My mum saw me from above, lying in a pool of water, a deep shade of crimson lapping around my ears.
My life has been ruled by epilepsy since I was a teenager. At 14, I suddenly started experiencing severe seizures as a result of a stroke I’d suffered at birth. At some points, I’d have up to 20 a week – many so violent that I’d break my own nose by punching myself in the face.
I rely heavily on the support of my family – I’m now 24, but I’ve never been able to move out from our home in Warwickshire, or stay overnight without them, as there’s always a risk that I might suffer a dangerous seizure without warning.
In October 2021, when I was 21, we were on holiday in Cornwall, enjoying walks and steaming-hot pasties. I remember browsing in a jeweler shop in St Ives and buying a painting, but then my mind goes blank. I woke up in a hospital bed 10 days later, bones broken and unable to communicate.
My family spent months helping me piece together what had happened. After walking around St Ives, we’d gone on a short hike along the cliffs from Land’s End. At one point, the coastal path narrows and is only about three meters from the rugged cliff edge.
My dad saw me suddenly drop off the side of the cliff. I’d had an epileptic seizure and fell 40ft, my body ricocheting off the rocks below. My mum saw me from above, lying in a pool of water, a deep shade of crimson lapping around my ears.
I had suffered a cardiac arrest, lost three liters of blood and technically died for several minutes
Mum somehow managed to climb down the cliff face and found me breathing, though she says my skull had caved in. With the help of a passerby and two paramedics, I was hoisted on to a higher rock to stop me being swept away by the rising tide. After a couple of hours, we were lifted away in a helicopter, and I woke up days later in Treliske hospital in Truro.
I had suffered a cardiac arrest, lost three liters of blood and technically died for several minutes. A senior nurse told my family they wouldn’t be able to save me. I still have to stop myself dwelling on that in order to focus on the future.
As well as a fractured skull, I had three spinal injuries, both my lungs had collapsed and my pelvis was in multiple pieces. I had a degloving injury on my bottom, where my tissues were ripped from the underlying muscle, which eventually led to me developing sepsis.
The only reason I’ve been able to walk again is because my feet were partially protected by my Doc Martens – an orthopedic doctor told me my left heel had turned to dust. My boots are completely battered, but I’ll keep them for ever.
My memories of the first few weeks are hazy: a speech therapist feeding me trifle to see if I could swallow; my sister, Beth, sitting at the side of my bed drinking a smoothie; the searing pain in my head and back.
Due to the trauma to my brain, over the 10 months I was in hospital, I would regularly forget why I was there. I’m used to having blanks in my memory because of my epilepsy, but it’s still upsetting when I can’t remember.
My mum made a photo diary, but it felt like I was looking at pictures of someone else. This summer I went to visit the team that saved me, but I had no memory of them. I felt awkward in a way, but it was important for me to thank them.
What I do know is that it’s nothing short of a miracle that I’m alive.
Most people thought I’d have to rely on a wheelchair after my accident, but, although moving is painful, I can walk quite well now. And my memory is better than expected – I managed to watch Pulp Fiction and understand the plot, which was a huge milestone. It’s about celebrating the small victories.
In a surreal twist, although my body was badly damaged by the accident, my epilepsy has started to get better.
Doctors think the cardiac arrest starved my brain of oxygen long enough to “dampen” the parts causing epilepsy – but not long enough to cause major brain damage – and I’m now only having five or six seizures a month. Before, my epilepsy was so bad that I didn’t really have any quality of life. The day I almost died has turned out to be the day I got my life back, and I’m determined to keep living it.
Source: theguardian.com, Heather Main, Angharad Elliot