Alex Lets it Go!

Posted on: 12th June 2015

Alex Coleman has won best dressed at a 'Frozen' party, with a little help from her support worker Sandra

In June 2004, at 4 years of age, Alex was in a car accident and suffered a traumatic brain injury, leaving her in a critical condition. Ellen Coleman, Alex’s grandmother and guardian, remembers the doctors predicting that Alex would remain in a persistent vegetative state. Thankfully, they were wrong.

“It was an incredibly difficult time,” says Ellen, “but Alex is a fighter – she doesn’t give up!” After a year and two months in hospital, Alex was discharged and returned home to live with her grandparents.

Alex, now 15, still has some cognitive and physical issues as a result of her injuries – left-side weakness, memory problems and behavioural problems – but she has made huge progress. Hydrotherapy helped enormously in her initial rehabilitation period. “Alex learnt to swim when she was 4 years old and always enjoyed it,” says Ellen. “It all came back straight away when she started her hydrotherapy. She still enjoys swimming and goes a couple of times a week.”

"When you see progress and you’re making a difference to someone's life, it keeps you motivated."

A few years after the accident, Alex’s solicitor began sourcing the therapy she needed – starting with physiotherapy, speech and language therapy and occupational therapy. A case manager was instructed to co-ordinate the therapy and to assess Alex’s support needs. Up until then Alex had been receiving adhoc support from Sandra, a friend of the family and an experienced support worker, to give some respite to Alex’s grandparents. However, this wasn’t an official arrangement, so the case manager arranged for Sandra to become Alex’s employed support worker providing more hours of support.

“This made such a difference to us,” says Ellen, “and to me in particular, as I was then able to spend quality time with the rest of my grandchildren. It helped that Sandra knew Alex from before the accident, as Alex was immediately comfortable with her.”

“Because I knew Alex from a young age,” says Sandra, “I’ve been able to speak to her about life before the accident. She has become more and more inquisitive about this as she’s progressed with her rehabilitation, so I’m pleased to be able to support her in this way too.”

In 2014, Alex was taken out of the special school she attended due to behavioural issues. Mary Gilman, Alex’s case manager, arranged for a neuropsychologist to work with Alex on the issues and has supported Alex’s grandparents to find a new school for Alex from September 2015 – Alex will spend part of her week at school and part with a home tutor.

Alex’s behaviour improved significantly and she impressed everyone when Sandra’s daughter asked her to be a bridesmaid at her wedding, which took place at the end of 2014. “Alex was good as gold,” says Sandra, “and she had a fabulous time.”

“I really enjoy being a support worker,” says Sandra. “Sometimes it’s a difficult job but when you see progress and you know you’re making a difference to someone's life, it keeps you motivated. For example, Alex is learning new vocabulary everyday and using it in the right context, which is a huge achievement.”

Alex no longer requires speech and language therapy but she still has weekly physiotherapy and occupational therapy sessions. “She’s getting on really well with her rehab,” says Ellen, “she also has an all-terrain trike that she loves getting out and about on.”

"So many people thought Alex would never walk or speak again and look at her now!”

“Alex was always able to listen to a song a couple of times and remember the words,” says Ellen, “and she can still do it, which is great as she really loves to sing.” One of her favourite songs to sing is Let It Go from the film Frozen.

Alex recently went to a Frozen themed party, dressed as Elsa and won a best dressed award. Sandra had worked through the night to create Alex’s costume but she says it was worth the effort. “Her face, when she put on her dress, was priceless,” says Sandra, “she looked lovely.” Alex had a fantastic time and left with a big smile on her face. “Alex was absolutely made up when we picked her up,” says Ellen, “just elated!”

Sandra has seen Alex come a long way since her accident and urges people not to put limitations on children who have acquired a brain injury. “I know doctors, therapists and other professionals try to manage people’s expectations when it comes to recovery but I think this can go too far and they could end up hampering the parents’ motivation and the child’s progress. So many people thought Alex would never walk or speak again and look at her now!”