A Portrait Of Recovery

A Portrait Of Recovery

16th November, 2015

Helen McMenamin-Smith, a gym client at Headway Cambridgeshire tells us the story of her recovery after suffering a traumatic brain injury in an accident:

"I had been on a photography course with my friend on the day I had my accident. I can’t remember anything about what happened but I have been told that there was a motorcyclist coming in the opposite direction. Apparently he increased speed to catch up with his friends who were in front of him and completely lost control. There was a massive collision. My car rolled over and caught on fire from petrol from the motorbike. Jill, my friend, managed to get out and scream for help.

Fortunately there were three passers by, two from the RAF- Niki and Chris and Alan who lived locally. The two men, Alan and Chris managed to get me out of the burning car and Niki who had almost qualified as a medical officer in the RAF managed to get me breathing again and held me in the right position until MAGPAS arrived.

I was unconscious in Addenbrooke’s for two weeks and a further six weeks in rehabilitation

I suffered severe head and facial injuries and multiple skull fractures.

After eight weeks I came out of hospital and had to re-learn everything. For example I could not remember the words of everyday objects or even the names of my closest family and friends.

I was unable to do ordinary things like cooking - I lost my sense of taste and smell which I still haven’t regained. I loved photography before my accident, but I couldn’t even remember how to use a camera. It was very difficult for my daughter, who was sixteen at the time and was just about to take her GCSEs. Unfortunately I was unable to give her the support that I would have done if I hadn’t been injured. Fortunately she has a fantastic father.

It’s hard to know exactly how I have changed since the accident. I tend to be more emotional than I was before but I have begun to do some of the things I used to do. I have started doing photography again and I have been able to restart my voluntary work at The Burwell Print Centre, which helps adults with learning disabilities.

I think I have become more focused on helping other people since my accident. I am very keen to help people who are less fortunate than myself. I am driving again, although I am a more nervous than I was before and don’t like being on the road after dark.

Fortunately I am now able to take more pride in my appearance and my recent eye operation has helped because I am more able to use make-up and am more comfortable about the appearance of my eyes. My old self is without doubt emerging.

Coming to Headway Cambridgeshire has made a great difference in my rehabilitation. I have been working with the gym instructor Veer at the centre for over a year now and he has helped me to get my physical fitness and my confidence back. Before I started working with him I could barely walk to the end of my road. He gives everyone hope and the desire to improve themselves. He really is inspirational. The other great thing about Headway is that I meet other people who have been through similar things and there is a comfort in knowing that I am not the only one with difficulties.

I knew very little about brain injury before my accident. I had no idea of the effects it can have on people. I think the more information that is passed on about it, is better so that people understand what brain injured people are going through. In a bid to explain what it’s like I got up in front of 100 people at Addenbrooke’s Hospital and talked about what happened to me. I was pleased to do it because it gave me the opportunity to thank everyone for the care I received. I got so many hugs that afternoon. I think people were pleased to see how far I had come.

I always think that I am lucky to still be around. If those passers-by had not been there at exactly the right time, it might have been a different story. I am determined that I won’t let the accident take away any more of my life than it has already. The secret is to try not to look inwards, but rather look out at the world and communicate with others. I don’t see my life as being curtailed, just slowed down a little. I know there is still so much more for me to achieve."

Helen attends the Headway Cambridgeshire Open Gym sessions each week.

I struggled with a lot of issues, especially how I felt my father’s personality had changed and Headway Cambridgeshire helped me a lot at that time in my life. They made me feel much less alone and I’ll always be grateful for that.