On 24th February 2002 Chris Clark was working in London as a carpenter and spending an evening out with friends for a few drinks to relax after a long day. He was hit over the back of the head in an unprovoked attack. The blow was of sufficient force to knock him face down into the ground and render him unconscious. The paramedic team re-started Chris’s heart three times on the way to hospital. The substantial trauma to the rear of Chris’s head had shunted his brain into the front of his skull, causing additional brain damage to the frontal lobe. Whilst pressure was relieved through a drain placed into his skull his wife was told to prepare for the worst. With two children aged 12 and 10 she was told that if by chance Chris was to survive his quality of life would be severely restricted.
Friends and family visited the Royal Free specialist neuro-rehabilitation unit where Chris was placed on a life support machine in an induced coma. After two weeks the decision was taken to turn the life support machine off. Not only did Chris survive, he began a journey of recovery through which he discovered ‘a new me’.
‘When everyone was expecting you to die and you survive, you are constantly told it was a miracle, but I had never even thought about death. With my brain injury I Iost myself and this was an enormous pressure, trying to be somebody you are not and guessing at it. My friends and my family talked about the old Chris and how they loved him…..but I didn’t even know him’.
Chris was in hospital for approximately one month before he was discharged to his local GP. Whilst he might have looked perfectly well to others on the outside, Chris was struggling to come to terms with a number of symptoms from his Acquired Brain Injury (ABI). He had lost his sense of taste and smell, could not find his sense of direction or time and could often not find the appropriate words. He was unable to get back to work. After two years struggling to come to terms with his symptoms his GP nurse referred him to Headway Norfolk & Waveney.
‘It was very daunting at first, but on the flip side it was good to be around other people with a similar experience. When I started my programme at Headway Norfolk & Waveney I had recovered to a point but I wasn’t progressing. My confidence was shot and I was continually putting myself under so much pressure to get back to the way I was. I started to learn that I was in fact grieving, grieving for the old Chris. This was an important turning point as I then began to accept the fact that this person was gone. It is only when you start accepting that you can begin to move on’.
At Headway Norfolk & Waveney Chris was supported to develop his skills to return to work and embrace the challenges that this would bring. As he began to explore what he wanted to do with his future he decided not to go back to his work as a carpenter. He wanted a new career and to support other people facing the challenges of an ABI. When he had completed his programme he began volunteering in order to learn how he might best help others. He undertook studies in health and social care management and in 2014 became manager of our Headway Norfolk and Waveney Norwich centre.
‘If someone had told me 20 years ago this is what I was going to do I would not have believed them. But an ABI can happen to anyone at any time. I am proud to be able to support others on their ABI journey. I am proud of the new me’.