school year. My first year of A-levels. Before this I felt that I was fully recovered, but this in fact presented the biggest challenges I had faced during my recovery. I couldn’t keep up with the pace of lessons and felt I was falling behind. The hardest thing was that my injury wasn’t visible, so it looked like I was fine to everyone. Myself and The Children’s Trust Brain Injury Community Service came up with a few things we could put in place that really helped a lot. Luckily my sixth form was also helpful. I dropped down to two A-Levels, so that I had more time to focus on each of them, as well as my maths GCSE that I had missed due to being in hospital at the time. I was also allowed to be in both classes for my geography A-Level, so that I could do every lesson twice. This helped everything stick in my head for longer. I also voice recorded lessons so that I could listen and make notes later, at my own pace.
Michael September 2015
Michael in the month he returned to school

Feeling down and friendships

This was not everything sorted though. I still felt very low back at school. This was due to the fact that whilst I was in hospital and rehabilitation, many people from my year had visited me and spent time with me, being my friend when I was in a bad place. However, once I was back at school, a lot of these people were no longer interested in me, as they just thought I was fine. It made me feel as if many of them had just wanted to support me at this time because it made them look good. It might sound weird but, as a result of my injury, I had convinced myself that I was a really super-cool boy and everyone wanted to be friends with me, and this was not the case. This caused me to feel very low. Don’t get me wrong, the close immediate circle of friends that I had were brilliant to me throughout, and I value them all still so much today. However, one piece of advice I would give to people who have recently suffered a brain injury, is that if people come running to you to be your friend and support you, don’t expect this will be how things will always be. Once you have recovered from your injury (as far as everyone else is concerned) you will learn who your true friends are. The ones who stick by you after.

Making a full recovery

I would say I was fully recovered about nine months after my injury. I feel very lucky and know things could have been a lot worse. I have had to do an extra year of A-Level as a result of my injury, but I am so lucky to have even been able to do this. I have achieved some brilliant things since the injury, including redoing my Duke of Edinburgh, and this time not running down steps! Walking down the same flight was a bit scary though! I have also completed five 10km runs, and a half marathon, whilst raising a lot of money for The Children’s Trust in the process. I am satisfied knowing that I am helping give back to an amazing charity that I owe a lot to. Now aged 19, I will go to university this September to study Journalism. Whilst I know how lucky I have been to walk away from this injury, I will never forget the experiences I have had recovering. Overall they have made me into a better person and now have much increased awareness of child brain injury. I will never stop trying to help children with brain injury by giving back to the charity that I owe a lot to.
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