The documentary The Crash Reel was recently featured at the Melbourne International Film Festival. It tells the story of Kevin Pearce, who had an exciting life in front of him as a professional snowboarder. At 22, he had a near-fatal training accident and acquired a severe brain injury.
According to Brain Injury Australia, brain injury, which ranges from mild to moderate and severe, is widespread in the community. Over 600,000 Australians have an acquired brain injury. Whilst three out of every four are aged under 65, as many as two thirds acquired their brain injury before they turned 25. Three out of every four people with acquired brain injury are men.
Apart from showing how Kevin picked up his life after the accident and the valuable support he received from his family and friends, the film stresses the importance of helmets and insurance. Long-term devastation can come not only from physical and psychological ruin, but also financial hardship that can come for people who are uninsured.
I was 25 and doing an internship at the Colombo Sunday Times newspaper in Sri Lanka when I sustained my traumatic brain injury from a car accident. I had never even heard of brain injury and couldn''''t understand why on Earth I suddenly found myself back in Australia, bald and in pain, 3 months after saying goodbye to my boyfriend at the time, who was leaving for the US on business and came by my little flat in Colombo to kiss me goodbye on his way to the airport.
It was 1994 and I had a great life. I felt I was really making it as a journalist. I was researching and writing about refugees from Sri Lanka and was planning a trip up north in an army chopper to do the story I really wanted to do, which was a comparison between a young Sri Lankan army soldier and a young Tamil Tiger.
Luckily my injury occurred at the back of my head as I had a seatbelt on. I flew forward on impact and broke 13 ribs, then jerked back and hit my head on the seat, injuring my cerebellum. This is the back part of the brain that controls your balance. Thank goodness, I don''''t think the injury has changed my personality, which is controlled by another part of the brain. I write notes and have a calendar to remember things. Unfortunately, I am left handed and my entire left side is weak so I have to use a computer to write and had to engage scribes at university.
I''''ve been able to relate to the insurance message from The Crash Reel. It cost $65,000 for my family to fly to Colombo, including my sister who lived in Paris at the time. Then I had to have a doctor and nurse fly out to escort me home. I had 5 seats on the plane for my stretcher. As soon as the plane landed in Sydney, Dad had to pay from the ambulance trip and onwards. I''''m so grateful that Dad insisted that I have insurance for that trip. I''''d never had it before despite travelling through Europe, the US and all around Asia, and doing so many risky things like riding motorbikes, sailing across lakes and hiking up volcanoes. I am so lucky; I had 7 days of policy left.
I''''ve also related to the film''''s message of how important family is in the recovery process. While I was in a coma, my friends and family made tapes of themselves speaking and tapes of my favourite music which they played to me continuously. I''''m sure that helped me in my recovery, like coma arousal therapy that also relies on smell and touch. I have gone on to complete two post graduate degrees because I''''m tough and studying helped my memory, but also partly because of my pushy mother!