Last Easter, Christ Church student Isla Kennedy was severely injured after falling 100m while on a ski tour and subsequently suffering a coma. The swiftness of her recovery has been a great relief to friends and family, and she plans to return to Oxford next term.
Three days into the Officer Training Corps expedition of uphill and downhill mountaineering on skis, Isla had a terrible accident. While traversing an icy slope, she lost her grip and “fell, head-first, out of sight, approximately 100m, hitting rock all the way”. She was flown by helicopter to Geneva hospital, where she remained in a coma for 3 weeks, and was then flown back to England, still in a state of agitated unconsciousness – “I kept pulling out any tubes, even my breathing tube”.
Isla was in a coma for over 5 weeks. Upon finally waking, she stayed in hospital for another 5 weeks, and was then moved to a rehabilitation unit. To begin with, Isla could not sit up alone and was in a very large, supportive wheelchair, but in the 14 weeks she spent in the unit, she had physiotherapy, psychology, speech, language and occupational therapy – “I had to re-learn a lot of things, but most things came back with time,” she says.
Isla, being a member of the OTC, was then lucky enough to be moved to Headley Court, the Defence Medical Rehab Centre. She has spent 6 weeks there so far, and has 4 more to go. “I have met some amazing people here,” she says, “including many guys who were hit by mines in Afghanistan… Their comradery is inspiring.”
Isla is likely to be in rehabilitation until Christmas, working on her fitness, speech and cognitive functions, but she plans to return to Oxford part-time in February, then continue with her PPE degree after Easter and having had a year off.
Isla is extremely lucky to be left only with “such minor imperfections”. She tells me that “90% of people in a coma for more than 4 weeks never reach a state better than severe disability”. Not long ago, “my voice was monotone and I could barely carry a bag”, yet just the other week, she was thrilled to be able to wear high heels, and go out dancing for the first time since March. “Recovery after a brain injury continues for years, but I have made a remarkable and quick recovery, above expectations…”
“Obviously I never wanted a brain injury,” she says, “but so many positive things have come out of it… More than ever, I want to be an officer in the Army.” Her accident has not put her off skiing, though she urges all skiers to wear helmets, and she has been organizing mountaineering expeditions from the rehab centre, impatient to get back to normal life.