21 years ago, Stephen sustained life-changing injuries after falling 25 feet from a cherry picker at work. He describes Headway Nottingham as being like a lifeguard, saving him from drowning in disabilities. As Stephen shares his story, the future of the charity that supports him hangs in the balance. 

It was 21 years ago. I had applied for the Royal Airforce and I was awaiting the result of my first interview.  My best mate said to me “come and work for me, come and work for my company, it’s good money”.  I needed the money because me and my ex-wife had just got married, so I went for a job with him. 

That’s where it all started and was when my life was turned upside down.

At the job we were always looking to create space, so we’d moved boxes of bikes to the back of the warehouse, up high, but one day an order came in for one.  I had to fetch the cherry picker and pull it over to the stack of bikes.  I had no safety gear, no harness, no hard hat. But up I went, all the way to the top of the warehouse, to fetch a box.  Unfortunately the weight of pulling the box backwards toppled me over and I came off the platform, straight down – splat – onto the floor.  Thank goodness the box didn’t land on me or I wouldn’t be here now – it missed me by a couple of inches.

So that was when I had my head injury.  It was from a 25ft fall at work.  

I was sent to hospital and was in a coma for two months and during that time my sister would move my limbs and wash me. Mum said there were loads of doctors around at one time.  They were all around me talking, and one day they recommended to my mum that the machine that was keeping me alive was turned off. They said I was unlikely to come out of the unconscious state I was in. Only one doctor out of the whole lot said ‘be patient, have faith, just wait with him’. 

During the time in the general hospital I had assessments for specialist places for people in comas – they honestly thought I wasn’t going to make it. When someone’s in a coma hospital staff will measure how responsive they are using a Glasgow Coma Scale and the higher score you get, the better you are. My score was only 3 out of 15, which shows how poorly I was.


I’ve only just realised that when you’re in a coma you breathe through tubes. While in hospital I had that [points to a tracheotomy scar on his throat] and once I started to breathe through it the hospital called my ex-wife and my mum.  I’d done it by myself and it was a really big thing. 

After ten months in the general hospital I was moved to a unit in Northampton. 

While I was there I had toileting training and relearned to walk, getting me out of the wheelchair. I had told the doctors before that I would walk again and they told me I probably wouldn’t, and I said ‘yes I will’.  What got me to walk again was being so determined and repeating to myself again and again ‘I will walk again. I will walk again’ like a broken record. I kept that in the front of my mind the whole time I was in the rehab unit.

With that came frustration. I was upset when I fell over because I thought I wasn’t making progress, but I was.  It took me a year and a half to learn to walk about a metre. I went from a wheelchair, to a frame, to crutches, to walking. Three lots of physio, five days a week, every week, constantly. I was so pleased to have left there and I said to my ex-wife ‘I’ve done it, I’ve done it’ and she said ‘no you haven’t, that was just the tip of the iceberg’.  I’d been desperate to get out and go back to normal, but at the time I didn’t understand that recovery happens in stages and now know I’m still recovering to this day.

It’s only now that I realise that relearning to walk and go to the loo wasn’t the hardest part of my recovery, that was the easiest part. The hardest part is the bit I’m doing now. 

My struggle is that my attention is poor still and I rush around so much and I should slow down so I don’t hurt myself.  I have a lot of fatigue, that really gets on my nerves, I hate it, can’t stand it.  I also have disinhibition, because I’ve had a smack to the front of my brain.  You see when you hit your brain, it’s not just the impact that does the damage.  The brain shakes inside the skull and it bruises.

I went to a second rehabilitation unit and they worked with me psychologically, on impulse control, problem-solving and on my behaviour.  I was there for four years and then I was allowed to go home.  


Then I found Headway. I see my future at Headway.

They’ve helped me so much and I want to help them. It’s like a lifeguard situation, when someone’s drowning in the swimming pool, the lifeguard jumps in with a rubber ring and saves them. That’s Headway. That’s their job and they stopped me from drowning.

What Headway do for people, they haven’t got to do it, but it’s the love and support that they give, it’s really great. 

I need to listen to the Support Workers and use that to keep moving forward.  Headway can help me to have a better life but it’s up to me to listen to their advice and work with it. Sometimes that’s a challenge but I need their help to feel better.  No one can do that work for me, but Headway help me learn how to improve. 

I value everything about Headway. Everything I get out of just leading a normal life, Headway has given me.

One of the things we’re learning about is cyber security and keeping safe. I also go to Creative Writing on a Tuesday and I love that, I think it’s great. Headway has a family-orientated atmosphere.  It’s a lifeline to have somewhere to go where everyone understands our disabilities. Everyone has a chance to have a laugh and a joke and we all need that. We’re all living this together and everyone is so welcome. The staff are great too. It’s so great to come here for the social side, people are so friendly. I mean, there isn’t a bad word I could say about Headway. I know that I can always share any problems I’ve got with Headway.

What I enjoy the most about the classes I get to go to at Headway is the process of learning.  I’m learning to be creative and the creative side of me is coming out. Some of the writing I’ve done… it’s made me think differently about me and what I can achieve. 

If I could change anything about Headway, what would I change?  Nothing. That’s the answer. Nothing.

If I was speaking to someone just like I was 21 years ago, I would tell them to never give up. Always look on the bright side of life, because when you fall down you get up, over and over.  There is a positive and I’m trying, with Headway’s help, to keep going and keep getting back up again. It’s so important that people know there can be laughter and positivity after a brain injury. We have that at Headway.


I want to get involved with helping Headway now – with what they’ve done for me since I’ve had my head injury and I’m always wanting to do something to help.  I think they’re a great charity.

I want my experiences to help other people cope after their injuries the way Headway has helped me. I’d like other people to see that if I can recover, they can recover too. Please don’t feel sorry for people with head injuries, just understand what we’ve been through and help us if you can. 

In case you were wondering, when I was in my coma my ex-wife had a phone call from the Air Force to say that I had been accepted to move on to the next part of the interview process. 

To help you look on the bright side of life, here’s a joke for you… my pet parrot died yesterday. He was overweight, so thank goodness. That’s a weight off my shoulder.

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