A momentary lapse of concentration when driving can change someone’s life forever. Lauren Doherty, from Knaresborough, was struck by a van after a night out with friends.
She spent 16 weeks in hospital with a broken neck and was told she’d never be able to breathe on her own again.
Here Lauren, 30, who was left paralysed from the neck down, talks about how she copes with the challenges it brings and how she’s using her experience to benefit others.
She hopes to make you more attentive next time you use the roads by sharing her story.
I was a carefree teenager who lived life to the max, always hanging around with my friends and we loved being out.
Career wise, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, but I always had a job. This changed when I was successful in gaining a position at a local college, supporting individuals who had visual impairment. I knew that I had found my vocation in life.
A few months after starting the job, life as I knew it was to change forever.
It was a summer’s evening in August 2008 and I had been out with a group of my friends in our local town to watch a band play. Some of us went back to a friend’s house and at about 4am I set off walking back home. A friend walked with me.
I don’t know what made me cross the road at the wrong time. But I was hit by a van and I’m now completely paralysed and need everything doing for me.
‘They told me I’d never breathe again. I was determined to prove them wrong’
I broke my neck and required an operation to stabilise the vertebrae. My pelvis and wrist were also broken. I had a bleed from my aorta requiring a stent and compartment syndrome requiring an operation on my legs.
I also needed a skin graft on my legs and a tracheostomy for ventilation. I was kept in an induced coma for the first three days and subsequently spent three-and-a-half weeks in intensive care.
In total I spent 16 months in different hospitals.
I remember all the conversations which used to go on at my bedside. One in particular was around the fact that I wouldn’t be able to breathe again for myself. I remember feeling so determined that I would be able to do so, I made it my focus to prove everyone wrong. Eventually after two years of trials, I was in a position to not be totally dependent on a machine to help me breathe all the time, which means a great deal to me.
On 23 November 2009, I moved back to my parents’ home which was redesigned (they had only just had a new extension completed!) to allow the installation of all of my equipment and to accommodate the two carers I needed with me at all times.
‘How I started to rebuild my life’
The task of totally rebuilding my life again began and on 29 October 2013, I finally moved into my own purpose-built bungalow. This allowed me to live independently, which I so wanted. I always wanted to speak about road safety in schools, but felt anxious about doing so; how would it be received?
In 2016, I visited my first primary school and spoke to a group of 10 children. I was grateful for this opportunity as it helped me to gauge the children’s reaction. It was really well received by the children and the staff.
As a result of talking to this one group of children, it has led to teachers, group leaders, police forces and fire & rescue services all sharing details of the work I am doing and has resulted in, to date, me speaking to over 3,000 children and young adults alongside these agencies, as well as reaching thousands of people through social media, newspapers and magazines.
Working in collaboration with North Yorkshire Police, North Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Service, Harrogate Borough Council, North Yorkshire County Council and the Harrogate & District NHS Foundation Trust, I help present as part of their ‘Learn & Live’ campaign.
This campaign is aimed at sixth-form children, 16 years plus, who are new to, or currently learning to drive, raising their awareness of the consequences of poor driving and being a passenger in a vehicle driven by a young driver. Drugs, alcohol, mobile phones plus other distractions are covered via video clips and presentations.
In 2017, I was awarded the Bravery Award at my local radio station, Stray FM’s, ‘Local Hero Awards’ and this month, April 2019, I have just been awarded the ‘Volunteer of the Year’ Award at the Yorkshire Choice Awards.
By volunteering my time in the community, I have a gained a purpose again as well as having a project I can focus on. If and when I have a bad day, which I still do 11 years on from my accident, I often think about the work I am doing, the warm welcome I receive everywhere I go, the great feedback, letters, messages of support and the pictures I have received from the children and it motivates me to stay positive.
‘If sharing my experience prevents one serious collision, it’s worth it’
I hope also to benefit others in demonstrating that that just because you have had an accident and you are in a wheelchair, your life isn’t over. You have to try your best to readjust to your new life and make the most of every new opportunity available to you.
I believe that being open and honest about my life is the best way to be with the children I talk to. They respond extremely well and ask a lot of questions. My hope is that by sharing the reality of what can happen, it will, in a small way, help reduce the number of accidents on the roads.
The message I wish to get across is aimed at all age groups. From holding parents’ hands, not using your mobile phone while crossing the road to being aware of the roads on a night out. It’s all relevant.
The reality is that I now need two carers around me all the time; if not by my side, in a room near me. They do everything for me from getting me washed, brushing my teeth, scratching my nose if I have an itch, cooking and feeding me my tea and enabling me to go out places.
To use my TV, computer, phone, turn my lights on and off, I use a device called an Eyegaze, similar to an iPad. I can use this using my eyes; it detects my eye movement or when I tire of this, I can use a mouthpiece which is like a computer mouse.
Although I do spend time by myself, I must have a baby monitor by my side in case I need any assistance or if there is an emergency. If I make a call to my friends or family, my conversation is heard through the monitor. I have had to accept that this is my life now.
I enjoy shopping, going out and spending time with my friends, going to the cinema and concerts, taking my niece out and spending time with my family. I just can’t do anything quickly or without planning now. The times I would just nip to see a friend or nip into town by myself have gone.
‘Please remember – it only takes a tiny lapse on concentration on the roads to change someone’s life forever’
My life will never be the same again, and making a life-changing, split second decision to cross it at the wrong time. I hope that by sharing my story, it makes people aware of the impact an accident can have. If my story prevents even one person from experiencing what I have been through, then talking to people about my life and road safety is worthwhile.
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