Surviving the accident

Surviving a broken back, collarbone and ribs, alongside neck and abdominal trauma, Danette’s greatest challenge lay in recovering from the damage done to her brain stem. 

“It’s a miracle I survived, but I’m mostly just so grateful my children [then 11 and 9] weren’t in the car that day, and that the other driver wasn’t seriously injured. For that alone, I feel incredibly lucky. 

“The first person on the scene was a doctor, who crawled into my car and saw I wasn’t breathing – he lifted my chin up so I could breathe, thank goodness. He saved my life.” 

The road to recovery

Airlifted to hospital for a ‘myriad’ of operations, Danette then spent six months at Royal Rehab in Ryde, NSW.  

“I had to learn how to walk and eat again and it took a while before I was even able to speak to my children. I spent three months eating nothing and being fed by a nasal gastric tube, progressing to thickened fluids then minced food. My injuries to my neck and brainstem meant I had lost the ability to eat properly and speaking was difficult. 

“I had sustained a 7th nerve facial palsy and my left shoulder had dropped, my vision was affected and has still not completely returned to normal.  

“I went from a fully smiling face to nothing, which was very hard. Even though there have been improvements – including a nerve reconnection which gave me back my smile – I still have facial problems and continue to do targeted physiotherapy. 

When I was in hospital, asking how long recovery would take, I felt really frustrated by the ‘how long is a piece of string’ answer I always got. I know now that brain injuries are so varied and unique that there is no real answer, but back then I needed hope that things WOULD get better. I learned to stop asking and just get actively involved in my rehabilitation. 

Time to heal

Even though I’ve actually been present, because my memory sometimes isn’t great, it can feel like I’ve missed out on a lot of our children, Jasper and Samara,  growing up. Before the accident I was one of those parents who was right on the mark, there at the school doing everything, and suddenly I was missing out because I just wasn’t capable. That was awful, but they survived it. 

I’m fortunate that I still have my long-term memory – even if short-term can cause me some problems. I love to cook and have continued to run my business, Samibop, making children’s clothing from recycled and vintage fabrics. 

“What I would say is that Evan, my husband and partner of 35 years, my sister, who is a nurse who came from Melbourne to help, and my brother, were all excellent. I couldn’t have done it without them. 

While Danette says that ‘life is good’, she acknowledges that it takes time to heal, and even then it’s rarely smooth sailing. 

I’ve found that the psychological impact is ongoing, but you work through it. I’m just grateful for so many things I could have lost.  

“What drives me now is my hope of helping others. I think it’s so important for people who have experienced brain injury to have a mentor – somebody who has done the hard yards. But it has to be when people are ready for those conversations. Because at points in your rehab, you’re just not capable of engaging or believing in a different future for yourself. 

“All I can say is, it will get better – take all the help you can get.”