Lying in a hospital bed surrounded by his loved ones, all Stefan Leader wanted to do is tell them he loved them.
But as much as he tried, he couldn’t speak and, much to his frustration, this would stay the case for six months.
While working in Israel in 1997, Stefan was assaulted by a barman who hit him by mistake when arguing with another customer.
He was operated on, placed in an induced coma and flown back to the UK. When he eventually came round he couldn’t move or speak.
“It was really sad that I couldn’t communicate. Everyone was talking around me but I couldn’t let them know how I felt or tell them I loved them,” recalled Stefan.
“I felt I could speak but my lips just couldn’t make the sounds. It was so frustrating – maddening at times. I used to communicate using hand signals. One of the first signals I did related to when I used to play cricket with my siblings.
“I used to be a spinner, and when I bowled, I made a certain action with my fingers. My sister asked me to do that action while I was in the hospital bed, to prove I understood them. When I was able to make the signal, they knew that the old Stefan was still in there.”
Although Stefan, 53, made steady progress it wasn’t until six months later that he said his first word.
He said: “It was a massive moment when I said my first word. I was in bed and wanted the curtain to be pulled over to block the light out in my room.
“I pushed the buzzer to get the nurse and signalled to her to close them but she didn’t understand. She turned round to tell me that I was confusing her and I said ‘sorry’.
It was only whisper, a tiny sound, but it meant so much. I was then told I must say good morning to everyone the next day.
Stefan said once he had learnt how to talk he discovered the real reason of how he got the brain injury.
He said: “I had been led to believe that I had fallen down some stairs but it wasn’t until days later that a nurse told me the truth. Everyone knew the real reason for my brain injury besides me – which was hard to take. I suppose people were trying to protect me.”
Now 21 years after the incident, Stefan’s speech is very good but the assault has left him needing a wheelchair to get round.
Even so he has a very upbeat perspective on life. He said:
“It took me a while to realise that things will get better they will never be the same as before. But that’s alright. I think of me, not actually as the Stefan Leader that my history reminds me of but I am Stefan Leader mark ii.”
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