Kate and Brian Heal pictured last year
A well-known Sherborne couple, Kate and Brian Heal, are cautiously celebrating as Brian has taken his first few supported steps following a traumatic brain injury and subsequent coma. It has been a difficult journey, after an initial prognosis of no hope, and the couple would like to thank everybody who has helped them on the way – especially the dedicated NHS staff who have cared for him.
Brian (known as Sandy), aged 50, who works as a skilled engineer at Leonardo’s Helicopter Division in Yeovil, fell down the stairs at home on 26th December last year where he was recovering from an unrelated minor surgery; he acquired a serious brain injury (extradural haematoma) and open fractures to his wrist as a result. He was admitted as an emergency to Yeovil District Hospital where, tragically, the diagnosis was brain stem death. Brian is registered as an organ donor and was therefore kept on a ventilator while transplant teams travelled from London and Birmingham to carry out his final wishes. However, in something of a miracle overnight, he showed signs of movement and immediate plans were made for his transfer to Bristol’s Southmead Hospital where specialist intensive care treatment could be provided.
Brian first started coming out of a coma state on 12th January but then moved into a prolonged and challenging minimally responsive state. He is gradually regaining ability, in what continues to be a very slow process, while being cared for since 8th February at Poole Hospital’s specialist Brain Injury Unit. Thanks to intensive physiotherapy he was able to take his first steps in late April, supported by physiotherapists who were as elated as he was to see him walk for the first time.
His wife Kate, who has been by his side constantly since the accident, says: “Sandy’s determination to recover continues to be an inspiration to everyone around him. From a situation of coma and non-movement, not even the ability to breathe unaided, he is now able to feed himself and is regaining speech and movement as his brain builds new pathways. This wouldn’t have been possible without the skill of three wonderful NHS hospitals so far and in particular without the help of Headway, the brain injury association. I would like to thank the countless family, friends, churches, both of our employers and especially Sandy’s friends from Leonardo (Westland) and Sherborne Rugby Club who have stood by us. We really cannot thank everyone enough, their support has sustained us during this very difficult time”. The couple has also been overwhelmed by support from local business friends at Sherborne Chamber of Trade & Commerce; they have played the role of Santa and Chief Elf at the Chamber’s annual Festive Shopping Day for the past seven years and will be very much missed there this year.
Wendy Copeland, Hospital Liaison for Headway Somerset, who has provided Kate and Brian with crucial information on the journey to recovery from brain injury said: “Headway Somerset’s vision is to improve the quality of life for everyone in the local area with a brain injury, their families and carers. We are delighted that this case is an excellent example of the charity doing what it does best, providing a first class service of support to relatives at a time when it is most needed.”
The next challenge for the couple, as they face Brian’s long-term needs, is to find somewhere suitable to live once he completes in-patient rehabilitation later this year. Their current house has been assessed as not suitably accessible, so Kate is on the lookout for a new single-level home, or to adapt their current home, and has even applied to BBC One’s DIY SOS programme in an effort create a safe environment for her husband to come home. “Life will be different”, says Kate “but we are forever grateful for this second chance at life following a terrible initial prognosis. I would like to send a message of hope to other families going through similar situations. We truly appreciate the love, prayers and practical help we have had from so many people – not to mention the medical advances that have supported Sandy’s recovery”.