Charlotte’s Life Changing Accident

In the summer of 2011 I was living the dream. I had moved from my home in the Midlands to go and live in America; working at a summer camp in the state of Rhode Island. I was just like any other 18 year old; living the life of luxury! I had just finished my A levels and was looking forward to going to university in September to start my ambition to become a doctor. I was also training hard as a member of the England U21 hockey squad, along side all of the other sports teams that I was a part of. I had travelled the world doing my sports and by competing in different competitions. I was a very fit and healthy teenager with everything going for me.

I was also an active member of 1181 Syston Squadron, where I fulfilled the rank of cadet sergeant. I had been in the ATC for just over five years and had achieved more than most could imagine. Throughout my time in cadets, I had gained my solo silver wings, region marksman, BTEC in public services with a distinction, bronze and silver Duke of Edinburgh?awards and also 500 hours V Inspired award but most of my time spent in cadets was doing sports. I had represented my wing and region at virtually every sport possible and I had also captained the Corps cross country, athletics and hockey squads respectively. I was the reigning cross country and athletics champion and had held the title from the day I joined the Corps. This led to me being selected to complete the CCU walk down in Cyprus as part of the ATC team that flew out; and I was lucky enough to be a part of the winning team on the day over the tough 23 mile course. I had been on all of the overseas camps the ATC had to offer, plus the cadet 150 tour to Lesotho, South Africa.

Just as I thought my life couldn’t get any better, my whole life changed in an instant. I now wasn’t this 18 year old who had everything going for me, I was an 18 year old fighting for my life.

In early August whilst living in America I suffered a severe lower T7-T8 spinal fracture, along with a serious brain injury, leaving me paralysed from the mid torso. I spent many weeks in Intensive Care and on a High Dependency unit fighting for my life whilst I lay in a coma; oblivious to the fact of how ill I was. As the weeks turned into months I gradually regained consciousness and become stronger and stronger each day; eventually being able to communicate with my family.
It wasn’t until now I could see how much of a strain this whole accident had put on my family. My family were hit very hard by this, my mother had to take weeks off work until she knew I was more stable, my father became very ill due to the stress caused and my sister missed weeks of college as it had hit her the hardest. Myself and my sister, Alice, are extremely close. For her to see my as ill as I was and in a coma, not knowing the outcome, it left her distraught with fear. Alice spent almost everyday by my side keeping me company, reading me magazines, pampering me and also helping me regain my memory as I suffered severe memory loss, to the point where I had forgot even some of my family members.

After four months I eventually became strong enough to begin physiotherapy. Although I was very weak, the physio’s could work on me enough to prevent too much muscle wastage, getting a foot drop and also limiting the chance of getting a pressure sore. I continued with physio and occupational therapy daily, although making very little improvement which was very frustrating as I was working so hard.

Now I am eight months down the line, I have made leaps and bounds. More than what I would have ever imagined as I now look back at how ill I was just eight months ago fighting for my life. I am now out of ITU and High Dependency, although I’m still in hospital, I will hopefully be moving into a spinal rehab unit fairly soon to continue with my ongoing care. I am now strong enough though to sit up by myself, and I am regularly causing havoc around the ward when I’m in my wheelchair as I’m still not very competent with driving it! I think I still need a lot of practice. My brain injury is healing well, although not fully recovered yet. I’m still struggling a lot with my short term memory, as I can’t remember less than 24 hours ago, but the doctors reassure me that this will come back over time, even though I don’t suppose it’s the end of the world if it doesn’t!

I have recently been allowed on day leave and have been lucky enough to spend Christmas and New Year at home, which was incredible fun. I could forget about everything that was going on and it also gave me time away from what I called my ‘home’ which was the hospital! I have also been shopping with my family in Leicester, out for meals with my friends but best of all I have most recently been to the Leicester Tigers game vs Aironi which was the first game I had been to since my accident. I thoroughly enjoyed the day, especially as they won, but I actually felt ‘normal’ there, like I was accepted for who I am now!

Days out when you are in hospital really help you not only psychologically but also physically when you are learning to come to terms with your new way of life. Just these little things really help you come to terms with going back into reality and getting a little bit of independence back. Also it’s a time where you get massively treated too and if your anything like me, get to spend your parents money! Retail therapy is very therapeutic when you’re in hospital!

When this accident first happened I was in denial, as I didn’t want to accept the fact that I would never walk again. From going from a very active and healthy teenager, to being wheelchair bound had hit me extremely hard. I became very depressed, which made the situation very stressful and which wasn’t very good for my recovery or my parents own health. I very often snapped and shouted at those close to me, although I never meant to but it always seemed to be the ones closest to me that got the full brunt of my feelings.
I finally got a clinical psychologist and a councillor who really have helped me come to terms with this. I have learnt that sometimes you just need to accept help from people rather than push them away.

As the time has gone I have learnt to accept this injury more and more. I now look on the bright side of this accident. I have met lots of incredible people including Matt Hampson, who I perhaps may have never met before this accident. Matt has been one of the people who met me early on after the accident, and from day one has always kept me very positive no matter how tough times have been. I couldn’t have wished to have met a more incredible person with a huge wealth of knowledge that was incredibly helpful to me.
I now just have different goals to the ones I had before but I still have the ambition to become a doctor and I hope that one day in the future I will qualify and not only defy what the doctors have told me, but make my parents as proud as I can by them seeing me at my graduation.

One of the biggest goals that I have though is to learn to walk again. I have the determination in my mind to do it, and I will push myself as hard as I can, but like I have said earlier on, if I don’t walk again it’s not the end of the world, but what’s the hardship in trying. If I don’t succeed then so be it but at least I’ll know that I did my utmost and gave myself the best chance by trying.

Once I am well enough I am going to begin training again. Now it just means that I get to learn a new sport with different rules, and meet lots of new people in the same situation as myself. I will still have lots of goals to achieve although they will now just be different to the ones that I had before hand. Maybe instead of playing at the Olympic Games I can aim for the Paralympic Games.

Just remember that being in a wheelchair doesn’t mean that you have to stop doing the things you enjoy or perhaps were good at before your accident. Just remember you never loose your talents or skills. It just means that you have to slightly adapt the way you live, but never the things you do!

Never give up, because no matter how hard times may be, you’ll always pull through them and it will only make you a stronger character!

Charlotte Wilkinson-Burnett.