Jan Luxton

'I've forgotten two birthdays and a Christmas'

by Jan Luxton

In December 2013, former carer Jan Luxton, 31 and from Chatham, in Kent, was involved in a car accident that left her with head injuries and caused severe anterograde amnesia.

'Why can't I remember?'

Paramedics had to cut Jan out of the car when in crashed in Gillingham before rushing her to Kings College Hospital, in London.

"The last thing I remember is driving my car and I was fine," Jan recalled.

"I remember sending a text to my husband who has later checked the time the text was sent on his phone. I have about 20 seconds of memory from around 40 minutes before the accident but, after that, nothing. To this day, I still can't understand why, if I can remember those 20 seconds, why can't I remember crashing my car?"

Jan was rushed, unconscious, to King's College Hospital where she received emergency treatment and was placed in a medically induced coma for three days.

"Even when I slowly regained consciousness following my brain injury, it was clear to those around me that I was suffering from significant changes in my behaviour and mannerisms," said Jan.

Jan's traumatic brain injury also left her with anterograde amnesia, which causes her to struggle with building new memories after her major brain trauma. Even today, Jan faces ongoing memory problems as a result of her injury.

'Complete role reversal'

"I began a long and arduous journey of recovery," said Jan. "When I was discharged from hospital, it became obvious that I was suffering from major memory loss.

"Brain injury has affected everything. As I've changed so much as a person, going back to being a carer just wouldn't suit me.

"Everyday life is totally different following the accident. There's been a complete role reversal in the house. Tasks I would do such as cooking and cleaning are now completed by my husband.

"Since my brain injury, I've had two birthdays of which I have no re-collection whatsoever," said Jan. "I always joke that I'd better have got good presents!

"In addition to birthdays, I have forgotten Christmas, parties, and even a holiday, but I can cope with this change in my life. I've got photos to fill in the blanks and remind me of those special times. Having said that, it is very strange when my brain injury causes me to think that I am 28 but I am actually 31!!"

'Memory book is my timeline'

Three months after sustaining her brain injury, Jan discovered Headway South East London and North West Kent (SELNWK) who provided her with advice, information and ongoing practical and emotional support.

"Headway SELNWK has given me great ongoing support," said Jan, who is now a volunteer at the Headway for Medway drop-in sessions in Gillingham.

"I began attending support sessions with the charity almost two years ago, and the staff and members have been invaluable to my rehabilitation, often by reminding me that I'm not alone. The charity creates a safe space where I can talk about my problems without being judged.

"Starting to volunteer at Headway SELNWK was also a fantastic move, as it gives me a routine after my brain injury, and helps rebuild my confidence in social settings alongside others who are in a similar position to me."

Three years later, Jan still suffers with severe short-term memory loss but, with the support of Headway and her sister, she has begun to started using techniques that help her manage this challenge.

"My sister recently made me a 'memory book' which contains photos, stories, old Facebook statuses, and anything else that I may have forgotten that was a big event for our family," said Jan. "I carry it around to help me remember things as she has kindly put everything in date order to help me build a coherent timeline of key events.

"The album really helps me as I can see a map of memories, all in the one place, and it gives me a picture of what I've been up to. I can look at it all the time and realise that I haven't 'missed' things – I just don't remember them, but I was there and I obviously have had some good times." 

Giving something back 

Last year, Jan joined with 40 charity fundraisers and abseiled 265ft down the ArcelorMittal Orbit tower at the Olympic Park in Stratford, London, to raise funds for Headway SELNWK.

"I decided to take part in the abseil so that I could raise money and give something back to Headway," said Jan.

"It feels good to be able to say to new people who join our charity that I understand how challenging brain injury can be. I feel like I'm helping Headway but they are also helping me.

"So far I've achieved the things I wanted to by setting small goals for myself. When I'm ready to begin working again, I will still continue to volunteer at Headway SELNWK."

"The money raised from the abseil will go towards supporting our Medway hub. It's good to know that the friends that I have made at the group, plus all new people joining, will benefit from these extra funds.

"While I was both nervous and excited about the abseil, I'm definitely a thrill-seeker and this was my way of saying 'thank you Headway South East London and North West Kent!' for all their support."