Trau­matic brain in­jury means start­ing life over

Central Otago Mirror - - YOUR PAPER, YOUR PLACE - RHYS CHAM­BER­LAIN Full story:

Nine months ago, on Valen­tine’s Day, for­mer Pool­burn School prin­ci­pal Craig Hick­ford’s life changed for ever when he was knocked from his bike by a ute in Dunedin. He nearly died. Am­bu­lance staff worked on him at the scene for over an hour be­fore he could be trans­ported. For the next 10 days, he was on life sup­port in Dunedin Hospi­tal. Doc­tors talked about turn­ing it off. They didn’t.

The 44-year-old is home from Wakari Hospi­tal’s Isis unit, which treats peo­ple with se­ri­ous brain in­juries. The re­cov­ery is painstak­ingly slow. ‘‘It’s a pretty frus­trat­ing thing to have hap­pen to you,’’ Hick­ford says. ’’It’s meant I’ve started from zero again. That’s been a real mis­sion. It’s just been a bat­tle.’’

Wife Stacey, 39, - who’s been ‘‘an ab­so­lute rock’’ through­out - likens her hus­band’s re­cov­ery to that of a child. With the aid of a full­time carer, he’s had to re-learn ev­ery­thing from walk­ing, talk­ing, brush­ing his teeth and us­ing the toi­let.

‘‘Things are cer­tainly chal­leng­ing,’’ she says. ’’It’s dev­as­tat­ing to see your hus­band try­ing to func­tion again. The first two months of him be­ing home, we had a lot of chal­lenges, as a cou­ple as well.’’

Hick­ford’s chil­dren, Grace, 9, and Toby, 5, are also deeply af­fected. For a long time, they didn’t know the full ex­tent of what hap­pened. They vis­ited him ev­ery day in hospi­tal and were grad­u­ally made aware of the sit­u­a­tion. ‘‘They un­der­stand,’’ Hick­ford says. ’’Grace prob­a­bly is the most af­fected as far as, ‘dad don’t ride your bike, don’t do any­thing silly’. [She] is very de­fen­sive of my ac­tions.’’

He’s able to shower, walk up and down stairs, make break­fast and help Grace and Toby with their morn­ing rou­tines. But ‘‘I can’t run. My eye­sight is still dodgy. My left side is a lot weaker.’’

The ini­tial bleed on the right side of Hick­ford’s brain, which led to post-trau­matic am­ne­sia, has left a mem­ory blank from al­most all of last year and the ac­ci­dent, which oc­curred about 10km from his St Clair home in Main Rd, Fair­field. Any­thing Hick­ford knows about the ac­ci­dent, he’s been told. Death, he says, was ’’re­al­is­tic’’ dur­ing the first week in hospi­tal.

Prob­a­bly the tough­est thing for the Hick­ford fam­ily was a hus­band and fa­ther try­ing to deal with the over­whelm­ing bar­rage of emo­tions. The fact that the man who ploughed into him on that fate­ful Fe­bru­ary evening hasn’t once spo­ken to Hick­ford makes keep­ing those flail­ing emo­tions in check even tougher. ‘‘He’s never given me the time of day. I’m dis­gusted with the way he has treated me.’’

The driver is charged with care­less driv­ing caus­ing in­jury and has pleaded not guilty. The trial starts on Jan­uary 19 in the Dunedin Dis­trict Court. Hick­ford will get the chance to speak to the man that nearly took his life through a vic­tim im­pact state­ment if the driver is sen­tenced.

He’ll talk about how his life has changed dra­mat­i­cally, how he re­cently moved his fam­ily nearer to Brockville School in the hope he could one day re­turn to his role as prin­ci­pal there, how it dawned on him that it was not pos­si­ble and how he’s mov­ing his fam­ily to Christchurch for sup­port from Stacey’s fam­ily.

For now, Hick­ford is con­cen­trat­ing on his ul­ti­mate goal, to com­pete for a sec­ond time in the Coast to Coast. He be­lieves he can live a near-nor­mal life again one day, in­clud­ing re­sum­ing his ca­reer. ‘‘I’ve still got all those dreams. But it’s that far away.

‘‘I still have the odd dark day. It’s a tough jour­ney but I’m the wrong per­son to be de­pressed. I don’t think [I] can ever ex­pect to be back to full ca­pac­ity. I ob­vi­ously dream of the day that I will be. It’s pretty dev­as­tat­ing ... [but] I never give up hope.’’

The Hick­ford fam­ily are happy to have their dad home.

Craig Hick­ford in Dunedin Hospi­tal on life sup­port.

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