I forgot I was planning my wedding after horror car crash wiped my memory
WHEN Rebekah Nesbitt's boyfriend surprised her by getting down on one knee during a getaway to London she could hardly believe it.
From the romantic meal that night to the excited calls to family and friendshome in Belfast, it was a trip she'd always treasure.
But sadly, the 28-year-old does not a single memory of the fairy tale day back in November 2015.
Less than a year later she was involved in a horror car crash and suffered a traumatic brain injury that transformed her life in an instant.
Her memory of partner James Anderson’s proposal was gone.
“It makes me so sad, but I don’t remember my engagement at all,” says Rebekah.
It makes me so sad, but I don’t remember my engagement at all
“We had been together for four years by then, we’d bought our first home together and James, the thoughtful character that he is, whisked me away to London and proposed in Hyde Park.
“He tells me he was completely stressed out trying to find a quiet spot to ask me to marry him, and I’m so gutted I don’t remember it.
"But hopefully there are many more years to make special memories.”
Rebekah’s accident happened on a Sunday morning, back in September 2016.
The couple’s wedding was booked for the bank holiday weekend in August the following year, but sadly, that never happened.
“Before the accident everything was great,” says Rebekah.
“I had finished university and was working full time in asset recovery.
"We had bought a house two years earlier and we were planning our wedding. I felt like a lucky girl.
“Then that morning I left James off at the gym and had a car crash on my way to a horse riding lesson.
“I don’t know for a fact what happened, but I have always said I feel like I was avoiding a white and ginger cat.
"I can’t tell whether that’s the truth or something I have conjured up in my mind to make my actions make sense. I guess I’ll never know for sure.
“What happened is in the past. Now I have to focus on moving onwards and upwards, and enjoying everything my new life has to offer.”
Just 24 at the time, the catastrophic impact of the crash meant Rebekah was in a coma for almost three months.
James, then 26, sat by her bedside at Belfast’s Royal Victoria Hospital every day, sharing headphones as he played her favourite songs, hoping to make a connection with the woman he loved.
When she finally regained consciousness almost three months after the crash, she spoke her first words on Christmas Eve, with her mum by her side.
“It was the best Christmas gift for my parents,” says Rebekah.
“I must have been trying to talk previously, and mumbled the words, ‘I have no voice’ on Christmas Eve.
"But my mum was overjoyed and she said, ‘Oh Rebekah you do have a voice!’
“Strangely there wasn’t a mark on my body,” she adds. “I suppose you could say it was ‘lucky for me’ that I wasn’t harmed in any other way.
You would have thought I was sleeping peacefully if it wasn’t for the tubes
“There wasn’t a single mark apart from a very slight dent in my skull, which was from a procedure to control the swelling in my brain.
"You would have thought I was sleeping peacefully if it wasn’t for the tubes.”
And while there wasn’t a scratch on Rebekah’s body, the repercussions from her head injury have been profound.
After four months in hospital, something she says she has “zero memory of”, she was transferred to the regional brain injury unit in Belfast in January 2017 before spending nine months at a specialist rehabilitation hospital.
The day that should have been her wedding day came and went while she was there.
And like many survivors of brain injuries, Rebekah, who writes her own blog ‘Rebroken’ about her experiences, has had to learn to live with serious challenges in her life – from struggles with her memory and coordination to poor mobility and chronic fatigue.
“I have lost a lot of my independence due to the left side of my body not doing what it’s told all the time,” says Rebekah, who moved back to her parents’ home when she was discharged from hospital.
“But I’m working hard every day thanks to a brilliant physio and the support of James and my family.
"I’ve pushed further than was originally anticipated and I have no thoughts of slowing down any time soon.
“My relationship with James hasn’t really changed in how much we love each other. I would say if anything, it’s stronger. I feel more sure than ever.
It was a daunting prospect for James being told I may never talk or recognise him again, but I’m glad he believed in me enough to stay by my side
"I have faith in James as the best partner I could ever wish for. Our relationship was great before, but the love and trust is stronger now we’ve battled this together.
“It was a daunting prospect for James being told I may never talk or recognise him again, but I’m glad he believed in me enough to stay by my side.
“It’s a long journey, but we’re making it. I’d like to be walking better before getting married, so I’ll work on that goal first.”
Hope for future
James, who works in finance, is open about the struggles the couple have faced since Rebekah's crash, but remains hopeful they will still have a future together.
“One of the things that has always been so special about Rebekah is that everyone has always loved her,” he said.
“She’s just one of those people who could walk into a room and talk to anyone.
"She’s inquisitive and fun-loving, and people have always loved her.”
After meeting in 2011, the loved-up pair were a couple within a month and recently celebrated nine years together.
“With Rebekah, I just knew,” says James, now 30.
“We met in a bar and we were a proper couple really quickly. She was different from any other girl I’d met and all our values aligned.
“Proposing was terrifying. I’d asked her dad beforehand, and I bought the ring to take to London with me.
“As a couple, we have always made each other happy. We’ve laughed and had fun together, and we still do that now.”
But it's not been easy for the pair, who have received support over the years from the brain injury charity Headway.
James went through counselling in the early days after the accident to help him navigate a path through the challenges ahead.
“It still is tough in many ways,” he says. “All those months in the hospital were gruelling.
"I’d play her favourite music by Jack Johnson and these little Disney songs she loved singing.
“I don’t know if any of it helped, but it helped me feel like I was making a connection.
"For a lot of the time, the silence was horrendous, and I didn’t even know then if she’d survive.”
What is traumatic brain injury (TBI)?
Around one million people visit A&E each year following a head injury.
While the majority of these people will experience no lasting effects, many others will be left with a traumatic brain injury (TBI) that can have devastating and lifelong effects.
Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is an injury to the brain caused by a trauma to the head (head injury).
There are many possible causes, including road traffic accidents, assaults, falls and accidents at home or at work.
A brief period of unconsciousness, or just feeling sick and dizzy, may result from a person banging their head getting into the car, walking into the top of a low door way, or slipping over in the street.
It is estimated that 75-80 per cent of all head injuries fall into this category.
A moderate head injury is defined as loss of consciousness for between 15 minutes and six hours, or a period of post-traumatic amnesia of up to 24 hours.
The patient can be kept in hospital overnight for observation, and then discharged if there are no further obvious medical injuries. Patients with moderate head injury are likely to suffer from a number of residual symptoms.
Severe head injury is usually defined as being a condition where the patient has been in an unconscious state for six hours or more, or a post-traumatic amnesia of 24 hours or more.
These patients are likely to be hospitalised and receive rehabilitation once the acute phase has passed.
Depending on the length of time in coma, these patients tend to have more serious physical deficits.
And while the decision was made for Rebekah to move back to her parents’ home following the accident so James could continue to work, the couple see each other most days and the hope they share is that eventually she will be able to return full time to the house they bought together back in 2014.
“Rebekah lives here part time now, and the plan is if she can get to the stage where she’s a bit more independent, she’ll be moving home,” says James.
“She doesn’t wear her engagement ring. The day of the accident, she’d left it in the house because she was going horse riding, and it’s been here ever since.
"It lives here with me, and in my mind it’ll stay here until she lives here again.”
For now, the couple are focused on Rebekah’s health, with James taking care to look after his own wellbeing to make sure he’s in the best possible position to support her.
“I’m not going to pretend it’s easy,” he says. “It isn’t, but it does get easier in many ways.
"We still have fun. Rebekah is still that same person, she’s just had something really difficult thrown at her.
“I sometimes feel that I’m being selfish if I take myself off for a few days with the boys, but I think if I don’t look after myself then I’ll be no good to anyone.”
Rebekah added: “It’s important to speak out because before this experience, I didn’t realise what a brain injury does, and what it can take away from people.
“It’s important as well because although my speech has changed, my memory can be unreliable and I’ve lost some of my mobility, I’m still the same person with the same sense of humour and love for life.
“Many traumatic brain injury survivors are invisible, too, but they face other challenges that could never be appreciated until it happens to you.
“I have a new-found respect for anyone out there going through their own challenges, whether that’s through an injury or just what life has thrown at them.
“The support I’ve had from James and my family has been incredible, I couldn’t have done it without them.”
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