Recovering from acquired brain injury

Todd holding yellow AFL ballTodd Murtha is one of our clients who is proof that you can go on to lead an independent life, look after your family, and even drive again following an acquired brain injury.

His manager on the oil rig was understandably alarmed and Todd, who was 44 at the time, was flown by air ambulance to a hospital in India. Once there it was decided he needed more specialist help and was transferred to Perth.

“My specialists told me I’d had a brain arteriovenous malformation (AVM). A cluster of blood vessels which connected arteries and veins had ruptured resulting in a bleed on the brain. They carried out keyhole surgery to settle it but told me I’d need another operation or there would be a risk of another AVM occurrence.”

Six months later Todd went in for further surgery to take the mass of blood vessels away.

“The operation didn’t go as planned and I had an emergency craniotomy on the surgery table, specialists had to open up my skull to operate. You can imagine my family was extremely worried.”

This headache was something I’d never experienced before – a searing, piercing pain. I was screaming in agony and I started throwing up.

Todd Murtha

Todd was placed in an induced coma for a month so his brain could heal. When he came out of the coma he realised the full impact of his acquired brain injury.

Todd sitting in his gardenTodd’s recovery from ABI

His extended family rallied around to support him but he emerged from his surgery a different person.

“Things were not good. I had short term memory loss, I struggled to walk and talk. I’d lost some of my peripheral vision in my right eye. My family rallied around me. I am divorced but have two teenage boys and I also look after a third boy – a stepson. They were the reason I wanted to get on the road to recovery.”

“I’d always been a very chatty outgoing person but this injury changed me. I was diagnosed with Dyspraxia which affected my verbal, oral and motor skills.”

Todd was put on a lot of medication and met with a team of health specialists at the State Head Injury Unit at Sir Charles Gardiner Hospital (link opens in new window) in Perth who devised a rehabilitation program.

“That’s when I was referred to VisAbility. I wanted my independence back, my ultimate wish was to drive again. I didn’t enjoy relying on public transport as I felt vulnerable.”

Learning to drive again

In order to drive again, Todd needed to improve his periphery vision along with his co-ordination and mobility skills. Todd met with our occupational therapist Donna.

“Todd was referred to us in November 2017. I met with him fortnightly to give him the skills and techniques to manage his vision difficulties on his right side,” Donna explains.

“It was clear from very early on that he wanted to pass his assessment to drive again. With an acquired brain injury you can feel isolated.”

“We needed an approach to encompass techniques to improve his memory and cognitive skills as well as improving his visual techniques. Plus we needed to help him get back behind the wheel of a car again,” adds Donna.

Todd was very determined, he’d set himself personal goals. During the ninety minute sessions, he remained focused.

“Donna encouraged me to undertake exercises with a light board to improve my sight. She also gave me techniques to help me compensate for my loss of peripheral vision. We went over skill strategies many times, it was repetitive, but this was needed because of my memory loss.”

“When you have an acquired brain injury, it can knock your confidence quite dramatically, but Donna was incredibly supportive.”

Todd standing next to upright blue surfboardLooking after his family

Todd is no longer receiving services from VisAbility and is enjoying life at home but may come back to us in the future. He is the main carer for his two teenage boys and a stepson. Always a keen sportsman, Todd has joined a rehabilitation gym and has recently bought a paddle board.

“I find this helps with my balance, it’s a step towards reaching my next goal which is to get back on a surf board. I love surfing and can’t wait to ride the waves.”

With VisAbility’s help Todd was assessed for his sight, and is now driving again.

“I will always suffer with short term memory loss, but I am making progress. It’s been hard to accept that in my mid-forties I have had to learn many things from scratch again. But I’m here to tell my journey, you know I really am fortunate to be alive.”

How to get support

If you’d like to know more about low vision services we offer to individuals who’ve experienced acquired brain injuries, (ABI) we have an experienced team of specialists to help you to lead a full life once more.

Please complete the form below to make an initial enquiry. Our Client Experience Team will contact you to discuss your individual needs both now and into the future.

If you are a provider and wish to refer a client, please use our low vision medical certificate (online referral form) to make your referral.

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