'My story isn't over yet'
by Anna Khan
Best friends Anna Khan and her twin sister Lauren have been inseparable since birth. Whether it be giving each other advice or sharing a passion for music concerts, shopping and family time, the duo have been together every step of the way.
But when Anna aged 21, and from Sheffield, was hit by a car and sustained a traumatic brain injury in December 2015, the hidden long-term effects of a serious head injury put great strain on the sisters' friendship.
Determined to reduce the number of road traffic collisions, Anna now tells her story below to urge pedestrians and drivers alike to be more observant.
"Before my accident, I loved spending time with my family and college mates," said Anna. "I was a very happy and confident girl.
"Like any other 20-year-old, I went to college, worked part-time in a local store, and had my own car as I was taking driving lessons."
Living in Sheffield with her dad, step-mum, step-brother, two step-sisters and biological twin sister Lauren, Anna was studying for a HND in Graphic Design and her driving test had been booked around two weeks before the accident.
"We were all living in one house together and I was always a strong, happy, and independent person who enjoyed learning and supporting others" said Anna.
"Going out for drinks and meals with my family, travelling by myself, and shopping with my sisters were the norm. About a month before my accident, my siblings and I went to a concert and met the artist, however I now struggle to remember that day."
From concert to coma
On the 10th off December 2015, Anna was walking home with her siblings after watching a show at their college when she was hit by a car. Thrown across the bonnet, Anna's head made contact with the floor and she sustained a serious traumatic brain injury.
"At 8pm, we all headed home by bus," Anna recalled."Around 9pm, we got off our bus to walk the final stretch home. By 10pm, I was in an induced coma in Hospital.
"My brother crossed the road safely. After he had crossed, I began to follow but, due to a bus restricting my view, I only got halfway across the road when the car hit me. I was thrown into the air before smashing against the driver's screen and rolling over the vehicle's bonnet. My head hit the floor."
Anna was rushed to hospital by an ambulance where she spent one month in an induced coma before she slowly beginning to regain consciousness. Anna remained for a week in the critical care unit as she had a broken leg, fractured face and hip, punctured lungs and, most worrying, a serious head injury. She was then transferred to a different hospital for yet another month of recovery.
'Thankfully I remembered my family'
"Thankfully, I was able to remember my family and twin sister without any problems after my head injury," Anna recalled. "They helped me to move around the hospital while my broken leg was still healing.
"I do not remember any of my days in hospital. Everything I know is what my family has since told me. The last thing I can remember after my injury is one day at the rehabilitation centre around February time. I can remember waking up and being very confused about everything.
"When I regained my bearings, I was disorientated to discover that it was 2016 as my accident happened in 2015. Remembering things and places was a struggle, with some memories from before the accident being blurred."
Anna's brain injury meant she was forced to spend January 2016 to March 2016 at a rehabilitation centre undergoing an intensive programme of care ranging from physiotherapy to speech support and occupational therapy.
'I hold a lot of anger inside'
On the 22nd off March 2016, Anna was finally well enough to return to her family's home in Sheffield.
"The difficult thing was that, as my father spent every day with me at the hospital, his partner and her children left our home and got their own house," said Anna.
"This caused me to blame my accident for their split up, and I built up a lot of anger inside. It meant I also never really got to see my step-family very often either, though I could still remember them after my brain injury.
"Suddenly, there was only my dad, twin-sister, younger sister, and myself living in our home. It was quite a change from our usual big, bustling household."
After a few months, in October 2016, the Khan family moved from Sheffield to Scotland where other members of their family are based.
"I found moving to a new area very difficult as it's unknown terrain," Anna explained.
"It distresses me and I feel my family certainly picked up on my emotions. Even now, I struggle with the bustle when there's a lot of people in our house. I miss my home and two brothers who are still in Sheffield but hope that, with help, I can visit them.
"Keeping up with conversations is a big challenge if the pace is too fast or filled with a lot of information. I'm happier when there are only one or two people talking at a time or else I can't keep track and get upset.
"Time to myself throughout the day helps to boost my energy and mood. Having a sleep during the day, that helps with managing fatigue after brain injury."
Relationship with sisters changed
Despite making a good recovery, Anna found the hidden effects of brain injury put pressure on her close relationship with her sisters.
"My relationship with certain people in my family has definitely changed since my accident," said Anna. "I used be very, very close to my two sisters, supporting them in ways which I cannot do now. I'm not as strong as I used to be and can't talk to them like I used to. Supporting them is tough as I am too busy fixing myself.
"Hearing my sisters compare the two versions of me was painful. Comments such as 'we used to be so close before the accident' hurt because it upsets me that our friendships have been impacted by my brain injury.
"My brother and sister took me to a concert recently, like the old days, but the lights, crowd, singer, and instruments were all too much for me. After 15mins, I got very upset and angry with myself.
"As a family we have worked together to make things okay between us, and we have now regained our closeness."
'My future looks positive'
Determined to work through her life challenges after brain injury, Anna now plans to complete her HND in Graphic Design, but also wants to rediscover new life passions.
"My future plans certainly involve finishing my education," said Anna. "But also finding out what I enjoy doing as I no longer enjoy the hobbies I once loved before my accident.
"In March 2017, I'll begin more rehabilitation support and start an Open Learning course. Studying at home will enable me to read in my own time and find out how I can cope with studying following my head injury. My future looks very positive and will definitely get better for me."
'Give yourself time'
"I would love to tell anybody else who has sustained a head injury and is still recovering like myself to just give yourself time," Anna continued. "It can be hard and a dark place but there is always positively in your recovery, and you are never alone. Give yourself time to heal and the journey does get easier.
"Talking about my issues with family, friends or the Headway helpline if you want a confidential external view are vital tools in recovery. Don't let problems build up inside. Talk about how you're feeling."
Road safety: 'Be observant'
Now, Anna has a clear message for all drivers and pedestrians alike.
"Please do be more observant of each other when driving or walking on roads," Anna warns. "This is especially the case at night time when visibility is limited. One unexpected moment can change your life in an instant.
"My accident was very sudden and unexpected, and it only took a few steps to change mine and my family's lives in an instant. Please remember this when on the roads. I was hit by a car travelling at approx 40mph and, thankfully, I survived it. Not everyone is so lucky.
"Like many others affected by brain injury, I still have a long, difficult but exciting journey ahead of me. But I've found that, once you rebuild your confidence, you will find that you are survivor and begin to notice that people are actually inspired by you, which brings a feeling of happiness inside."