Ally’s story: A car accident, a coma, a new career in childcare

When Ally was 16, a car accident and a severe brain injury changed her life. She was in a coma for 66 days. She talks about her journey since.

Ally West

Ally is a bubbly, articulate 25-year-old. She grew up in Wilberforce in the Hawkesbury area on the north-western edge of Sydney with her parents, Sandra and Rodney, and older brother Greg.

“It was a lovely place to grow up, and our family is very close—we're very much in each other's lives.”

Ally went to the local public school about three minutes' walk from home. She describes herself as a fairly normal kid. She played softball when she was younger. As she got older and went on to Hawkesbury High, she stopped playing sport and hung out with friends more. She became more interested in music, movies, shopping and fashion.

The car accident

The accident was in July 2011 when Ally was in Year 11. She was with a couple of girlfriends not far from home, and one of them was driving while she was in the back seat. The car started to come off the shoulder of the road, her friend overcorrected and slammed into a telegraph pole. She doesn't remember anything about it now.

While the others were able to walk away with only bruises, Ally took the full force of the impact. She was taken to the local hospital in Windsor and then on to Westmead. She was in a coma for 66 days.

Ally had multiple broken fractures, two collapsed lungs and, most serious of all, a traumatic brain injury. While her other injuries healed, Ally's neurological recovery was slow, and she had to learn to walk and talk again.

"When I finally came home in December, I'd missed half of Year 11 but I went into Year 12 the next year—I did it mainly because I wanted to go to my school formal!" she laughs.

"I took Legal Studies and did a partial HSC. The results weren’t too bad in the end—a Band 3."

A new job opportunity

For the next two years Ally was at TAFE studying librarianship and business courses. Then in 2015, she ran into the boss of the local Out of School Hours childcare centre. She had gone there as a kid and knew her through other connections. The woman suggested Ally do some work experience at the centre.

"I fell in love with it, they offered me a job and I've been there ever since! I do one morning a week during term, and vacations as well," says Ally.

Gaining independence

A big development for Ally in the past few months has been the move into a one-bedroom granny flat on her parents' block where she now lives with her dog Bailey, a 21st birthday gift from her parents.

"My parents are amazing. They custom-built the cottage for me. I'm totally independent here, but they're next door if I need them."

Ally has regular support workers provided by Lifetime Care and manages the arrangements herself.

"One of my biggest issues is anxiety. I was a cautious person before the accident, but the brain injury has amplified it. So the support workers are more a preventative measure—to stop me having a meltdown if something unforeseen comes up."

Navigating her new life

Ally has a couple of good friends from before the accident but her anxiety stops her meeting people and going places. She is remote and can't drive herself as her vision is impaired. She doesn't feel comfortable getting into other people's cars, and public transport is not great in her area. For Ally, this limits friends.

She has ongoing issues from the injury. Balance is a problem causing her to be unsteady on her feet and left-sided hemiparesis which is a weakness in her left side. She also suffers from back pain manages this without ongoing pain medication.

“I get cognitive fatigue. I'm much better in the morning than I am later in the day. It's been nine years since the accident, and I think I've very much reached a plateau. This is me. I've learned to live with this 'me', and I know how to navigate the world with the way I am.”