This brave 45-year-old man from Crumlin and his supportive wife have told the family of Michael Schumacher to stay strong – and patient – as they reveal their amazing journey to independent.ie
Thomas Jackson and his wife Linda (36) were a newly married couple who loved life, travel and meeting new people.
It took a tragic freak fall in November 2011 after a dinner party with friends to bring their world crashing down around them.
Linda had retired to bed early and woke in the middle of the night to realise that Thomas had not yet joined her.
“I walked down the stairs and I saw Tom on the ground in a pool of blood. It was obvious he had fallen and hit his head but I didn’t know how long he had been lying there,” she told independent.ie.
“I managed to get him upstairs, clean him up and keep him awake. But I knew – at that stage – that there was something seriously wrong so I rang for an ambulance which took him to hospital”
That night marked the start of an 18 month “horrendous” nightmare for the Jacksons.
Thomas suffered two brain hemorrhages in one week and then lay in a coma for four weeks, with Linda anxiously waiting by his side.
Linda likened the severity of his injuries as similar to that which happened to Formula 1 racing legend Schumacher in a skiing accident just eight weeks ago. Schumacher, too, was put into a medically induced coma due to suffering a traumatic brain injury.
After a three month stay in St James Hospital, Thomas was moved to the Rehabilitation centre in Dun Laoghaire as there was nothing more that the medical team at St. James’ could do for him.
“The doctors told us not to expect much. We were warned that he may not respond to us, may not walk, may not be anything like himself again,” Linda tearfully reveals.
“He was like a baby, he had to retrain to use the toilet, to walk again, to talk again. He had to do everything from scratch – he was like a newborn.”
But Linda never gave up hope and continued to research for a facility that could cater for Thomas’ needs, and his related aggression from his injury. She found a solution at Redwood Extended Care Facility in Stamullen, Co Meath.
“Redwood understood what Thomas was about – and all his behavioural issues. And they had the facilities to look after him where other institutions may not have especially in the aggression that the injury brought on,” she says.
“He needed support and someone that understood brain injuries – and most of the carers don’t. And that’s the downfall. People need to become more educated around brain injuries.”
Linda and Thomas are “amazed” at how far he’s come since the horrific accident and count “every day as a bonus”.
Earlier this year, Thomas defied all odds and passed his driving test when the couple believed “he’d never be able to get on the road”.
Both Linda and Thomas admit that he “still has a long way to go” but they are very positive about their future. And Thomas attributes much of his recovery to Linda’s support.
“I would tell Michael Schumacher’s family to stay strong and patient – as you need all the support you can get,” Thomas tells independent.ie.
“At the many stages I was in hospital, I didn’t know where I was or who I was; I knew nothing. Linda was always there, she was a constant – always there beside me. Linda was the person who pulled me through it.”
“It just takes time. It’s not a broken arm that can be fixed in two or three months. It can take a little bit longer than that so just stay hopeful.”
The couple are now doing “normal things that an ordinary couple does” like going on holidays and going out for meals; simple things, but activities they thought they’d never do together again.
To others in similar situations, Linda warns that the road is not easy, but maintains that determination and resolve – not to mention positivity – can be essential in keeping a family going.
“We are still going through it, it’s heartbreaking, but we’ve lots to do and he’s achieving his goals that he never thought he would,” she says.
“He’s not going to give up, he’s going to keep thriving. And with this Headway programme that he’s on for two years, he will be 20 times better.”
Since the start of this month, Thomas has been attending a course for brain injury survivors, organised by advocacy group Headway. He finds it comforting and beneficial to speak to others that have had similar injuries to himself.
Linda, too, speaks highly of the courses that Headway offers, including those for the carers: “I went in there distraught thinking my life wass over but when I heard other stories, I thought, “I’m only scratching the surface”.”
The Jacksons hope that their story – together with the well-publicised accident that racing legend Michael Schumacher has suffered – will highlight awareness of brain injuries in Ireland.
Dr Ronan Gibney, Principal Clinical Neuropsychologist, Head of Psuchology at Redwood, believes that this is an awareness that needs to be promoted.
“Unfortunately in Ireland there are relatively few services available, particularly ones with a comprehensive, multidisciplinary team like ours. It is also often the case that people with brain injuries are not aware of services like our own and try to muddle through without professional support,” he tells independent.ie.