Sophie was just 3 years old when a freak accident led to her brain injury. This year marks 21 years since that accident and sees Sophie about to complete her training in Physiotherapy. As if that wasn’t challenging enough, Sophie has also decided to raise money for the Child Brain Injury Trust by tackling the Edinburgh Marathon in May. You can help Sophie reach her fundraising goal here. Below, she describes the accident and its aftermath and shares her story of recovery with us. Thank you so much, Sophie!
Aged just 3, I was kicked in the head by a horse, a completely freak accident that could happen to anyone. One minute I was playing in the field fully supervised and the next having bent down to pick up a ball which spooked a horse, I was knocked completely unconscious having taken the blow straight to the top of my head. My dad recalls being utterly distraught, running to the house with me in his arms and performing CPR while my mum hysterically called for an ambulance. My four siblings remember they were playing on the trampoline at the time of the accident and running into the commotion in panic before being quickly ushered into the living room.
I was taken by ambulance to the local hospital and then immediately transferred to the neurology unit for investigation. The next 24 hours were touch and go as the doctors operated to determine the extent of my injuries. They diagnosed a compound fracture to my skull and had to remove splinters of bone from my head. My recovery was going to take some time as I had right side paralysis which the doctors hoped would improve.
Being the youngest of 5, family life quickly became more of a struggle as my parents juggled their time between the hospital and at home with Scott (12), Julie (10), Michelle (8) and Carly (6). Scott remembers they all slept in the same bed the night of the accident, too worried to be alone. He remembers seeing my dad cry for the first and only time in the days to follow, going to stay with our aunt and uncle for a little while before finally visiting me in hospital about two weeks later. He was devastated when I couldn’t remember his name, as was Michelle and remembers me having a very weakened and dysfunctional right side. Julie had bought me a Lion King colouring book from the Disney shop but was upset when I couldn’t do it at first and Carly recalls hearing the accident mentioned in a news bulletin on the radio and seeing the article in the newspaper. At only 6 it was a lot to take in and she can remember the first day I came home to visit, unable to walk yet not wanting to be in the wheelchair.
My mum recalls feeling shock and somehow denial regarding the accident, telling herself everything would be ok and having me home as much as possible to be amongst my siblings. She believed this would aid my progress despite the heartache returning to the hospital in the evenings. Endless trips to and from the hospital before discharge, mum and dad were determined to have my brother and sisters maintain a good active life despite the circumstances. Of course there was initially talk of selling all the horses, but Julie remembers the compromise as having to wear their hard hats at all times, even when working with the ponies on foot. Mum also recalls one of her earliest memories after the accident was being at a pony club event with my sisters and carrying me in her arms as I was unable to walk and the ground was too bumpy for the buggy. She also remembers having special equipment around the house such as a smaller supported table and chair to have my meals on. This is something I remember also, and looking back, made daily family life quite difficult.
My rehabilitation journey has been a lengthy process however from early on my recovery stunned doctors who feared I would never walk again with a high probability of learning difficulties. Despite no lasting major consequences, following the accident I struggled with mobility and my brother remembers my first sports day as bittersweet, watching emotionally as I struggled to participate but nonetheless I was so happy just to be taking part, as my family cheered me on from the side-lines.
Growing up I have been very fortunate to live a healthy, active lifestyle with much support from my family and friends. I do not have any on-going major problems however little things such as balance and coordination were and still can be notably affected areas. My right side also remains a lot weaker than my left, however this has not stopped me from doing anything. I am a very determined person and once I set my mind on something I’ll find a way of getting myself there. I ride show horses at a national level and despite the circumstances of the accident, you’ll never find me happier or more relaxed than when on the back of a horse. That said my mum does think that had my sisters not continued riding, I would not have returned to this sport. However, I really feel this has benefited my rehabilitation both physically and psychologically and has given me focus throughout my life. Due to my reduced coordination, unlike my 3 sisters who were all in the first hockey team at school and university, I have never found ball sports particularly appealing, often quite frustrating. My time, therefore, is usually spent between riding, going to the gym and running though I’ll give anything a go. My right hip is slightly internally rotated meaning that when I walk my foot turns inwards slightly, particularly if I’m tired and I find activities like skiing very difficult with this weakness. In my marathon training I’ve also discovered that when I am running this becomes exaggerated as I fatigue so in preparation I have incorporated lots of leg strengthening into my training.
This year I will be completing my masters in physiotherapy, a profession which had so much input into getting me back up on my feet. Unsurprisingly my main interest lies in paediatric neurology. I find the plasticity of the human brain utterly fascinating and it’s amazing how the accident has in fact shaped my life’s pathway. Growing up I have often wondered if I would be much different had the accident not happened however to achieve all that I have so far has left many in awe. I think the most important thing is to stay positive and don’t give up on achieving what you currently might think unachievable. Who would have thought back then that I would go on to compete multiple times at horse of the year show, gain two degrees and be training to run a marathon?!
Rehabilitation following a head injury is a lengthy emotional experience but take every day as it comes and above all support each other. I would not be the person I am today without my family who have seen me through the highs and lows and been there for me every step of my incredible journey.
If you would like support following a childhood acquired brain injury, please contact our Helpline.
Click here to find out how you can take Action for Brain Injury Week and help raise more funds to support children and families.