Jess's story: from brain injury to motherhood

Jess barely survived a terrible accident when she was 17. She is now the proud mother of a small boy.

Jess and partner Ben

Jess is a Lifetime Care participant and lives with her partner Ben on the outskirts of Armidale, on a large family hobby farm overlooking rolling green farmland and bush.

A passion for music

Jess grew up with her mum Emily and grandmother Cathy. Her parents separated early and she has never really known her father. Both her mum and grandmother are musicians. Her mum is a singer as well  as a music and drama teacher.

Jess got a scholarship to Presbyterian Ladies College in Armidale. But when the music teacher left she found she wasn't enjoying school as much. She went to a Steiner school for a while and eventually to Armidale High. She enjoyed it there, especially drama and art, but it was music that was really her main thing.

"I was in a choir my grandma conducted and the choir went overseas one year, to England and France. All my friends were in the choir and we started to get a band together, a folk band called 'Turkish Delights'. My main instruments were cello and percussion. We played gigs at the Woodford Folk Festival and in Tamworth when I was 15 and 16."

"It was a good childhood. I was happy and wanted to be a music therapist."

Year 11 party

Everything changed for Jess in October 2007. At the end of Year 11 she was at a party with her best friends and having a great time. A group of them hopped in a car to drive to the service station.

"But we never got there. My friend didn't see a semi-trailer and turned in front of it."

Jess sustained the worst injuries of the group and had to be resuscitated five times by paramedics. She had multiple fractures, a punctured lung and, most worrying of all, a traumatic brain injury. She spent a month at Tamworth Hospital, including more than a week in a coma, and then another three months in rehab in Sydney.

"Mum and Grandma came down to Sydney and stayed in a little flat near the hospital. They'd come across and visit every morning. I don't remember a lot from that time. Every day I went to the gym and saw the occupational therapists and speech pathologists. The injury was mainly to the language part of my brain. I even forgot my name and how to write. I had to start learning that all over again."

For some months Jess spoke in jargon, made-up nonsense words. She had lost most nouns and couldn't name things properly. She couldn't smell, taste, or even cry.

"I was depressed and just wanted to be home."

Return of speech

Back in Armidale Jess continued her therapy. She became one of the first people to join icare's Lifetime Care scheme.

Her bones healed and her speech came back but the brain injury meant she was often very tired and had trouble understanding what she heard and read. She went back to school to finish Year 12.

"I couldn't do things that most of my friends were doing like reading, writing and maths. I ended up alone in a literacy and numeracy class."

Before the accident she had lots of friends but many of them dropped away. Her band Turkish Delight disbanded. Jess struggled with her mood, there was a period where she was chronically sad and anxious.

“As a younger kid, Jess had always such a drive to be part of life. We were so lucky that drive was still there. She just wanted to be involved, and that really helped her recovery.”
Jess's mum, Emily

Luckily Jess's musical skills were not badly impaired by the injury and she was able to return to playing and performing.

Meeting Ben

Since the accident Jess has studied a Teacher's Aide Special Education TAFE course, taught music at two local preschools and given talks about her experience at school road-safety programs.

Seven years ago Jess met Ben, a cinematographer and scriptwriter with his own business. She told him about the accident and the brain injury quite early in the relationship.

"He wasn't fazed by it at all. And he also plays guitar  and sings. So that’s a bonus!" says Jess.

Ben says Jess's comprehension and memory are getting better all the time. She still finds reading hard work and, in a room with fast, overlapping conversations she can find it harder than most to process the information.

Jess and Ben designed and built a house on the property where he grew up. Ben's parents and his brother's family all live on the property too.

"We call it the family commune," says Ben. "My two older kids also spend a lot of time here, and Jess gets on well with my ex. So it's a happy place!"

The accident is more than 13 years behind Jess now. Two years ago, she gave birth to their son Joey.

"She is really great as a mother," says Ben. "A natural!"

"Originally Jess's fatigue was something we were worried about," he says. "But icare have been great. In Joey's early days they provided us with cleaners and other help so that Jess could just focus on Joey. But Joey is a good sleeper and we don't need that help now."

An app to keep track

Jess says she is pretty good at working out medications and reading baby-related stuff. She uses an app where she can record what the baby has eaten, and when she has given him Panadol and other things. If Joey's crying she can check back on the app where she is up to.

Jess and Joey have joined a group of other mums and their babies. Last year Joey and her were doing mini-minstrels every Thursday morning at 9:30, singing, playing instruments and reading books.

New cello

Jess bought herself a new cello before she had Joey to encourage herself to keep playing. It's a beautiful instrument.

Although she misses work a bit and the people and the fun, she doesn't want to go back yet.

"I just look forward to spending every day with Joey, teaching him. I feel that things are pretty complete right now, I'm not missing anything. I'm not missing studying, I'm studying Joey! Maybe later on I'll study or I'll go back to work."

“Sometimes I think I should be better than I am. But then I tell myself, that's who I am and that's OK. It took me a long time to get here, but I'm happy in my life.”


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