The accident

“On the night of 13th of November 2010, just after Todd’s 30th birthday, for some unknown reason he got on his motorbike and took off. Just around the corner from home, he drove straight into the back of a parked truck. 

“A neighbour happened to come out of her driveway at that moment and saw it happen. The strap on Todd’s helmet had crushed his larynx and he was wedged upright, choking on his own blood. She got her husband and together they took the helmet off and held him up until the ambulance arrived. The paramedics revived him a couple of times at the scene and then took him to Liverpool Hospital. He was put into an induced coma with a severe brain injury. 

Immediate aftermath

“Todd was leaking brain fluid from his nose – the damage was very, very extensive. We were told he wouldn’t survive, but he did. He fractured five vertebrae, broke just about every bone in his face and spent two months in intensive care with a trachi helping him breathe. He was then transferred to the brain injury unit, where he spent another six months. 

“He was in post-traumatic amnesia for 101 days, which is a pretty good indication of how severe the injury was, because I think two weeks is classed as being severe.  

“Todd now has retrograde amnesia, which has improved a little bit. He initially couldn’t remember finishing high school, but now he seems to have only lost about five years. But those five years were important ones – his brother’s wedding, his best mate’s wedding, and watching St. George win its first Grand Final in his lifetime! 

Changing relationships

“His girlfriend was by his side the whole time he was in hospital, but within two weeks of him coming out, she backed away and then just left. As did all of his friends – every one of them. Todd was in hospital for eight months and I doubt that he had more than six visitors in all that time. And that has continued; no-one answers the phone to him, no-one rings. It’s very sad.  

“What I find disturbing, is all the social media talk of ‘R U ok?’ Well, where are they all for Todd? It’s easy to post, but apparently not so easy to do. 

“Yes, he’s a little bit different, but people have written him off. His personality has changed – he gets on a subject and you can’t shift him and people say things to him like ‘it could be worse’ for him, and that will really set him off. He gets very agitated and will burst into tears at the slightest thing.  His emotions are totally different – it’s a very fine line that we walk.  

“But he’s not aggressive, he’s not loud. He just wants to be accepted. But people won’t accept him because he’s just that little bit different. It’s a constant battle for me to, you know, keep him from overstepping the mark that society deems is ‘the mark’. He just wants to be like everybody else, but everybody else won’t let him. 

Ongoing battles

“Todd has had one eye surgically closed, so there’s no vision in his right eye and he has no peripheral vision in his left eye. So, he’s vision impaired. I applied for a companion card for him and sent off the photo and all the information, everything. And I had a phone call from a lady who told me these cards are really meant for disabled people.  

“She said, ‘well, can he catch a train?’ I said he could walk to the station. Yes, he could get on a train, but he may not remember where he’s going once he got on. Anyway, she persisted and said, ‘well, you know, he’s not really what we call ‘disabled’, so, he’s not entitled to this card’. And just before she hung up, she said to me, ‘just out of curiosity, I’m looking at his photo. What’s wrong with his eye?’ I said, ‘oh, it’s been surgically closed’. As if by magic the card arrived a few days later because she could see a disability. That, I think, nailed it for me. 

“I truly believe if he had been in a wheelchair all his friends would have still been coming to pick him up and take him places. He’s still the same person, but nobody will give him a chance to show them that.  

“The impact on the family has been huge. It really has. I do think the focus we have on Todd is the reason my youngest son moved away. 

“And for me, well I can’t just go out with friends anymore and we haven’t had a holiday in 10 years. My friends are reasonably accepting until he has an outburst and then they get offended and we have to calm things down and make apologies. Not that we should have to apologise, but you have to be the bigger person sometimes.  

“People are full of advice. Everybody has something to say. For example, I don’t go to bed until about 1 or 2 in the morning, because Todd stays up until then, and I like to settle him before we go to bed. He has very severe sleep apnoea, so I put his mask on because he won’t do it himself. People tell me to just make him go to bed earlier, but he’s 40 years old! I can’t treat him like that! 

Staying hopeful

“I think support in those first few years is crucial, because you don’t know what you’re doing. I very probably have made many mistakes, but I didn’t know anything about brain injury so you do what you think is best.  

“It’s very, very, very isolating. My advice is to ask for the help – there’s so much more help out there now and people need to really grab it with both hands. 

“And know that it takes a lot of courage to look after somebody with a brain injury. So, give yourself a pat on the back – what we’re doing is huge. And where would they be without us? 

“And I think I’d also encourage people to stay hopeful. All the experts will tell you that after two years, what you see is what you’ve got. That’s not the case. I mean, we see little improvements now and have been doing over eight plus years. Todd used to have major meltdowns every day and he doesn’t now. That’s a huge step. There are little things other people wouldn’t even be aware of that we see and think, ‘wow, we never thought he’d do that’. So never, never, never give up on them improving, because it does happen. 

“Keep advocating and believing in the potential for improvement, right to the very end.”