Daljinder’s story: strength and determination

At the age of 18, Daljinder came to Australia to study engineering. A bad car accident and traumatic brain injury derailed his plans. But he never gave up. Daljinder is a Lifetime Care participant

Daljinder grew up in Punjab in north-west India as part of a large extended family. Every year his family, including uncles, aunts and cousins would holiday in one of the Indian hill stations where the climate was cooler.

“When I was younger I used to help my dad in his electrical services shop and I’d also go with him to building sites, watch the construction and chat to the builders,” says Daljinder. “I think I always wanted to be an engineer.”  

Study in Australia

In 2012, when Daljinder finished high school, his father encouraged him to study civil engineering in Sydney where Daljinder’s older brother and cousin were already living.

“My school results were good and I was accepted into the University of Sydney. There were not so many Indians at university then and it took me 6 to 12 months to feel settled.”

Daljinder got a job working in an Indian restaurant in Bega on the South Coast.

“I’d go down every weekend – 5 hours each way – and also work there during the holidays. It was a good job and I didn’t mind the travel.”

But Daljinder was hit by family tragedy when, early in his second university year, his father died suddenly of a stroke.

“I felt my world almost broke. My father had always encouraged me, and had urged me to come to Australia.”

Roo on the road

His father’s death at first affected Daljinder’s studies, and he had to repeat a semester. Then, in September 2015, his third year at university, Daljinder was driving with his cousin back to Sydney from Wagga. “We were outside Gundagai, he was driving and I was asleep. Suddenly there was a kangaroo on the road. My cousin swerved to avoid it but crashed into a parked truck.”

Daljinder had skull and other fractures, damage to his left optic nerve and a traumatic brain injury.

“I’ve got no memory of the accident or the period around it. I was in a coma for 10 weeks. The doctors couldn’t tell my mum, who was there with me the whole time, if I was going to be OK, or even survive.

“I was in Canberra Hospital for 3 months and then the Liverpool Brain Injury Unit for rehab for another 3. By that stage I was walking, but my left arm had been so badly broken I felt I would never to be able to use my elbow again.

“I moved from the brain unit to a transitional living unit about a kilometre from the hospital. I walked to the hospital every day.

“That time I even failed their walk test. The nurse and OT monitoring me reported that I was walking into trees!” Almost 10 months after the accident, Daljinder was able to return home to the unit in Revesby that he shared with his cousin.

Daljinder says that his medical specialists advised him that given the level of his brain injury he shouldn’t return to university study too soon.

But he was determined to complete his degree – “I wanted to finish the course for my father who I believe is watching me from up there.”

He went back to university in 2017 – to do just one unit – but when he failed that unit the university excluded him.  


It was a bad period for Daljinder. Although he had recovered from most of his physical injuries, he was in a poor state mentally and was seeing his psychologist weekly.

“I was really angry and sad. I felt I hadn’t been given a proper chance and that if I couldn’t do the degree then I didn’t want to live anymore. At one stage the police even came to check on my welfare.”

Daljinder persisted. He applied for as many engineering courses as he could and was accepted by Western Sydney University where he started part-time in 2018.

“It was hard. Hard to concentrate, hard to focus. And I had very little sight in my left eye. But the university was very supportive.”

Not only did Daljinder graduate as a civil engineer in 2022, he graduated with honours – almost 10 years after he’d first started his degree. His final thesis was on the use of lightweight foam concrete which creates fewer carbon emissions.

2022 was a big year for Daljinder. He was also a semi-finalist in the NSW Young Achiever Awards receiving media coverage for his determination to finish his degree while still living with the effects of a severe brain injury.

Over the last few years Daljinder has had 3 internships organised through the Australian Network on Disability (AND).

“AND has been great in helping me get access to big engineering firms. I especially enjoyed my 3 months with the Hunter Water Corporation. It was a very supportive team and I learnt a lot.”  

Legacy of injury

Daljinder now lives in Milperra in western Sydney with his mum, who spends most of her year in Australia, and his brother and cousin. He still lives with the legacy of the accident.

“I have very little sight in my left eye, my balance and my left elbow are still a problem, and I can’t remember faces easily. I don’t have any sense of hunger or smell and so I need to remember to eat.

“And I’m still on anti-depressants – but I think they’re working OK.”

Daljinder has a few thoughts that keep him moving forward.

“Hope is the first step to a positive and happy life, but better than hope is acceptance. I have accepted that what has happened to me has been given to me by God and I must live with it. Since no one has control over an accident I am just thankful I have been granted a second life.”

In September Daljinder started his first job as a graduate engineer. He will be working in the design team for a large renewable energy project. He is over the moon. “I’m confident I can perform well because I told them in the interview about my brain injury and I succeeded in the recruitment process.”

It’s early days but Daljinder is enjoying the work and says that his manager and the team are all very supportive.

“I keep reminding myself that when I was in rehab I was given 5 words each morning to recall at the end of the day and I used to fail every time. And now I’m a full-time civil engineer.

“It was a long journey, but what got me through it was hope and acceptance.”

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