Crash Survivors Helping to Save Young Lives

Crash Survivors Helping to Save Young Lives

Crash Survivors Helping to Save Young Lives

Two young car crash survivors will address more than 12,000 high school students from across NSW and the ACT at the revolutionary Australian Youth and Road Trauma Forum in a bid to drastically reduce the country's shocking road toll.

27 year old Naomi and 24 year old Jarrad are both survivors of horrific accidents and spent months in rehabilitation after narrowly escaping a brush with death. Both Naomi and Jarrad received traumatic brain injuries as a result of their accidents. They are passionate about sharing their life changing experiences in the hope of saving young lives.

'A brain injury is for life and will never fully repair,' says Jarrad from Kellyville in Sydney.
Jarrad suffered Post Traumatic Amnesia (PTA) for one hundred days following his crash. PTA refers to a state of confusion following a traumatic brain injury leaving him completely disorientated and unable to remember anything after the injury. In addition to the brain damage sustained, Jarrad suffers from double vision, increased bladder function, poor hand-eye coordination and his balance has also been affected. He was unable to continue to play all the sports he loved before his crash and had to give up his career as a plumber.

Naomi's accident three years ago was so severe she has absolutely no recollection of the incident; nor does the lady driving the vehicle that ran in to her Mazda 121 at 100 kilometres an hour.
The impact of the accident split Naomi's car in half down the side, snapping the two front seats backwards and throwing her from the front of her car to the back.
'Even though I had my seatbelt on, if there is no seat to hold you to with the seatbelt, it doesn't do anything,' says Naomi from Valley Heights in Sydney.

In 2008 1,464 people were killed in road crashes in Australia and of these 465 (31%) were aged between 17 and 25.
'The number of young people involved in serious road crashes is too high,' says Stephanie Wilson, Trauma Coordinator for Sydney West Area Health Service.
'The purpose of the Forum is to educate young drivers about all aspects of road safety as well as to show them what can happen to them,' continues Stephanie.

Teenagers will witness dramatic scenes of simulated road crashes at the Forum providing them with a realistic view of the consequences of road trauma.

'We use a realist re-enactment that could be confrontational to some, but this works,' says Stephanie. 'The results of a study undertaken on the Forum show that students retained key messages six months later about the serious consequences of crashes and about their responsibility to ensure their own and other people's safety on the road.'

In its fifth year the Forum holds a dual purpose of having a cost benefit outcome for the health system and other associated business areas. Road crashes are traumatic events that can result in permanent disability, ongoing medical conditions requiring extensive treatment and a shortened life expectancy.
Open to students in years 10-12, the Forum is organised by Sydney's Westmead Hospital Trauma Service and is co-funded by The Balnaves Foundation.

Australian Youth and Road Trauma Forum
Date: Tuesday 24-Thursday 26 August 2010
Session Times: 10.00am-2.00pm
Venue: ACER Arena, Homebush Bay, Sydney
Open to: All year 10 - year 12 government and non-government high school students from around NSW and ACT

Established in 2006, the Australian Youth and Road Trauma Forum has been set up by trauma nurses at Sydney's Westmead Hospital. The Forum gives students who are most at risk, a realistic look at the trauma caused by road crashes and provides them information and strategies in an attempt to reduce serious injuries and deaths. The Forum's contents and structure aims to treat young people as adults allowing them freedom to choose from a range of interactive exhibits. The Forum runs over three days and includes a realistic reconstructed car crash involving victims, police, ambulance and fire personnel followed by true-life stories from young people who have sustained a traumatic brain injury due to road trauma. The Forum consists of an exciting combination of demonstrations, crash dynamics and rescue, vehicle stopping distances and active exhibits.

Included at the Forum will be displays relating to youth trauma and safety from:
  • Westmead Hospital's Emergency Department
  • Westmead Hospital Brain Injury Unit
  • Brain Injury Association
  • Organ and Tissue Donation
  • Community Drug Action Team
  • NSW Police
  • NSW Fire Brigade
  • NSW Ambulance Service
  • Careflight
  • St John Ambulance
  • Red Cross
  • Trent Driving School Simulations
  • NRMA Motoring & Services
  • V8 Supercar driver Colin Seiders
  • Wheelchair Sports NSW
  • Volvo
  • NSW Lions Eye Bank
  • ParaQuad
  • Subaru

    For further information, visit

    The Balnaves Foundation is a private philanthropic organisation which provides philanthropic support to charitable enterprises across Australia. Established by Neil Balnaves in 2006, The Balnaves Foundation disperses over $2 million annually supporting eligible organisations that aim to create a better Australia through education, medicine and the arts with a focus on young people, the disadvantaged and Indigenous communities.

    The Balnaves Foundation is co-funding the Australian Youth and Road Trauma Forum by providing $100,000 to the project. The Foundation recognises that driver education and awareness is critical in working to reduce the rate of crashes and deaths on our roads; particularly by those who are most at risk - young people.

    For further information visit

    Interview with Naomi Deck

    Naomi is a 27 year old, car crash survivor.

    Can you talk about your accident and what happened?

    Naomi Deck: I was on my way home from University to get changed to work in the maternity ward and I don't know what happened, so this is just what I have been told by the serious crash investigation team. I was in a 100 zone and it was raining. The Serious Crash Investigation Unit thinks that I had my own accident, lost control and my car was stationary across the road and another lady, came along at 100km and t-boned me.

    I lost control of my vehicle because of the torrential rain, I was driving a Mazda 121, a little bubble car and when you get hit at 100km by anything, it isn't going to work out well. My car was split in half and the two front seats of my car snapped backwards, so even though I was wearing my seatbelt, if there isn't a seat, it doesn't do anything. I was thrown from the front of my car to the back of my car and fractured three of the vertebras in my back and left leg. It also gave me a severe traumatic brain injury.

    I had frontal lobe damage, which is where your memory is, among other things so I can't remember anything from 7:30 the night before till 56 days later, this information just hasn't been placed in my brain, so I am not going to suddenly remember it; it's just not there.

    I didn't actually hit my head on anything to have the brain injury I had, I didn't have any scars on my body. My brain hit the back of my skull from being thrown to the back of the car and then hit the front of my skull and then bounced of the front and hit the back. It took a while till it settled. Your brain is very soft like margarine but the skull is very hard, sharp and boney like concrete; imagine throwing margarine at a concrete wall.

    Fortunately an ambulance was on its way to another job and stopped and the ambulance officer realised that I had a traumatic brain injury and called the ambulance helicopter. I was picked up and taken to work, so I made it to work that day, just in a helicopter, instead of my car. I had a primary brain injury and you can go on to have secondary brain injuries from not getting enough oxygen to the brain or from swelling. Fortunately because I was in a helicopter, I was intubated (a tube was put down my throat, so I could breathe) and I didn't have a secondary brain injury. I was taken to Nepean Hospital in Penrith and my parents were called, they lived in Jindabyne and they were told "your daughter has been in a serious motor vehicle accident, you need to get up here". Jindabyne to Penrith is about six or seven hours in distance.

    My parents drove up and they were told that they needed to make a decision, within 24 hours, about whether I would take part in a clinical trial or not. The standard form of treatment for my kind of brain injury is to be put into a medically induced coma where they give you medication to try and reduce the swelling of the brain. Or, I could be in a clinical trial where a computer would decide, randomly, whether I had the standard treatment which was the medically induced coma or I had a craniotomy. A craniotomy is where they remove the section of skull that is occluding the brain from swelling.

    Mum and Dad didn't know how a surgeon could cut into the skull without cutting the brain but they thought that it made sense and that my brain needed room to swell; they felt that the operation was a good idea. My parents and I are Christians and they felt that because we trust in God, they should let Him decide. They prayed and said yes to the clinical trial as they felt that whatever the right treatment I was supposes to get God would choose. The computer had decided I was to have the craniotomy. Within 24 hours of having my accident I was in having a craniotomy.

    The craniotomy removed the front quarter of my skull, the skull from my ears to my eyebrows was temporarily removed. I am a nurse and I have been in on this operation before, although I never thought that it would be me. The front quarter of my skull was removed, for about four months, so that my brain could swell and repair itself. I was in a coma for a week and then I woke up from my coma and they had shaved the front part of my head and left the rest of my hair long, I had a killer mullet, which was great, not!

    I was so confused, I had no idea that I had even been in an accident. I thought because I was in the hospital, I worked in, maternity ward, that I must have had a baby. My brain injury meant that I was not really myself afterwards. I was incredibly confused and I don't swear, as a rule, but I was swearing. I was swearing, politely, I'd say things like "oh Mum you look so f-word beautiful". That was not the usual me! I was saying lovely things but I was peppering it with graphic terms.

    How long ago was the accident?

    Naomi Deck : It was on the 18th of May, 2007.

    What recovery processes are you still going through?

    Naomi Deck : To be honest, there is not a lot. Which is because for the last three years I have had intensive therapy, learning to sit, walk, swim and drive. I also try to stay fit and healthy, by making good decisions on what I eat and drink. Now, I go to an osteopath each week because I fractured my back, which is my on-going appointment.

    I also have spasticity in my right leg, so my brain sends the wrong messages to the muscles in my leg; it sends the message that they should always be turned on, which means my toes are clenched. When you bunch your fist that is what my toes do, all the time, in my right leg. I have had four treatments of Botox, in my leg, a medical treatment rather than a cosmetic treatment. The Botox actually paralyses the muscle and I can unclench my toes. I have had as much of that as I can clinically have and now I have a stretch program that I do. If it doesn't improve in the next six month I may need to get a tendon extension on my right leg.

    Is your program, for your right leg, daily exercises?

    Naomi Deck : Yes, they're annoying, but it is improving.

    As a nurse, how was it being on the other side, as the patient?

    Naomi Deck : Ridiculous! I hated it! Part of it was that I was incredibly confused and I didn't realise that I had, had an accident for a few months. I got frustrated as I am used to being in a position of control as a nurse and you tell patients how the day is going and what is next and I was being told those things and didn't really have any choice or control over them. Also, a lot of it is spoken to you, like you're an idiot, because you've had a brain injury when you're not an idiot, you're just confused. You are also grieving because your whole life has changed.

    Do you think the experiences as ultimately made you see how to become the best nurse?

    Naomi Deck : Yes, however, I feel like I was pretty aware before. I had been a patient in a hospital, before, not for that amount of time, I'd had my appendix out, nothing traumatic. I knew what it was like to be a patient so I felt like I was fairy empathetic.

    I feel like I am coming at it from a completely different angle now, because I nearly died and that really changes your perspective. I have been in a lot of pain and had major life-changing surgery. That changes you. I feel like I have changed, in a positive good way. I am really thankful and I know that it sounds weird but I am thankful that I had my accident because it has taught me a lot about God, the world and who I am. I like that.

    What is your message, to your students at the Australian Youth and Road Trauma Forum?

    Naomi Deck : My message is; this happens to normal, safe drivers. You really have to change your driving for the conditions. Although the speed limit was 100km that doesn't mean you should be doing 100km. If there is torrential rain you need to lower your speed because you don't know if there is going to be any oil on the road, or if the other people, coming towards you are going to be able to control their car and things like that.

    My other message, that isn't particularly from my story, is for girls, if you're not comfortable in a car with someone, you don't have to go in it with them. I come from a fortunate and loving family; they always said "we don't care where you are or what time it is, call us, we will get you". I'd imagine that all the kids in the forum room, most of them, their parents would say that as well. I just want to encourage people to think before they hop into a car with someone or in certain conditions and to think about what can happen.

    I wasn't a drink driver; I wasn't a speeder and these things happen. Be ready, make sure you have good relationships with your family and your friends because my family were making decisions for me, about my life and basic things like showering me. I am thankful that I had a good relationship with them because I wouldn't want someone who wasn't on my side to be making those decisions. Make sure you have good relationships with people and tell people that you love them.

    I think it is important to note that if there is torrential rain, maybe being late or not going is a better option that driving.

    Naomi Deck : Yes, at the end of the day it is better to be half an hour late or not go than be in hospital for six months and have to learn how to walk again.

    What are you hopes from the Australian Youth and Road Trauma Forum?

    Naomi Deck : I hope that I can change how one girl drives or hops into a car, just save one girls life, I am happy to do it everyday.

    Interview by Brooke Hunter

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