Survivor's story after crash causes brain injury

Essex County Standard: Brain injury survivor Stephen Woodiwiss Brain injury survivor Stephen Woodiwiss

STEPHEN Woodiwiss doesn’t remember the moment his life changed.

He doesn’t recall the crash which happened while he was competing in a motorbike and sidecar race.

He doesn’t remember being thrown into the air, the bike falling on him or the twoweeks he was in hospital.

The first thing Stephen recalls was being back in his front room.

Even with this, he struggles.

Stephen, of Cedar Avenue, Tiptree, had been a gamekeeper. He loved the outdoor life, he kept ferrets and bees and enjoyed shooting and fishing. He said: “My job took all my time.’’ So when he was made redundant and began setting up his own business, Stephen decided he finally had time to pursue a desire to race m o t o r b i ke s and sidecars.

“I first started on motorbikes when I was ten,’’ he said. “I was a mechanic at one point. I had a big Honda Fireblade 920cc.’’ Ironically, Stephen decided to stop riding the powerful machine because he thought a car was safer.

Instead, he decided to have a go at off-road motorbike and sidecar racing. His first race was at Marks Tey. It was to be his last. Stephen, who was driving the motorbike, said: “We got hooked up with another bike. I went up in the air, so did the bike. It landed on my head and neck.

“I had body armour on, neck protection and helmet. My body armour was broken. They reckon my neck protector saved my life.’’ Stephen was flown unconscious to Queen’s Hospital, in Romford.

He was in a medically-induced coma for two days before being transferred to Colchester General Hospital.

He was discharged two weeks after the accident. He had broken the tendons in two fingers, but had no other breaks.

However, the brain injury was more severe. He said: “I could not remember anything which happened that day. I found it took me longer to do things. I went to take an elder tree out. Before the accident, it would have taken ten minutes.

It took me five hours.

“I had no stamina. I had lost my strength and fitness.’’ Fatigue is common among brain injury survivors.

So, too, ismemory loss and it was this which has had the biggest impact on Stephen’s life.

He said: “My long-termmemory is not too bad. I can remember what I did years ago, but my short -termmemory is a real problem.’’ The accident was nearly four years ago. Stephen has made great strides, but still struggles.

Throughout the interview, he looks to Paul Sheppard, an officer at the Headway day centre, for help and reassurance. Headway is a charity caring for the survivors of brain injuries and their families.

Stephen said: “Before the accident, I could have lots of bills out on the table – council tax, electric, gas and I could do them all together. I can’t do that any more. I can't deal with situations where there are lots of people. It is overwhelming. If there is a room full of people, I can’t concentrate on what someone is saying.’’ Stephen has lost his automatic recall, his points of reference. He had to relearn how to do things, such as using his washing machine.

Through Headway, he has learnt strategies to overcome the memory loss. Stephen said: “I was missing appointments because I could not remember them, so I was taught how to use a calendar.

“Then I was putting appointments on the calendar, but not including the details.

“I was helped with organising and planning. I was taught how to do one thing at a time.’’ Stephen’s marriage to Gillian broke down. He does not blame his brain injury entirely, but said it was instrumental.

He said they have now an amicable relationship and share the care of their children Rebecca, 14, and Sam, 11.

Stephen’s journey is ongoing.

He now volunteers for the National Trust, helping to maintain the garden at Paycockes House, in Coggeshall.

Now 50, he still hopes to return to full-time work. He values the support from Headway, adding: “It is non-judgemental. No-one here knewme before the accident, so they take me as I am. They don’t have expectations of me.’’ Stephen faces daily challenges, but knows he is lucky to be alive.

He said: “I know what is important in life now. I used to waste time thinking about things which are trivial. I am more philosophical now.’’ ! To contact Headway, call 01206 547616.

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