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Andrew's story A Life Re-written

Andrew's story

After my brain injury, I grieved for the person I was
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As part of Headway's Action for Brain Injury Week 2024 campaign, BBC The Traitors star Andrew Jenkins shares his personal experiences of being a brain injury survivor following a catastrophic car crash.

On August 28, 1999, my life was rewritten,

“I was born into a traditional Welsh family. My mother and father have been married nearly 60 years and I’ve got three brothers," said Andrew.

"The testosterone in the house growing up and the competitiveness was off the chart. We were all born pretty much with a rugby ball in our hands, so from the age of five I played rugby. My dream like many people in Wales I suppose, was to put on a red jersey and represent my country.

"On August 28, 1999, I was involved in a very serious road traffic accident where my dream of playing rugby for Wales was taken from me, and my life was rewritten.

"Driving home from a wedding, my wheel hit the curb and I flipped the car onto its side. I was thrown out of the driver’s window. I slid along the floor then and as soon as my head hit the floor, I was unconscious. I was dragged along the floor for a couple of hundred yards and the car was sliding. When it finished sliding, it was leaning on top of me.”

When the emergency services arrived, they initially thought Andrew was dead.

“It was very touch and go, they took me to the Royal Gwent in Newport the hospital not far from where the accident had happened,” said Andrew. “There was nothing they could do for me there, so I had a police escort to the Morriston Hospital in Swansea because that’s where neurology and plastic surgery were.

"While all this was going on, my parents had a knock on the door from the policeman to say that I’d been involved in a road traffic accident, that it was quite serious and to come straight away. My parents at the time, were getting ready for bed so they were in their nightwear. My mother says she recalls that night every single day since it happened 24 years ago.”

Professor Hamish Laing was called in to operate on Andrew that night.

“The first operation I had was to remove the bone from my brain,” said Andrew. “I spent nearly four weeks in a coma in intensive care fighting for my life in hospital. When I was in my coma, they could tell from the shadows on my scans that I had severe brain damage, but they said they couldn’t tell how severe until I woke up.”

Andrew’s loved ones were warned he may never wake up and if he did, he may not recognise anyone, walk, talk, or use his arms or legs again.

But when Andrew finally woke up, he was determined to defy the odds and learned to walk again. Still, his struggles weren’t over.

The physical injuries I had were horrendous but the worst thing for me was the psychological and the mental illness,

said Andrew. “I suffered for twenty-odd years in silence, I suppose, because I walked around with a smile on my face, put a mask on every day, dragged myself out of bed every day.”

Andrew said he refused counselling and didn’t feel he could talk to his family back then.

However, a turning point came when he met his then-partner whose outlook he found inspiring and he also met the man who saved his life, Professor Laing.

“I thought I need to start inspiring people and use what happened to me for good,” said Andrew.

“I want to show people you can have a trauma in life, you can maybe look a different way with scarring, lose your dream, lose something in life, struggle with your mental health, but you can still turn your life around and achieve great things.

"One of the things that affected me was the loss of identity. I was a rugby boy from the age of five. Growing up I was surrounded by rugby people. And then I lost my identity, it was really hard.

"One of the other areas I struggled with massively, was my self-worth, and my self-esteem, my confidence. I hated what I saw in the mirror, I used to say some horrible things to myself, every single day because I couldn’t get away from my scars.

"The big thing for me was to stop saying horrible things to myself and to start accepting compliments. Speaking to yourself in a nice way is really important. If you want to start recovering and help yourself stop saying horrible things to yourself.”

Andrew eventually accepted counselling, and this proved to be a major step forward as he discovered he was grieving for what he’d lost. Now he’s found a new way forward in life.

“Since The Traitors, I feel very, very privileged to have the platform I have now to inspire thousands, hopefully, millions of people, and being part of Headway’s campaign is amazing,” he said.

“The work Headway does is incredible and it’s what I wanted to use my platform for, to show people you can lead a normal life after a traumatic experience or a head injury or brain injury. Keep believing in yourself.”

Andrew said he understands the importance of people taking and celebrating any steps they make towards progress, such as relearning to walk or to eat independently post-brain injury.

“Take small steps and when you achieve those small steps, make sure you celebrate, and give yourself a pat on the back,” he said.

I keep re-writing my life every single day. I'm on a mission to break the stigma that surrounds mental health and wellbeing.

Browse the links below to explore the campaign and the issues covered in this story.


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