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'I Watched a Girl Dying In My Arms'

‘It was after midnight on a Saturday night, and I was on my way out for a late drink with a friend. Suddenly, a car flew past me, and when I looked ahead, there were people trying to cross the road. An unlucky girl didn’t make it across in time, and was hit by the car and thrown over the bonnet. I thought, “Did that really just happen?”

A crowd gathered at the scene. People stared, but no one stepped forward to help. It’s not a criticism - people react differently. I felt I had to do something. I knelt next to her, took off my jacket and put it around her to keep her warm.

I had contradictory impulses. I wanted to pick her up, but was concerned about causing her further injuries. She was breathing and had a pulse, but it was obvious she was in a bad way. I rubbed her leg where I could see she wasn’t hurt, telling her she was going to be fine. I heard her friend call her Clea, so l was able to reassure her by using her name - I hope it helped.

About five minutes later, the ambulance arrived. I gave the police my name for a statement and left. Was I in shock? Absolutely. It was also the beginning of something. I felt I’d formed a bond with the girl, and I had to know what happened next. I went to the hospital a few days later and met Clea’s parents. A week later, the hospital staff announced that if she survived she would have irreversible brain damage… she passed away three weeks after that.

Before she passed away, there were discussions about Clea going into a hospice. That’s when I learnt about the problems facing young people with brain injuries. It’s possible she would have gone into the Dorothy Sales residential care cottages in Canberra, which house people with these injuries. They’re great; they have all the right equipment and support, and a focus on rehabilitation.

But from what I have learnt, there are no other facilities like that around, not between Canberra and Brisbane, anyway. In most cases, young people with brain injuries are put into nursing homes, with no one their own age to talk to, watching daytime TV and basically killing time.

I’d always planned to walk from Brisbane to Canberra as a personal challenge (I’m a bit of a fitness fanatic), but after learning about the care situation for young people with brain injuries, I now had an even better reason to do it. So, on June 1, I’m starting a walk for the National Brain Injury Foundation, called Walk With a Rose (Clea’s surname was Rose). My aim is to reuse awareness about the care problem, and to financially support some improvements to respite care, including giving the carers holidays or breaks.
There’s a healing component to the walk, too - it’s about giving myself some
personal closure. The walk is 1400 kilometres, and I hope to do it in about eight weeks - 30 kilometres a day for every walking day, and some days off for resting and when the weather is bad. Clea’s parents and sister will walk some of the way with me, and I will be joined by different people along the way.

There’s a final twist - through my job as a youth worker, l knew some of the
kids who were in the car that killed Clea. They’d stolen the car and were speeding away from the police. The driver got a three-year suspended sentence, but it will affect him for life - as it should.

l feel for all the young victims of brain injury out there. I’ve got nothing against
the old, but living in an aged-care facility must be an incredibly lonely life for a young person. People with brain injuries can be any age and their needs really do differ.’
Author: As told to Lucille Howe
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