Meet the new David

Posted on: 23rd July 2020

"My message to anyone who has suffered what I’ve suffered: Don’t let it control you – just take each day as it comes; don’t ever think that you can’t do something because you’ve got a head injury. That’s what I used to feel like and now I wake up every day wanting a new challenge. I live my life like any ‘normal’ person. Just put your first foot through the door and you will walk through it.”

In 2002, David Dei-Ceci was in hospital following a road traffic accident that left him with a severe head injury and unable to walk. He now lives in his own house, plays in a local football league and is involved in voluntary and charity work supporting a rehabilitation centre and the air ambulance that saved his life.

David Dei-Ceci: "I had been invited to go camping with my cousin and friends in Kielder Forest – I almost didn’t go but they persuaded me to join them last minute, saying, “It’ll be no fun without you”. While driving in Kielder, I was in a car accident and was severely injured. Because of the remote location, I had to be air lifted to hospital and I was so badly injured I needed to be resuscitated three times in the air ambulance. I don’t remember much from the initial period following the accident but I know from others that I was initially in a coma and then I was very confused for a number of weeks. I had suffered a traumatic brain injury; when I woke up I had a 3 second memory and did not know where I was or what had happened to me. I was a completely different person to who I was when I left to go camping.

I spent the next 18 months in a rehabilitation unit relearning how to walk, how to care for myself – I couldn’t even shower. I would wash my face and forget that I’d done it, so I washed it again, and again, and again. I had people helping me in the shower, reminding me what I needed to do. I needed routine and structure – repetition helped me learn to do everything again.

It wasn’t long before the NHS were looking to discharge me, as I had survived the accident, come out of my coma and, in their eyes, recovered to the point where their job was done. My mum got in touch with JS Parker after getting advice from my uncle, who is a doctor. Carol Varley, my case manager, started working with us very quickly, which was the best thing that could have happened at that point.”

Carol Varley: “I first met David when he was 6 weeks post injury; he was in a brain injury behavioural unit in Newcastle, as he had post traumatic amnesia and did not know where he was. He was unable to undertake any daily living task without someone prompting or supporting him to do this. David does not remember our initial meeting; however over the five months he was in the unit he began to recognise me, though he had no concept of my role in his life or what I was advocating for him. I asked for an assessment from a specialist brain injury rehabilitation unit in order to assist with David’s significant cognitive difficulties. David was then in this unit for 9 months until he was discharged home with a 24 hour support package.”

David: “I left hospital on 6th December – I remember the day before felt like a year, because I was so excited. It was a bit daunting too because I was going to live in a house I didn’t know. Before the accident I was living with my sister but I was now moving in with my mum in a house she had moved into while I was in hospital. Also, Carol had put a care package together for me, so I had people I didn’t know very well caring for me in a place that was unfamiliar. Some of the support workers had started working with me when I was in hospital, so that I would have some familiar faces caring for me at home, but it was still a difficult period. I didn’t want carers – I just wanted to be ‘normal’. It took me a long time to get used to it.”

Mark Mackenzie (David’s support worker): “One of David’s biggest credits is that while he was angry about the situation, he never took his frustrations out on any one of us or made us feel unwelcome. I think that’s the biggest step anybody in David’s situation can make, to understand that they are angry at the situation and that the individuals standing in front of them aren’t responsible for that situation.”

David: “It took me a long time to build up my confidence again – my support workers helped me go out, travel around and do activities.”

Mark: “The outside world was a very scary place to David at that time and our role as his support workers was to try to encourage David to rebuild his life, partake in some constructive activities, get outside in public and visit different places. It was really difficult for David but he rose to the challenge and he pushed himself and pushed himself, in order to rebuild his confidence. It was a long road but he did it.”

David: “After my accident I became a member of the Newcastle United Disabled Supporters Association and met a lad who was starting up a football team in the Northern Mobility League. I was picked as their goalkeeper. We train once a week and play in regular matches and tournaments. Last year we won the league and I won the ‘player of the tournament’ award.

I’m proud thinking back because of how able I am now and what I’ve been through. Things have got a lot better for me and I couldn’t be happier with the way things have gone.”

Mark: “David is a lot more empowered to make decisions and choices for himself now. He’s much more rational and isn’t as concerned with times and schedules as he used to be. About six years ago he decided he wanted to find something that he could get some reward out of, as he couldn’t go out and earn a wage like other people. He started doing volunteer work at the Leonard Cheshire day centre and charity work for the Great North Air Ambulance - he was adamant that he wanted to help them because of what they did for him.”

David: “I work at Leonard Cheshire two days a week, helping the service users, making tea and coffee, helping out with activities like quizzes and games like dominoes. My support workers volunteer at the centre with me and together we’ve done decorating, gardening and other jobs that need doing. I’ve been the bingo caller a few times – ‘legs eleven’.

For the Great North Air Ambulance often take part in fundraising collections at supermarkets, I’ve held a coffee morning at my house (and have another one coming up soon) and I help them with advertising. I recently went to a charity ball in aid of the Air Ambulance at Sir John Hall’s estate in Durham.”

Mark: “It was the first time that Matty and John, the paramedics on board the air ambulance, had seen David since that day. It was very emotional; they couldn’t believe that it was the same person standing in front of them. It shows how far David has come. He has regained a sense of normality in his life – he’s gone from someone who was very hesitant and anxious when facing a new challenge or a new place to someone who embraces new challenges. The future will hold new challenges for David but it will be him who decides what they are.”

David: “When my support workers first started working with me I didn’t like it but now, they’re more like friends, I’ve known them for so long. I couldn’t be more grateful for them. I make sure I show that I appreciate what they do for me and I’ve started to throw surprise parties for those that have been with me for 10 years. I find meeting new people easier now but it always takes a while to get used to a new support worker. It’s difficult having a stranger with you in your house, when you’re eating or taking a shower, but I don’t judge them until I have spent some time with them and got to know them.

When it comes to Carol Varley I have nothing but good things to say. She has helped me through so much since my injury – if I’ve had a problem, she’s been there sorting it out straight away – she’s my rock. She’s helped me get through my rehab to where I am now and with building my confidence, such as going out and being in crowded areas. She deals with situations so fast, you don’t even know you’ve said it before she’s sorted it. If I have any issues with my support staff, she’s on it, so that I don’t have to worry about it.”

Mark: “Carol takes on board all of David’s concerns and always comes back to him with the actions and what’s going to happen. They forged such a good relationship right from the beginning and she made sure that everything was put in place for him. There was a period when Carol had to hand David’s case over to another case manager at JSP, which David found difficult.”

David: “It was very hard because I was used to having Carol as a constant. I found it hard to adjust and when I heard that Carol was coming back I jumped at the chance to have her as my case manager again. My mum has been amazing through the whole thing. I can’t imagine what she went through after my accident and I’m glad Carol was there to help her through it. She does such a good job of supporting families in situations like ours.

I moved out of my mum’s into my own house about a year and a half after my accident. I was happier because I wasn’t putting stress on my mum anymore and I had more freedom. I had the garage converted into an annex for my support workers to stay in, so that they were close by but not actually sleeping in my home, and had new floors, windows, boiler and a number of other improvements made. I enjoyed going shopping for the house, to make it look how I wanted it to.

I’m quite busy these days, with my voluntary and charity work, football and going to the gym. I’ve recently started going to watch speedway in Newcastle, which is really exciting. I’m a Newcastle United season ticket holder and go to all the home games – I also went to a couple of away games last season. I can handle being in the crowds at football matches now, which is a massive achievement for me because there was a time not so long ago that I couldn’t stand crowds. I’m more open to new experiences and fitting more into my week now than I was a few years ago. I’ve just been living my life the best I possibly can and I couldn’t be happier. I turn 30 next year and I’m planning a big party to celebrate with family and friends.”

Carol: “It's been a pleasure working with David over the years. David and his excellent staff team have had to learn and develop strategies to enable him to become as independent as possible. It has been a long slow journey, which at times has been extremely challenging for David; however he has now come out the other side. When I think back at the young man I meet all those years ago, who was unable to undertake any daily living tasks, and then see the David before me, it is unbelievable. David has had to work so hard to be in the excellent place he is today. He’s now able to undertake daily living tasks, engage in activities, go on trips away, undertake valuable charity and voluntary work, and look after his home. Even though he still requires prompts from his staff, David is now in control of his life and his decisions. He is an inspiration to us all.”