Friday, 27 September 2013

Helen's Story

A year a go today, on the 27th of September 2012, my family and our friends experienced one of the most horrific things a family can; the loss of someone we love, unconditionally.
When people pass away, it's very traumatic for everyone involved. when it's through an accident or some form of violence, it's even more so.
But I ask you how hard do you think it would be to lose someone you love, completely, and yet still be able to touch, see, smell and hear them?

Helen is the most vibrant light in our family. She is the most opinionated, head strong and stubborn girl you will ever meet.
Her miniscule 19 years on this earth have been more action packed, heart breaking and exciting than mine will be by the time I'm 100. She's had highs and lows, taller than mountains and deeper than the sea and has left her print on every person she has encountered.

Being born on the 25th of December, you knew she was always gonna be stealing the lime light wherever she went! She had an arrangement with her family; Christmas until midday, then it was her birthday, and NEVER would she have joint Birthday/Christmas presents.

As she grew up, she had typical middle child syndrome; she was loud, different and wild. She had some troubles along the way, got in to the wrong crowd, did things she'd probably have regretted when she got older. But in her heart and soul she was a good person and a good friend to everyone.

Helen and I when we were little <3
The year leading up to September 27th was a tough one for Helen; she was lost.
She couldn't get her Diabetes under control and often suffered terribly because of it; her family was falling apart around her and she had to be 100 different people to make sure everyone else was happy; she lost her job; she was young, confused and often drank excessively.

Looking back now we can speculate that maybe Helen's eccentric character was a sign for something more sinister; mental illness.
When considering mental illness, there's a certain stigma around it that says people with mental health issues are either crazy or attention seeking. That truly is not the case! Good old Google tells me that the definition of mental illness is: a disease of the mind, where a person experiences significant changes in their feelings, thoughts and behaviour.

I've been told that Helen always felt out of place from a very young age; she had years and years of being used, abused and let down by people who were supposed to be her friends. Because of this she acted out, had severe mood swings and turned to drink and drugs.
I am in no way excusing any of the things she did. She most certainly was no angel child and was an absolute nightmare sometimes, but this part of her is also part of the build-up to the 27th.

So on a particularly bad day in a particularly bad week, Helen decided to go for a drive and no one could predict how that drive would end.

I don't claim to know the full extent of what happened that night, I can only speculate from the information I've been given. I know that Helen had been drinking for a portion of the day, and promised her sister she was going home to bed. Instead of this she got into her car and went for a drive with her friend.

They didn't get home,
Instead they were both taken to two different hospitals with serious injuries.
Here is where it gets sort of misty and complicated, so forgive me if I get some facts wrong.

The two of them were involved in a severe car accident; neither Helen nor her friend were wearing a seatbelt and they were both thrown from the car.

Helen's friend (SH) has told us that this was on purpose.
Her account of events is that Helen got deeply depressed and decided that she didn't want to deal with her life anymore. She was angry, confused and at the end of her tether.

I chose not to believe this. I can't think of that bold character, that had dealt with a recent suicide attempt from a person close to her heart, to take the cowardly route out.
I cling to the idea that she may have said some things that she would have later regretted once she had sobered up, lost control of her car while not concentrating and then come out of a terrible car accident with horrific life long injuries.

Maybe that's wishful thinking. Maybe she had thought about it before and the alcohol had given her the confidence she needed. We won't ever know the truth.

What we do know is that the car hit the curb and spun back on itself, hitting a tree and ending up on the side of the road. There was no damage to the roof, so the car definitely span. The drivers side of the car was wrecked with the drivers side seat being dismounted. The back window had been smashed, possibly from where they were thrown from the car.
The drivers window was smashed by Helen's head.

Helen was unconscious with cuts and grazes all over her body.
SH was conscious but seriously injured. With a fractured spine and breaks in her arm and wrist she managed to flag down two men who were on the night shift for Thames valley water. Considering it was 2.30am, the girls were extremely lucky they were there. They then promptly notified the emergency services who arrived shortly afterwards, with a Doctor.

Helen was still unconscious and unresponsive, with a deep wound on the right side of her head.
But being the stubborn girl we know she was still breathing all by herself.

The Doctor that arrived was coincidentally Helen's GP and was able to identify her. Being her GP for most of her life, he knew all about her medical history and made sure the paramedics knew she had Type 1 diabetes.

With her head being her most major injury she was taken to John Radcliffe hospital in oxford; John Radcliffe specialise in head injuries and brain damage.

It was my first week of the second year of my degree when I found out about Helen's accident. I got a phone call from my mum saying "Helen's been in a car accident, she's unconscious at the moment". I can't say I was shocked because that girl was always getting herself in to a pickle, I really didn't take it seriously.

Then I got another call.
My mum was crying down the phone to me, "Helen's going into surgery to relieve pressure on her brain".

Oh crap.

When I finally got to oxford to visit her, Helen was in an induced coma and had a portion of her skull removed to relieve the pressure.

I went in to the Neuro ICU with my Mum, and my heart broke. There's no other words to describe how I felt. Her whole body was swollen, you could feel how tight her skin was. She was being ventilated, had wires coming out of her from all directions and grazes all over her face.

She was fighting for her life, if she was even in there anymore.

The damage to her brain was, in the words of the Doctor, catastrophic and diffused throughout.

Being the strong, brave and stubborn soul she is, she fought and fought.
She was in the coma for just a couple of weeks and they brought her out gently.
Her body healed quickly, but her brain....
There were many times when I thought that she wasn't going to make it, but she is to this day alive, sort of.

She's in a state of low awareness, this means that she has some response to stimulation; sound, light, pain. however this is not consistent. Her body reacts, but the only Helen we see is the occasional flash in her eyes.

A year down the line she is in the Holy Cross rehabilitation hospital in Surrey, still in a state of low awareness, but with occasional signs of improvement. I hold on to the hope that this intelligent, thoughtful, vibrant girl will some day be able to communicate with us again.

Helly in her bed at HC
Its so hard to describe to you, reader, the pain and suffering we've had to go through. We're being teased by a body that may have no one inside. We've grieved for the girl we have lost; yet she's still there, looking at us, breathing, living.

It could have all been prevented.

I know this has been a bit of a long one reader, but on the anniversary of my cousin's crash I'd like to put her story out there. If this saves, helps, interests just one person then maybe she wasn't wasted.

Please see that, even the most invincible of people are vulnerable. Life is not worth risking, because it's the people we leave behind that suffer for our actions.

Please always wear your seatbelt when you or someone else is driving.

Please don't risk driving when you've had a few to drink.

Always respect the life you've been given.

Thankyou for reading


  1. With tears streaming down my face I am sending Annette Helen and all involved love kisses and virtual hugs to such a beautiful strong family xxx Love always Tracey Ann Another Mum of a Type 1 xxx

  2. Read from mumsnet link. Sending best wishes and positive vibes. Becky xx

  3. Thank you, Becca, for your courage in writing down how it has affected you. It is not something that any of us in Helli Belli's family or friends can ever walk away from 24/7 but I hope that your story and Annette's continuing blog will prevent someone or some people from going down the same road. Love you, Becca, GS xxx