Claire Clark is a 40-year-old Assistant Producer at Face TV, Basingstoke, who is happily married with two bright daughters: Bonnie and Amelie. In October 2014, when she and her family were walking home following an assembly at Amelie’s school, Claire was struck by a motorcycle that had lost control and mounted the pavement. When the land ambulance crew arrived, and discovered Claire had a severe brain injury, they quickly realised that she needed the expert skills of the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Air Ambulance Critical Care Team. Six years on, Claire is raising money for HIOWAA by shaving her hair and baring her scars. Below Claire tells her story.
My husband had taken the day off work to see our eldest daughter, Amelie, in a school assembly about the pirates project she had been working on – she was just five years old at the time. Following the assembly, the four of us, plus Amelie’s best friend, walked home. As it was a dry day we stopped at the park on the way.
Almost home, we safely crossed the road at the traffic lights and were walking along a wide pavement. A motorcyclist lost control of his bike. He fell off and the bike continued travelling, mounting the kerb onto the pavement. The bike took my feet from under me and caused me to fall backwards landing on the back of my head and fracturing my skull. My husband and the children saw everything that happened. It all occurred so quickly they had no time to warn me and get out of the bike’s way. My husband and children were terribly shocked. I was on the floor with blood flowing from my head. They feared the worst: I would die lying on the path.
From that moment, I was completely unconscious. I do not remember feeling anything physically or emotionally and have no memory of the event at all.
A pedestrian walking on the other side of the road called for an ambulance. The land ambulance crew arrived and, having assessed me, called for the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Air Ambulance Critical Care Team, roughly 15 minutes after it had happened. The Air Ambulance landed in King George V playing field, 200 metres from the accident site.
I do not remember the Air Ambulance trip at all, which is a shame, but the team saved my life by taking action at such speed. Had it not been for the Air Ambulance taking me from Basingstoke to the University Hospital Southampton Neurology Department, I would have died due to the pressure and bleed on my brain. The surgeons had to perform a craniotomy, the surgical removal of part of the bone from the skull, to allow the brain to swell.
The initial recovery in hospital took around four weeks. I spent approximately two weeks in an Intensive Care Unit, nine days of which I was in an induced coma and attached to life support equipment, before being moved to the Neurology Ward. I was unable to retain information I was being told, speak clearly or walk. From there, I was transferred to Basingstoke and North Hampshire Hospital where I was under observation in the Stroke Ward. My friends and family helped me to develop my speech when they came to visit, and I was bed bound due to my brain being protected by only skin and bandages.
When I was discharged from hospital, I continued my recovery at home ensuring I was healthy enough to have my skull flap replaced.
The cranioplasty was a success, but it took me weeks, months and, in some cases, years to regain as much of the old “me” as possible.
The head trauma I suffered caused a list of cognitive issues: memory loss, mood swings, anxiety, fatigue, bladder control, loss of smell, word recall and speech difficulties. The week leading up to the accident, and the accident itself, has been erased completely from my memory. For my daughter’s pirates project there was a special pirate party lunch, so I sent her to school with a sandwich shaped as a ship. I cannot remember these details. I only remembered the sandwich when I scrolled through my phone’s Camera Roll.
It was all particularly hard on my husband and children. My husband and eldest daughter have since been treated for PTSD. Our daughters were still so young and needed the care I used to be able to give them, but I had to recover and care for myself before I could care for them. My husband had to juggle work, being a parent and caring for me. But we all adapted.
My outlook on life has changed in every way. From how I approach life to how thankful I am for the good, kind, patient people I have around me.
From the outside I look like a normal, healthy, 40-year-old, although a bit tired in appearance due to the ever-present fatigue I continue to live with. Cognitive injuries can be invisible. However, under my hair are scars that tell my story. I would like to shave my hair to bare my scars, tell my story and show my appreciation of Hampshire and Isle of Wight Air Ambulance. Without them I would not be telling my story today.
Through baring my scars, I would love to raise money that will help benefit those who may need this vital service in the future.