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Support Services

Donna Sanderson

Personal Stories

Donna Sanderson

Donna has come a long way since coming close to death when in hospital. Synapse interviewed Donna about her long journey since acquiring her brain injury.

How did you acquire your brain injury?
I'd been injecting drugs on and off for about eight years. I did six months in drug rehab at the Gold Coast but just sat there and didn't listen to what the counsellors were telling me. I moved through different jobs and ended up with pneumonia and didn't know how sick I was. I went out and scored for my 29th birthday and came home to shoot up. I must have fallen backwards and hit my head in the edge off my bed and knocked myself out. I must have vomited and it got caught in my airways because of the pneumonia. This limited air to my brain and so I got a hypoxic Acquired Brain Injury.

If you could turn back time what would you do differently?
That is an easy question to answer. Not take drugs in the first place, and I'd surround myself with more good friends.

What have been your challenges along your road to recovery?
Learning to walk, still haven't cracked that one but I am getting close. Another big one in the early days was learning to talk again, and anyone who knows me knows that I like to talk! I also struggle with the fact that I can not think as quick on my feet as I use to, and the frustration and depression because I appear the same as everyone else except for my wheelchair. Making new friends who don't judge you for your disability but love you for who you are is another challenge. Having a disability can be very lonely.

What is the biggest issue facing people living with a brain injury?
Acceptance from the general community and the ignorance that comes along with an Acquired Brain Injury (ABI). Transport and general access in the community is another, especially if you have trouble walking or are in a wheelchair. If you don't receive a payout from an accident, the general cost of having a disability, let alone an ABI, is high. For example wheelchairs are not cheap, and if you depend on one for your mobility, as I do, and it needs repairs then that's very stressful. Meeting a potential new partner if you are not already in a relationship is next to nil chance. Even being in some sort of social group becomes difficult after ABI.

Does a brain injury affect family and personal relationships?
My relationship with my family, especially my father, has had its ups and downs but he has always been there when I need him. He is still wary of things I do and how much money I spend, but that is understandable considering how I got my brain injury. All in all my family is supportive, and it helps that my stepmother and stepsister are nurses. When I was in hospital my stepmother was able to ask the appropriate medical questions and give my father the correct information.

Is community access important to you?
Yes! I live by myself, so I do most of the grocery shopping and other domestic activities myself. I don't drive and can't walk as yet, so my manual wheelchair gets me to the same places as an able-bodied person. The only form of public transport I use, but not on a regular basis, is the river ferries and the trains. I have never tried the buses because I need a low-floor bus and those are not on every route.


What are your goals for the future?
To be able to walk and not use my wheelchair. - I don't mind if I have to use an elbow crutch or a walking stick. I'd like to drive again too. But first I have to lose a bit of weight. I would like to be in a relationship, or be married with a child. I would also like to find an enjoyable part-time job in the disability industry, or helping people in some way.

What role does Synapse have in your life?
One of my greatest achievements so far is being a proud Board Member of Synapse. I can bring the perspective of someone with a brain injury to the Board of Management and therefore have a say in making policies. The staff are so supportive, every time I face an emotional hurdle I know I can ring someone and they will listen. They are a big part of my life.

Is it hard for people with a disability to date/meet people?
It's hard for those of us with an obvious disability as people see the wheelchair first not the person who is in it. They say a brain injury is the invisible disability which would be the case for me except for the wheelchair. My best friend often comments that if it wasn't for my wheelchair she would not know I have an ABI, which is the biggest compliment of all.

I haven't dated since I got my injury. I just don't frequent the pubs, clubs and all the usual places you'd meet someone. I would like to find Mr Right but I'm on the shy side, knowing it's hard to meet people who see beyond the wheelchair to the nice, funny, generous person I am. I don't honestly see a way this can be improved. It's hard enough to find friends or partners when you are able-bodied, let alone when you have a disability.


This is an abridged version of the full interview with Donna which you can read in Bridge Magazine - The True Cost of a Brain Injury (2011).


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