In 2014, Derek Milner was spending time out on a practice track with his Motocross bike, enjoying his exciting and exhilarating hobby. Then one day in April, just before his 43rd birthday, he misjudged a bend and flew off the track at 40mph, falling to the floor and causing severe injury to his spine, head and brain.
Derek stopped breathing multiple times between the accident and his arrival at Frenchay Hospital, where he was stabilised before being transferred for complex spinal surgery. Following this, he was sent to a brain injury rehabilitation unit where he remained in a coma for 14 days.
Despite the severity of his injuries and the bleak prognosis from his doctors, Derek returned home after three months and slowly began his long journey of recovery. He had already noticed that many of his friends and extended family were withdrawing from seeing him, leading to feelings of isolation.
“Many people don’t know how to deal with someone who is struggling, especially when they have changed so much,” said Derek. “This is where I experienced my own ‘lockdown’, way before the pandemic was even imagined.
The medical staff were excellent and caring, but, like many people I have spoken to since, I found that only close family were willing to stay around and see what happens. The rest – partners, friends, people who have been close and known me for years – simply walked away.
Seven years on from the accident, Derek has defied the odds to make an excellent recovery. He was able to return to driving which helped him to regain his independence, and returned to work managing the removals and storage company that he set up prior to his injury.
Despite having no obvious physical impairments, Derek still struggles with short-term memory loss and visual problems - issues he has learned to cope with as he now lives alone.
“The friends I had prior to my brain injury have all but disappeared now, so I have very little contact with anyone except my staff and customers. But I have no real desire to get into a settled relationship, so for me, the Covid-19 ‘lockdown’ is like any other day.
I feel blessed to be alive and to have made it through, and I’m determined to live the life I’ve been gifted with. Maybe the people who turned the other way just weren’t as much of a feature in my life as I thought they were. Maybe being left to my own devices was a blessing in disguise, and the right people are yet to surface?
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