As a way of giving back to Headway and thanking the charity for its support, Dan decided to take part in the Brighter Future Challenge, raising money to ensure that fellow survivors and their loved ones are supported through its frontline services.
Dan, 32 and from Buxton, said: “The lady I spoke to on the phone at Headway inspired me to keep searching within myself and to not be afraid of trying new things in order to grow.
I’m so grateful to be in a position where I can do my bit to raise money for a charity that has helped me, simple as that.
Before his brain injury, Dan was a very sociable character. He enjoyed drinking with friends and family and was what you might describe as the life and soul of the party. He had also just become a first-time dad to his son, Alby.
In May 2016, he travelled to Malta for a friend’s wedding. He and a group of friends had been drinking heavily to celebrate.
He said: “Myself and the group I travelled with had been excitable and drank quite heavily on the journey out to Malta; me more so than usual given I’d rediscovered some independence since becoming a dad.
“The ‘fun’ continued late into the night after arriving abroad, myself and one other friend headed out to explore the local bars before heading back to our apartment where the rest of the group was sleeping.
“We didn’t want to wake anybody, so we had left our balcony doors open and planned to get in the apartment this way. We had judged this as a safe entry earlier in the day when we were decidedly more sober.
Unfortunately, in those circumstances later at night, I didn’t make it to the doors and slipped, falling 16 feet below to the ground.
Dan sustained a bleed on the brain and had significant, life-threatening swelling.
He was taken to the Mater Dei hospital in Malta and underwent a craniotomy to release pressure and stop the bleeding. His condition remained uncertain and doctors had no choice but to place him in an induced coma for two weeks.
“My fiancée Sally and parents came over to be with me within the same 24 hours of the injury occurring,” Dan said. “My memories of awakening from the coma are quite vague, I remember images of my partner and parents’ faces, some memories of the brilliant staff who looked after me and took me around in the wheelchair, along with some scattered memories of other patients.”
After four weeks in the neurorehab ward, he was repatriated to Salford Royal hospital and five months later, he had a titanium plate fitted to replace his missing piece of skull.
Now, from the outside you’d never know that Dan had a brain injury, but he’s been left with an invisible disability – the effects of which he struggles with daily.
“At first the head injury made me angry and shout a lot, I’d become very confused and would take things out on my partner,” he said. “Fatigue was difficult to deal with and I still suffer with that even now.
“My memory has suffered in some ways - some things I forget completely, other things I don’t - which adds to the difficultly as nothing is straightforward or on the same level. I had behaviour issues, such as acting on impulse, lying about things, drinking and taking drugs alone, feeling like I didn’t fit in anywhere, self-hatred, guilt, shame - you name it.
“Mentally, I would describe the first three years post injury as like looking in the mirror, seeing an image of myself looking back, but a different person actually living inside my body - an imposter. Because of how ‘normal’ I looked and sounded, it’s led others, and myself included, to think I’m okay when at times I’ve been far from that.”
“After the last phone call with Headway, after months if not over a year since my last contact, I realised how important of a job Headway do and how they are always there to help me when I need it,” he said.
“This has meant a lot to me and countless others I’m sure. I’m lucky to have family surrounding me but sometimes I feel that I need to speak to people who can give me impartial advice, or that from a more direct experience.”
Dan chose to show his support of Headway by taking part in the Brighter Future Challenge where he will run or walk his very own marathon and raise money.
He said: “I’ve really been enjoying the challenge to start with, the only struggle I’ve faced is with fatigue, which seems to have made a comeback just around the same time I started!
I loved taking my four-year old son with me on one walk and to see him interested in the good thing we were doing and how important it is to me!
Dan continues to make improvements every day and is now positive about his future.
He said: “I’ve found new positives along the way. Meditation and mindfulness have helped me to turn my life around and learn ways to deal with the outcomes of the injury. I’ve found new joys and ways of looking at life that prior to the accident, I wouldn’t have. Myself and my partner now have two little boys and a new family home.
“The last year has been a major turning point on my road of recovery, I’ve almost found myself again somehow, whether that be through learning coping methods, trying and failing, or maybe having a better sense of self and self-control.
“Don’t get me wrong, just recently I’ve hit a bit of a low which led me to phoning Headway’s helpline again which was a huge help, and I’ve started on a course of anti-depressants, something I’ve always pushed away from post-accident.
“I’m still learning myself and do my best to tackle my struggles emotionally. Sometimes you think you have it all under control but then you get caught off guard - but that’s okay and you add it to the list of things to learn from.”
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