How the injury occured

After a day of fishing, beers and a barbecue, Nick and a group of 20 friends walked 500m to a nearby country club where they had more beers. One of the group decided to drive his ute to the country club.

At the end of the night, Nick was walking back to the house with a guy he’d met that day. Nick says, “I wasn’t stupid drunk, but we’d been drinking all day and were merry in that fearless way. The pick-up drove past at running pace and we hopped on the back, standing on the bumper. There wasn’t anything useful to grab hold of, so we clung on to the roof. If I’d been sober, I know I would have continued to walk the five minutes back to the house, rather than jump on the back.”

The driver had been drinking heavily and when he suddenly accelerated around a corner both men were flung off the back. Nick had blood coming out of his ear, was confused and agitated, and was trying to get up. The other man was unresponsive.

Someone called for an ambulance, but the first medics on the scene were local paramedics with basic training. They radioed for a helicopter but because they were 130km out of Perth, it took an hour to arrive. The other man died during the flight.

Nick was in a coma for two weeks. He had fractured the base of his skull and had an operation which removed a 3cm piece of bone to relive the pressure on his brain. This didn’t work, so a week later a second operation was performed which removed the whole of his forehead bone.

His family and fiancee Eve, an emergency doctor, didn’t know if Nick would wake up with minimal impairment or need to be in a nursing home.

Leaving hospital and rehabilitation

Nick’s first memories after waking up is of being in rehab. He had a wear a helmet because he had only a layer of skin protecting his brain.

“I didn’t realise how severe my injuries had been, and constantly pleaded with Eve to take me home, getting frustrated and, at times, aggressive when she refused,” Nick said.

He was discharged a month after the accident, and had occupational therapy and physiotherapy. Nick had headaches, couldn’t concentrate, could walk only short distances and had double vision. He went back two months later to have a titanium plate fitted to replace the bone that had been removed and now has a scar across his head and a ridge where the plate begins.

After months of medical care and rehabilitation, Nick recovered, but he continues to live with some of the day to day effects of an acquired brain injury. “I have other lasting effects. I have no sense of smell, I’m not as relaxed as I used to be and I can be more short-tempered.”

It was around this time that Nick and Eve decided to go ahead with their wedding the following June. Nick went back to work as a sales director the January after his accident. The company got into difficulties and many jobs were made redundant, including Nick’s role.

Nick now talks to businesses and children about his experience. In 2015 he completed a Master of Business Administration, and in 2017 he founded a service called KinSitters which allows parents to find babysitters online.

“I’m in touch with only a few friends from that night. We were all affected by it, but try not to reflect on it too much. The driver was found guilty of driving under the influence. He was fined A$1,000 and banned from driving for six months. The accident doesn’t feel real to me; only the plate in my head reminds me that it actually happened,” Nick said.

Nick's involvement with Headwest

“It can be tough when you leave the hospital system,” he said. “People don’t understand what you’re going through and there’s not much support, which is why I became involved with Headwest.” 

“It’s so easy to get caught in a spiral of depression after a TBI, but with the right people around you and a positive mental attitude, you can exceed the expectations surrounding your recovery”.

Nick became a Headwest Ambassador for Royal Perth Hospital’s (RPH) Prevent Alcohol and Risk-related Trauma in Youth (PARTY) program which gave school students a reality check about what a trauma patient goes through. Nick still presents to the PARTY program regularly.  

Nick became Chairman of Headwest in November 2013. He held this role until Headwest merged with Synapse.  

In late 2018, the Board of Headwest voted on a resolution to dissolve the organisation and transfer all assets to Synapse – Australia’s Brain Injury Organisation. 

The decision by the Headwest Board was made after careful consideration about the future of Headwest and how to ensure continued growth in high quality, specialist brain injury services in Western Australia.  

Nick said, “Synapse vision aligned with ours and the decision means that we could provide certainty for all our stakeholders. Synapse grass roots origins, due to unification of multiple state-based brain injury associations, gives a powerful voice to brain injury. We feel confident that Synapse will carry the legacy of Headwest proudly into the future.”