Having a serious brain injury can change your life forever, as Sam Willers discovered four years ago.
As we mark Brain Injury Awareness Week, Sam is sharing his story to explain about the damage it can do and the trauma he has faced.
Sam, from Denmead, was in a pub in 2013 when he was stabbed with a pool cue that went into his brain.
He was in a coma and doctors told his family he had a one per cent chance of survival. When he did come round, he was told he would never walk or talk again.
But, remarkably, he has made a recovery and, although his life will never be the same again, he has made huge strides forward and is now looking ahead to the future.
He recalls: ‘I finished work and went straight to the pub with my brother.
‘Eventually, it was just me in the pub on my own. I regularly played pool in my local pub, but this time I was assaulted.’
After he was stabbed, he was rushed to hospital and woke up two weeks later to find his mum and his brothers by his side.
‘I didn’t know what was going on,’ says the 27-year-old.
‘I couldn’t move. I just thought “this is my life forever”. I was so scared. I thought I was going to die.
‘I felt defeated. I thought that my life was over. I was trying to talk to my mum and my brothers but I couldn’t.’
He adds: ‘I never thought I would be disabled. I used to be so fit.’
Sam had several operations on his brain to remove the pool cue. What followed was six months in hospital, recovering and undergoing rehabilitation.
He spent a month in the intensive care unit at Southampton General Hospital and then two months in Queen Alexandra Hospital in Cosham at the rehabilitation centre. After that he spent three months at a hospital in Surrey.
‘I was told I could never walk or talk again. My family were told I had a one per cent survival rate and that if I did survive, I would be brain-damaged.’
But Sam defied the odds and managed to learn to walk and talk again.
‘It was amazing when I took my first steps again,’ he says.
‘I felt unsteady at first, but I was really confident. I felt a sense of achievement.
‘I have made a remarkable physical recovery but I do have limitations now. I was always active and a keen skateboarder and drummer, but now I don’t have the strength to do these things.’
He adds: ‘Life has changed dramatically. I can’t work and lost friends through my brain injury – but my family are very supportive and are always there for me.’
Sam used to be a groundsworker. After the attack he tried to work again, but he found it difficult.
He suffers from fatigue and struggles with tasks such as processing basic information.
‘I was gutted,’ he says.
‘I enjoyed my work. I used to love waking up and going to work. But I had to sign on to claim benefits. I felt ashamed.’
Soon after, Sam found out about the charity Headway, which is based at the Mountbatten Centre in Portsmouth and helps people who have suffered serious brain injuries. He went along for an initial session, but decided it wasn’t for him.
However, he returned a few months later.
‘The first time I came here, I hated it,’ he says.
‘It was very negative. But I came back and started playing games and it was much better.
‘I wake up and it gets me out of bed and out of the house doing something.
‘I have met new people, people I never thought I would have been friends with before.
‘Headway has given me my confidence back.’
Going to Headway has helped Sam to come to terms with the fact that he has a brain injury.
‘I don’t deny that, at first, I had no acceptance of my brain injury,’ he adds.
‘To me, I felt all right. It was really difficult.’
But now Sam is looking ahead to the future.
He has recently picked up some new skills, having joined the Men’s Shed group in Havant.
He says: ‘I would like to get a job, move out and get a girlfriend and eventually have a baby. It would mean everything to have that kind of life. It would be like I was back to normal,’ he says.
‘It has been a real struggle, but I do have a sense of achievement.
‘I feel positive about the future. I’m quite determined to get back on track.’
Cailey Chapman of Headway says she has seen a noticeable difference in Sam since he has been coming to the sessions.
‘He was very angry and bitter. There was a real attitude. He has more acceptance now. It’s amazing to see the difference and know that we have helped with that.’
What are the causes of a brain injury?
It’s varied but they can include a stroke, a traumatic assault, a fall, a road accident, a brain tumour, a work accident, or a brain haemorrhage.
How can it affect your brain?
A brain injury affects everything about the way you control your body including slowed responses, lack of initiative, inappropriate behaviour, poor communication, loss of physical senses, poor memory and personality changes.
How can Headway help?
Headway runs courses to build confidence, skills and employability. Staff offer support and advice, run weekly groups with activities in various areas and help to improve health and wellbeing.
The charity also lobbies for improved services locally for people with a brain injury.
Headway runs different courses for people including a confidence course and one focusing on cognitive therapy.
Yesterday, the Spinnaker Tower was lit up blue to mark Brain Injury Awareness Week.
To find out more, please visit headwayportsmouth.co.uk.