Thomas Leeds was born in the ‘80s in West London. One of six siblings, Thomas had a happy childhood, developing a passion for design which he planned to study at university following a gap year. But his plans were halted one night in 2003 when, at the age of 19, Thomas was hit by a car while crossing the road, throwing him into the air before landing hard onto the tarmac.
As well as breaking three vertebrae in his spine, the impact broke Thomas’ skull and caused a large blood clot (haematoma) to form in his brain, requiring surgery to remove. Doctors said Thomas was lucky to be alive, but it soon became clear that his memory had been severely affected.
“I had no memory of anything before my accident, or the accident itself, and I didn’t recognise anyone who came to visit me,” said Thomas.
Strangely I don’t remember feeling alarmed or worried at first. I was on strong painkillers after my surgery and was having to rest a lot, and with no knowledge of having had memories, I didn’t know to miss them at first.
With his father being a doctor and his mother also medically trained, Thomas returned home after two weeks to begin his journey of recovery. He made good progress and in 2010 met his wife, Sophie. The couple are now proud parents to two young daughters.
However, as experienced by so many people with a brain injury, life for Thomas and his family is always influenced by the ongoing effects of his condition.
“The combination of memory issues, face blindness (a difficulty recognising people’s faces) and worrying about seizures means that even on my good days, everything from trying to socialise to travelling on a train can be a real challenge. On my bad days the pain, fatigue and sometimes seizures mean that I simply cannot leave the house.
“My short-term memory issues make daily life very different to how it would have been. Sophie and I try to see the funny side. I’m often surprised that ‘someone’ has eaten my breakfast or magically made my coffee just how I like it - it was me, but I forgot!
“I’m often saying ‘well done’ to our toddler for dressing herself, and she’ll laugh and say ‘silly Daddy, you just dressed me!’
“It’s easier to laugh these issues off when in the safety of our home or around people who know me and are happy to help, but trying to do things out in the world can be very frustrating and sometimes scary.
“I rely on notes, my phone, photos and my family. I’ve gotten used to living with face blindness and I’m now very good at quickly trying to deduce who might be talking to me based on other clues, but it does mean that making new friends or meeting people in public places is difficult and sometimes stressful.”
Thomas received valuable support from the Headway helpline in the early stages of his recovery, and he credits the incredible support of his family and close friends for helping him through the many challenges that brain injury has thrown his way.
He said: “Having my family around every day, helping me to cope with and adjust to the challenges I faced has been a huge help. They have each cared for me after seizures, helped me to make sense of things and encouraged me to see the positives and live my best life.
“Sophie never makes me feel like a burden, even though she has to help me a lot with my memory every day. She sees me for what I can do, not what I can’t, and loves me for who I am. Obviously I love her to bits!
Our two little girls are already helping me out when I forget things and they are so caring when I’m not well. I’m so proud of them.
Around 10 years after his injury Thomas suddenly found he had regained some childhood memories, which he describes as a huge moment in his life. It was at this point that he had an idea for the plot of an adventure story and his wife encouraged him to start writing. While writing is a big challenge for Thomas, the act of formulating and tracking the plot and characters acts as a form of rehab and encourages him to keep going.
“I never thought I’d be saying this, but I’m now signed to a literary agency who are putting my first book to publishers this year,” said Thomas.
“Initially I wrote the book just for me but now that it is actually on its way to publication, I’m more passionate than ever about seeing a positive representation of brain injury in the media, and I’m thrilled to be a part of that by bringing my experiences to children’s books in an adventure story.
“It’s important to me that children can see someone with a brain injury and epilepsy and how difficult and different life can be, but also how it doesn’t define you and doesn’t stop you being the hero of your story.
“I leave a few blank pages in my books because when the hero loses a part of his life, it doesn’t stop him being the hero on the next page – he’s not lost; he’s still on the adventure.”
Alongside writing, Thomas has been working tirelessly to raise awareness of brain injury through a series of inspiring talks and interviews in the media. But as has been the case since those early days after his injury, he puts family at the heart of his plans for the future.
I’ve been a full-time dad for six years, looking after our two young daughters while my wife Sophie works full time. I’m looking forward to making many new happy memories with them as they grow up.
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