Last month Matt Masson came back from his first assignment abroad working as a journalist for a British ski magazine.
His family and friends would have been proud of this achievement under any circumstances, but what caused them to be totally in awe and bursting with pride was that nearly eight and a half years previously he had been lying in a coma after sustaining a traumatic brain injury.
Matt, who was 23 at the time, had somehow managed to fall through a roof on a night in London. At the scene his Coma Scale Score was three, which is the lowest possible and his prognosis was dire.
“It all happened on a night out in Camden. I’m not 100% sure on the details, but I know I fell 26ft through corrugated plastic roof. I think I was showing off to a girl,” recalls Matt.
As Matt,31, lay in hospital bed hooked up to machines, his family didn’t know if he would survive.
“It was a horrendous time because we were terrified he would die, but we also knew that even if he didn't, his life would never be the same,” his mother Anne recalls.
“It was a truly life-altering injury and it would be impossible for him to emerge unscathed. As a very fit water sports instructor and passionate skier, we wondered how would he react if he found himself severely disabled? How much he would be capable of and what sort of person he might be?”
Initially Matt couldn't talk, walk or even sit up by himself. He would have to relearn everything from brushing his teeth, to cutting up his food, to speaking - absolutely everything.
Within a few days of uttering his first words he announced his first goal - he was going to ski by the end of 2011.
Matt said: “Despite a few raised eyebrows from my doctors, I was determined to ski again. I obviously love doing it. The beauty of skiing is that you can enjoy it at any level. I also loved watching it, especially the freestyle skiers who do creative, stylish and incredible tricks. I knew I wanted to be on the mountains again, surrounded by skiers.”
Matt spent a total of seven months in hospital and then rehabilitation, where he received physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech and language therapy.
It was during this time that the family found Headway's booklets and online information helpful.
"When Matt was in ICU a friend of my other son brought in a load of Headway booklets about head injury, being in hospital, the brain etc. I think I had all of them!," recalled Anne.
"They were really good and answered a lot of my questions. I have also consulted the website frequently - including reading the brain injury stories."
As time passed, life became a series of goals and Matt's family enlisted the help of a neurophysio and a personal trainer.
Matt began training like mad and by the end December 2011 he was back on skis, on real snow on the baby slopes of Le Tour, Chamonix, while in July 2012 he walked 300 metres carrying an Olympic Torch in the Torch Relay for the London 2012 Olympics.
In October 2014, he decided to really test his walking and walked the 26.2 miles of the Amsterdam Marathon. It took him nine and a half hours, but he refused to give up and staggered across the finish line after dark, long after anyone else, but with the biggest grin on his face.
After five years dedicated to rehabilitation, the time came to think seriously about the future and Matt decided to study for a degree in Sports Journalism.
Matt said: “Going back to uni was difficult especially since a lot of my fellow peers were 10 years younger. They were much better at social media and computers than me. At the end of the degree I found the assessments tough and my brain did struggle a tiny bit, but I don’t think the brain injury was a major hurdle.”
Once again he far exceeded expectations and graduated with a 2:1 and within a few weeks he was writing articles about skiing for websites and magazines – eventually turning his passion into a full-time job.
Matt said: “Life as a ski reporter, is literally only second to being an actual professional skier! I love it. In September 2018, I started off interviewing my favourite freestyle skiers, but since March 2019 I’ve been travelling to events in Switzerland, Austria and Sweden.
“I write for websites, magazines and do content for ski brands.”
Although Matt still has a few problems with his balance and being in loud environments he maintains a positive attitude and good sense of humour towards his brain injury effects.
He said: “My balance isn’t great and I have a bit of a limp, so I gave myself the nickname Wobbly Journo! I can ski better than I walk, so I’m ok with it.
“I was always told that every brain injury’s different, so you need to embrace it! There’s no way I would have had this life without that brain injury.
“The way I see it is the injury is basically a free-pass to try anything, no-one expected me to try anything: no-one expected me to ski, do a marathon, get a degree and I’m sure no-one expected me to become freelance-freestyle-ski-journalist!"
The Road to the Top of the Mountain allows the reader to accompany Matt on his recovery path as, supported by friends, family and the ski community at large, he battled his way back to an independent life with many adventures on the way in Europe and America. It also explains in a basic way how the brain works and what happens when it is damaged. It is an uplifting story of great hope and determination as told by his mother, Anne, with contributions from Matt throughout.
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