Motorcyclist warns of long term impact of brain injury

‘I can’t remember the crash but I can remember telling my friend ‘the path, the path, the path’

A file image showing Assistant Commissioner John Twomey with an actor at the launch of a road safety campaign. Photograph: The Irish Times

A file image showing Assistant Commissioner John Twomey with an actor at the launch of a road safety campaign. Photograph: The Irish Times

Wed, Dec 4, 2013, 15:42

Seán Dixon’s motorbike accident happened so simply, so quickly and yet it could have been much worse. As it was, he sustained a brain injury, but not enough to kill him, incapacitate him permanently or stop him telling his story.

Which is what he did today – bravely, coherently and with clarity – to a crowded UCD lecture theatre.

His audience was a mix of transition year school pupils, students, staff of the Road Safety Authority, senior Garda officers, and broadcaster and chairman of the Road Safety Authority Gay Byrne.

Sean, who comes from Ballymun and is now 21-years-old, was on a day off from the reserve Defence Forces in 2011 when he and a pal went for a spin on his friend’s Honda Varadero 125 motorbike.

After a visit to the summit on Howth Head, they were going along James Larkin Road near Clontarf, with Sean as a pillion passenger, when something happened.

“I can’t remember the crash but I can remember telling my friend ‘the path, the path, the path’,” Sean explained yesterday.

“My helmet came off due to the force of impact and the next moment, I’m waking up and a porter is wheeling me into a hospital ward. I didn’t know what was going on. I was in and out of sleep.”

Alcohol was not a factor in the crash and Sean cannot remember speed being one either. The bike driver survived the crash and Sean recovered well but for him, brain injury was soon diagnosed.

He had short-term memory loss, problems keeping his balance and spasms of irrational aggression.

“I could walk after the accident. I just couldn’t remember things. I had aggression towards my family. If I was sent to the shops for smokes for my mother, I was coming back with the wrong things. I’d say I was going out with my mates and I’d be walking and then standing at the corner, thinking ‘what am I doing?’ I couldn’t remember saying I was going out with my friends. . .”

Sean got help from two groups, Acquired Brain Injury Ireland and Headway, who helped him back to near perfect health – back to the point where he was able yesterday to launch the Road Safety Authority and Garda Siochana’s Christmas and New Year road safety campaign.

Launched amid appeals from Assistant Garda Commissioner John Twomey and RSA interim chief executive John Caufield for all drivers to slow down, wear seat belts, and never to drive when tired or having drunk alcohol, the emphasis this year is also on those who survive crashes but with debilitating legacies such as brain injuries.

To date this year, 175 people have died on Ireland’s roads.

And between 20 and 30 more fatalities - and three to four times that number of serious injuries - are expected before the year is out.

David O’Brien, consultant neurosurgeon at Beaumont Hospital said head trauma injuries typically involve young adult men and “can have long lasting disabilities, which can be physical or non-physical and some may never fully recover”.

Speaking by video from his operating theatre, he told viewers: “You don’t want to be here.”

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