Fifteen-year-old Connor is lucky to be alive after his skull was shattered after a cliff fall in March. The injury meant he has to learn to speak, read and write again, but his determination is inspirational.
The Eureka local was walking along the beach at Byron Bay with a friend when they tried to get around the headland and scrambled along what looked like a well-used track up the cliffs. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a very unstable, shaly rock surface and one of Connor’s handholds gave way and he fell 15-20m down onto the rocks and water below.
“Paramedics treated Connor’s fractured skull and severe head injury on the scene,” Connor’s mum Kim said.
“He was then airlifted to the Gold Coast University Hospital where he underwent emergency neurosurgery to remove the fragmented skull pieces and stop the bleeding on his brain.”
For the first ten days, its wasn’t clear whether Connor would actually survive the fall. His prognosis was uncertain as he had sustained substantial damage to the left side of his brain, especially in the speech and language areas, and had lost nearly half of his skull. Due to swelling on his brain, he had to be handled very carefully to avoid another brain injury, which could have been fatal. There was a possibility of neck fractures. He remained in a coma for two weeks.
“When Connor came out of the coma, he was very disorientated. This period is known as post traumatic amnesia and he found it very difficult to speak or communicate,” Kim said.
“Although he seemed to recognise his family, he couldn’t say their name or describe their relationship to him. As the drugs wore off, he did manage to say a few words and with the help of the physiotherapists, he started to walk a few steps. Within a week he was speaking, but with difficulty. It was also clear that he had lost the ability to read and write.”
Three weeks after the accident, Connor was transferred to Queensland Children’s Hospital for intensive in-patient rehabilitation and is now a day patient in the rehabilitation unit.
“He’s made remarkable gains during this time and can now speak more fluently and is learning how to read and write again,” Kim said.
“Connor’s skull was so badly shattered in the fall that nearly half of it had to be removed. That meant that on the left side of his head, his brain was only covered by skin, and another head injury could easily be fatal which meant he had to wear a specially constructed helmet until he could have a new skull piece fitted.”
Connor has since undergone a cranioplasty to fit a ground-breaking, 3D-printed skull piece that mimics the properties of living bone and is recovering from his operation.
“Connor loves to play the piano – especially the Kawai Baby Grand on Level 6 of Queensland Children’s Hospital! You can often see him there after school playing his favourite pieces to all passers-by. Prior to the accident, he also loved to read, run, swim, kayak and ski. With the help of the wonderful therapists at Queensland Children’s Hospital, he may be able to resume some of these activities,” Kim said.
“Before the accident, Connor was a high-achieving and dedicated student – and after the accident, he still is. Learning to speak, read and write all over again would be daunting for most adults, but Connor has just taken it in his stride and simply doesn’t give up. In everything he does, he always aims to do his best with good grace and humour. It’s this drive and tenacity that we feel will help Connor to make the best out of an awful situation, and hopefully his story will inspire others to do the same.”
The Brain Foundation
Brain Injury Australia