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Robert Ashton

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Robert Ashton

Robert Ashton

There's no doubt that cycle helmets are important

In Summer 2014, 60-year-old Robert Ashton, from Norfolk, had been enjoying a long weekend away with his wife before a cycling accident left Robert with a traumatic brain injury, changing both their lives in an instant.

"We were in Shropshire on holiday, staying in a remote folly in a beautiful wooded valley," Robert recalled.

"On our first morning, I got up, left my wife in bed and went out to buy a Sunday paper and a cappuccino from a nearby petrol station. I remember putting on my cycle helmet, mounting my bike and turning down a narrow lane - after that, nothing. I may have been brushed by a car or my bike simply hit a pothole. I'll never know.

"I must have fallen and hit my head as a passerby found me unconscious on the road and called 999.

There's no doubt that cycle helmets are important - without mine I'd probably be dead.

The speed-monitoring cycling app on Robert's mobile phone recorded the exact place where he stopped moving and continued to track his journey several hours later at 50mph aboard the ambulance to Shrewsbury Hospital.

When Robert's wife arrived at the hospital ten hours later, he had slowly begun to regain consciousness, though he struggled to speak and was left with a brain injury that would go on to challenge them both on a daily basis.

"Doctors gave me a CAT scan at the hospital but I discharged myself after two days," said Robert. "It was actually my GP who organised an MRI scan weeks later, which showed some scarring but I was told it was nothing life-threatening.

"Weeks after the accident, when I thought I was getting better, I began to experience a whole range of strange symptoms, including difficulties with speech and memory problems.

The Headway helpline team were fantastic and sent me some very useful information.

"Understanding 'why' these invisible effects of my head injury were occurring really helped me come to terms with what was happening to me."

As a self-employed social entrepreneur and author, Robert had recently hired an employee to help run his latest start-up business.

"I took on a Managing Director and his first day was actually the day I got home from hospital," Robert recalled. "Without him, the venture would have folded as I simply could not manage.

"A few months later, I was determined to put the accident behind me and I began taking on new projects and helping my new MD with the business.

"However, my wife soon began to notice problems in my everyday life that I had not encountered before my brain injury. Even months after my head injury, I muddled my words, forgot things more than usual and, perhaps most worryingly of all, my balance when cycling was far from perfect.

"I soon became depressed. I'd suffered from depression on and off for years before the accident but, following my injury, the strong suicidal urges were terrifying. In fact, I had days when I did not dare leave the sofa because the draw of the nearby railway line was just too overwhelmingly strong.

"I decided to do some further research about what support was available. Once again, the Headway helpline team came to the rescue and pointed me in the direction of the charity's relevant booklets and factsheets.

"The factsheet's list of very familiar symptoms made me realise that I was not alone. I am beginning to accept that the invisible lasting effects of my brain injury means I need to pace myself to avoid stress and overwork. I don't want to stop work but recognise that I now have to take life easier and so I write down names in meetings because that stops me calling James 'John', and vice versa, which can be embarrassing.

The most important thing for me is learning to understand and accept my brain injury, and learning to adapt and manage my new boundaries.

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Headway - the brain injury association is registered with the Charity Commission for England and Wales (Charity no. 1025852) and the Office of the Scottish Regulator (Charity no. SC 039992). Headway is a company limited by guarantee, registered in England no. 2346893.

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