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Last Updated: Monday, 5 March 2007, 00:55 GMT
'A head injury changed my life'
By Jane Elliott
Health reporter, BBC News

Jonathan Smallman
Jonathan was involved in a head-on-collision
A split second changed the life of Jonathan Smallman.

One minute he was an army officer cadet nearing the end of training, the next he was in a head-on collision.

His car overturned and he had to be cut free.

His injuries were extensive and he was declared dead on arrival at Addenbrooke's Hospital, in Cambridge.


He survived, but for the next two years he was in and out of surgery and rehabilitation.

And, as in the recent BBC drama 'Recovery', it was the damage to his brain that proved the most long term.

When I first came round in hospital, I am told, that I was like a five or six year-old. I had lost my skills to interact
Jonathan Smallman

The powerful drama, starring David Tennant, explored the devastating impact that a brain injury can have on both the person and their family.

And Jonathan is hopeful that this sort of high profile exposure will help people understand some of what those with brain injuries go through and realise the stages that are needed to affect the best rehabilitation possible.

"Brain injuries can happen to anyone.

"They can result from strokes, brain haemorrhages, road accidents, falls and sporting injuries."

Jonathan, 42, from Eastbourne, still has no memory of the accident, which almost took his life, 20 years ago. He had to relearn his emotions and social skills.

He said that although he looked fine, his brain injuries were hidden.

"When I first came round in hospital, I am told, that I was like a five or six year-old. I had lost my skills to interact.

"Physically you seem fine, but like with David Tennant there is massive trauma inside.

"I remember in the early stages being driven into town by my mother.

"I can remember being ready to go home and yelling across the square to my mother, who was talking to somebody 'It is bloody freezing, hurry up.'

"I was oblivious to everyone else who was shopping and what they might have thought. I had lost my social skills, but to anyone else I must have just seemed very rude."


Jonathan said that although he had not experienced the severe rages portrayed by David Tennant's character that thse can be part of the coping and recovery stages.

But he said he had been impressed with the drama and in particular by the way it reflected upon the impact brain injury can at times have on the family.

Like Sarah Parish, who played the wife in the drama, Jonathan's parents and siblings had to relearn their relationship.

Jonathan's mother, Sally, said she had found the recovery period particularly frustrating and protracted.

"The next big shock was hearing that when he recovered consciousness he would be like a baby, having to go through all the development phases of growing up over weeks, months or years.

"At this my husband disappeared and cried for half-an-hour. I did not cry for over a year - I was too busy or tired; but when a silly argument made me cry I couldn't stop.

"I felt quite calm at first, but got more frustrated as time went on because it does take so long to recover in all sorts of ways.

"We had no help from professionals as to what to do next.

Jonathan Smallman
Jonathan now works with the brain injured

"At the time of his car crash he had been an Officer Cadet at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst and was in line to win the Sword-of-Honour (a military award).

"He was an independent and strong character developing a good career.

"It was therefore a heart-breaking time taking him to the Forces Medical Rehabilitation Unit and leaving him alone for the first time, now like a seven-year-old.

"If one weren't so emotionally involved it would be fascinating to watch the initial progress from baby to adult.

"My husband never doubted that Jonathan would recover but I wasn't so sure - and at that early stage nobody can tell what the recovery will be."


Jonathan, who now works for Rehab UK, which helps people with brain injuries to become socially and economically independent, said the programme had been a fantastic way of educating the public about some of the problems facing people with head injuries.

"This programme was very powerful. It was just one-and-a-half hours long, but it managed to get so many of the key points across.

"I just hope this will be the start, with many more programmes."

10m for new brain injury service
11 Jan 07 |  Cambridgeshire
'Never disregard a head injury'
11 Jul 06 |  Health


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