One year ago, Rachel Ballard celebrated her daughter Georgiana’s second birthday and was going about her everyday life as a single mum making ends meet as a self-employed beauty therapist.
Six days after Georgiana entered her terrible twos, Rachel was on her way to work along the A272 when she turned a bend near Rogate and was hit head-on by an out-of-control truck. Rachel’s life changed in a matter of seconds and the crash threatened to steal her chances of watching her daughter grow up.
Miraculously, Rachel, 47, from Emsworth, has made it to see Georgiana’s third birthday and will be around for many more milestones to come.
‘I value life in every way, especially when it comes to all the basic things,’ she says.
Last year Rachel and another female driver were hit by the truck on the A272 and both sustained serious injuries.
The other driver, 59-year-old grandmother Valerie Austen, died from her injuries four-and-a-half weeks later.
Rachel says: ‘I was half-a-mile from work, going east to Midhurst. As I came round a bend the truck that hit Valerie was on my side of the road and it hit me head on.’
Rachel was left with a long list of injuries that would have a lasting effect on her.
Despite her suffering, she has managed to keep her sense of humour through such a traumatic time.
‘They had to cut me out of the car and cut my clothes off at the scene. I told them, ‘I’ve been driving on this road every day since I was 18 but I never thought I would be lying on the A272 naked,’ she recalls laughing.
‘I had matching underwear on but I hadn’t done my bikini line so I was really embarrassed but they said ‘‘luckily you have a lovely pedicure and lovely eyelashes’’.’
Rachel has nothing but praise for the paramedics who held her head still for three hours even though she was supported by a brace, as well as the surgeons who made her time in hospital as comfortable as possible.
She says: ‘The surgeons were phenomenal. I couldn’t believe how secure they made me feel.’
Rachel recalls not realising the extent of her injuries, refusing to look at her severely injured leg.
‘It wasn’t my worst problem. My ribs were hurting the most and that was all I cared about,’ she adds.
With burns, broken bones, and more severe injuries such as deep cuts, a lung contusion, minor brain injury and short-term memory loss, Rachel was bedridden for three months.
‘I couldn’t lift my little girl. I couldn’t do the basic stuff like change her or bath her.’
Rachel’s mum, Sheila, moved in to her home to help care for Georgiana during the week and Georgiana’s father, Andrew Ferguson, moved in at weekends.
‘They were like a tag team looking after her,’ says Rachel.
‘I don’t know how I would’ve managed if it wasn’t for their help.’
In the busy life of a self-employed beauty therapist, three months was once a short period of time, but the time spent recovering stole many treasurable moments with her daughter.
‘I didn’t want her to suffer more than she already had.
‘I remember the day my mum drove me to pick her up from nursery and she said ‘‘Oh, mummy’s awake’’. She thought I had just been asleep for months.
‘Then I felt really angry that he [the truck driver] had taken those precious months away at such a young age.’
During her months in hospital and her long, slow recovery at home there were times when Rachel wondered if she would ever see her daughter’s third birthday.
But March 3, Georgiana’s third birthday, was the day Rachel also celebrated her own life by making her little girl’s dream party come to life.
Snow White, PJ Masks and Izzy Wizzy Witch, played by Nikki the Magic Lady, were all in attendance to make Georgiana’s dream come true.
Rachel says: ‘Georgiana actually called Snow White to invite her to the party.
‘When she saw her walk through the door she was so excited because she thought she had come just because she personally invited her.’
All the hard work which went into making this a day to truly remember was Rachel’s way of making up for the time she lost with her little girl.
‘I can’t get back the time but I can make up for it.
‘It was worth it all just to see Georgiana’s face,’ she adds.
Rachel has been a beauty therapist since 1994 but the crash was detrimental to her business which she runs near Petersfield.
The most devastating were reports of the crash in a local newspaper read by many of her clients and friends.
It was reported that one woman and two men had been injured in the crash.
When ‘the woman’s’ injuries were described as life-threatening, and it was later reported she had died, Rachel’s clients and friends believed the worst.
‘They thought I had died,’ she says.
‘It was catastrophic to my business and of course it was really hard to hear.
‘It shook them. They found business elsewhere because they thought I wasn’t there any more or was severely disabled and couldn’t work.’
Her mobile phone was held by the police for months so she did not have her clients’ numbers to set the record straight.
Today she sometimes finds work strenuous because of her physical injuries, but the most challenging is short-term memory loss.
‘I forget to text people back or to reply to e-mails and when you’re a self-employed beauty therapist that can be quite a blow to your business.’
Rachel has worked hard to build a good business reputation and has won many awards throughout her career. It is this she praises for keeping her business afloat.
‘Yes, I was in a crash and bedridden for three months, but I survived,’ she says.
One year into her recovery Rachel is healing physically.
‘I’m lucky, I look okay,’ she says.
‘It looks like I have freckles on my face but really it is actually from the glass that was in my face.’
Rachel has now returned to work but the aftermath of the crash still weighs heavily on her.
‘It’s hard,’ she adds.
‘People think you look fine but they don’t understand how much pain you’re in the whole time.’
Looking forward to the next year, Rachel will be continuing physiotherapy and going to therapy for her memory loss and she looks forward to many more birthdays and memories to come with Georgiana and the rest of her family.
‘They say your angels save you if you still have a lot left to give.
‘Well, if I didn’t believe in angels before, I definitely do now.’
n Turn to page 24 to see how Georgiana celebrated her third birthday in style.