Well and truly needed – Sarah’s story
Today we would like to share the story of Sarah, one of our incredible clients who has been on an inspiring journey of rehabilitation after nearly losing her life in a car crash over fifteen years ago.
Before her crash, Sarah worked full-time as a bartender and lived with friends and her dog in Ngakawau on the West Coast. She enjoyed her work, had her manager's licence, and loved spending time with the people in her life.
One night, Sarah was driving home with her flatmates after a night of partying with friends, when they suddenly slid into a deep ditch. The car was flipped upwards, and Sarah was sent through the front windscreen. Fortunately, there were witnesses on their way to work who quickly came to aid, and Sarah was rushed to Buller Hospital.
Her memory of the time is gone, but Sarah was found to have a ruptured spleen, punctured lung, multiple broken bones, including her legs, arms, and collarbone, and a traumatic brain injury. She was quickly flown to Christchurch Hospital, and would not have survived if she had arrived any later.
“I don’t remember anything from the first three weeks in hospital,” says Sarah. “I woke up and thought I was on a boat and we were in the dock. I thought ‘wow this boat is flash we have lifts in here!’ I had no concept of what was going on.”
After limited rehabilitation, Sarah returned to Westport where she received some rehab input. However, Sarah struggled to engage fully as she was trying to accept her new life. It was not until fifteen years later that her rehabilitation journey with the Laura Fergusson Brain Injury Trust began. At the time, Sarah lived in a very small portacom. It was uninsulated, there were no cooking facilities, no shower, with only a toilet, single bed (borrowed from her mother), and Sarah’s own TV inside
“I had to get running water from an outside tap, when it was cold it was so horrible. The power was bad, you could only have one thing plugged in at a time, to boil the jug, you had to unplug the heater. It was horrible.”
At LFBIT, we have a social worker who undertakes assessments for clients in need and works closely with them to establish what services they require from our multidisciplinary team.
“I was initially given a single needs assessment to come and undertake for Sarah, and after meeting her, I thought we really need to put in a lot of support for this young woman,” says Debbie Carter, our social worker who has worked closely with Sarah. “She just needed everything, so we spoke to ACC and put in an interdisciplinary rehabilitation and support package for her: which included Speech and Language Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Physiotherapy and Psychology.”
One of the most essential elements in beginning Sarah’s rehabilitation was the success in finding a suitable house for her to live in. Once Sarah was in a warm home, with access to all essentials, everything took off.
“There was not a lot you could do in the portacom, Sarah was limited by the amount of space and facilities she had. This made it very hard to do a lot of her rehab. When Sarah moved into her new home, everything changed. Sarah was able to do what she wanted in the way of cooking, looking after her own house, washing, showering whenever she felt like it all of the things we all take for granted” says Debbie.
There are a multitude of areas that Sarah says she has improved in the years since beginning proper rehabilitation. She has developed skills in managing emotions and is better equipped to hold them under control. For years Sarah had a huge amount of fatigue, sleeping up to 23 hours a day at times. While fatigue is something Sarah is still learning to manage, her energy has greatly improved, and she even hopes to return to part-time work someday in the future.
Sarah continues to use strategies to help during parts of life that are still challenging. Using a calendar to keep track of events is key. Everyday activities, like walking each step, take an added level of concentration.
“Everything is a mission, I need to think about things a lot harder.”
One of Sarah's most significant achievements is her progression in speech. After the accident, Sarah went through a period of three months without speaking, resulting in a near-complete loss of speech. Today, Sarah has made incredible progress working with her speech and language therapist, and you would never know it was once almost gone.
“I just needed everything, and it was well and truly helpful. “It was really hard, and it still is, but it is getting easier. I'm doing way better than I was for years.”
“It has been so great to see how she has progressed,” says Debbie. “Her speech, her posture, walking, eating. She has put on weight and done really well. It goes to show having the right environment and the right team helps so much.”
Sarah has taken her progression beyond rehabilitation at LFBIT. She is currently doing a course in horticulture and hopes to continue advancing in that area. She loves spending time with her nephews, who come to live with her three nights a week, and certainly keep her busy! If they weren't enough, she also takes care of her two beautiful cats, Steve (pictured above), and Puss.
It has not always been an easy road for Sarah, and she would like to send a message to any young people who think they are safe enough to drive: you’re not invincible.
“I never in a million years did I expect to go through what I went through. I used to think I was invincible, that something like this will never happen to me. You hear about it happening to people but it will never happen to me.”
We would like to thank Sarah for being an inspiration to the team. After so long without rehabilitation, the progress you have made, and the progress you continue to make is wonderful. And we can't wait to see where the future takes you!