‘I didn’t recognise where I was or know who my friends were’

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“I don’t remember any of that day, but I know exactly what happened because I’ve been told the story over and over again. “

Just before his 24th birthday Steph Grant was involved in a horrific car crash which killed both drivers. It left Steph brain damaged, although for years he went without help, struggling to remember important things like job interviews.

Now, aged 50 and after eventually getting help in Sheffield, Steph is helping others cope with the effects of brain injury.

He still has to keep a daily journal of where he should be and what he has to do and tick it off as he goes. But at least he now feels in control of his life again.

Steph recalls what he has been told about the accident which changed his life forever.

“I’d finished college and was waiting to start a degree at Reading University. My friend had picked me up to take me into town. There was a long line of traffic on the other side of the road and a car pulled out to try to get past it. It was a 17-year-old lad in a sports car and he just went straight into us, a head-on collision with a combined impact of 135mph.

“Both drivers were killed. There was only me and a lad in our car and a passenger in the other car that survived, a 16-year-old girl who was left in a wheelchair.”

Steph spent his 24th birthday in a coma, then six days later was released from hospital and sent home to his wife and young son.

“I didn’t recognise where I was, I didn’t know who any of my friends were, and I was confined to my bedroom as it was the only place I was familiar with.”

Huge gaps began appearing in his memory.

“I woke up one day at University, with no idea how I’d got there or what I was doing. Luckily, Reading University was very good and I had a lot of support.” Things were starting to get back on track until in 1987, Steph’s wife died.

“I still had a year left to do my degree but I had my little boy to consider. There was a chance they would take him off me because I was barely capable of looking after him. I had to move to Scotland to live with my parents.”

The move caused problems because it took time for his patient records to transfer and the doctors and psychiatrists thought that his problems were because he was grieving.

“My life had fallen apart but because of my injury I wasn’t fully aware of it at the time. I wasn’t getting the neurological help that I needed and I developed coping mechanisms to help me deal with what was going on that ultimately didn’t work.”

Steph managed to transfer his degree to a university in Scotland and graduated seven years after his start date at Reading, with a BA degree in Sociology. He also met and married his second wife, Gwynfa, and the couple had a daughter before moving back to Steph’s hometown in Bassetlaw in a bid to find work.

But his main stumbling block was his memory.

“I applied to teach sociology at a local school and was invited for interview. A few days later the interviewer called, telling me that I’d been successful and they’d like to offer me the job.

“But I didn’t know what he was talking about, I’d forgotten. I apologised and told him he must have the wrong number – I hadn’t applied for a job. He asked If I was Mr Steph Grant, and checked my date of birth and I couldn’t understand how knew these things about me. By the time I realised it was too late and when they found out I was brain-damaged they didn’t want to know. That is pretty much how my life went on. I kept trying to do things, but not being able to. It was difficult because I kept forgetting I had a brain injury.”

Steph recalls one incident that finally led him to the professional neurological help he desperately needed.

“It all came to a head late one night when I was found running round the streets without any shoes or a shirt, frustrated and confused. I was taken to a psychiatric ward, given medication and interviewed by health professionals. Shortly afterwards, the brain injury association Headway found me and my family a house so we could relocate to Sheffield.

“There weren’t many specialist services available for people with brain injury and the move to Sheffield allowed me to be closer to the services I need.

“My wife contacted Sheffield Community Brain Injury Rehabilitation Team (SCBIRT) and arranged for a member of their team to come and see me. It sounds like a strange thing to say, but Sheffield is a great place to be brain damaged.”

Sheffield’s neurological services are run by Sheffield Health and Social Care NHS Foundation Trust (SHSC) and consist of a number of community teams that travel across the city to see people.

Inspired by the help he received from SCBIRT, Steph worked with other brain injured people in Sheffield and clinical staff to set-up the Brain Injury Rehabilitation Research Partnership – a group that is currently undertaking an evaluation of the Trust’s brain injury rehab services.

“The services in Sheffield helped me in so many ways. It was simple things, like learning to understand that my problems were not my fault – I experienced difficulties because I am brain damaged, I’m not mad.

“The stress I was under was making me worse and worse and I used to suffer severe panic attacks.

“It was a massive help just meeting other people and I began to learn a lot more about brain injury and other neurological conditions through accessing the service.

“My SHSC key worker, Helen Currie, was magic. She helped me with so many things. She told me to keep a journal and a diary, and every day when I have been somewhere or done something I put a tick next to it so I know I’ve been because I forget.

“I also have lots of ‘menus’ which help me make meals by telling me what ingredients to buy from the shops, when I need to get them out of the cupboards and how long things need cooking.

“ The lessons learned from these processes are transferable, and help me not just to cook meals but also with many everyday tasks that I would otherwise have difficulty with.

“I am in control of my life and I want to help other people like me get access to the services they need.”

For more information or help on brain injuries visit www.headway.org.uk

catherine.scott@ypn.co.uk