Sandy Richards came forward to share his experience of what began as a fun October evening in 1994 but turned catastrophic in an instant. Still living with the effects of that night, he shared his experience in his own words of a long recovery, and what he’s doing now to try to help young adults avoid the situation that he suddenly found himself in.
In 1994, I’d been living in Victoria for six to seven years, working as a waiter and making great money, having a lot of fun. Originally from Fort St. John, some of my friends ended up joining me in Victoria. We’re all from the North and we enjoy our beer.
On Oct. 6, 1994 – 28 years ago – we were out at night playing pool, but we made a choice not to drink and drive. A friend was driving a work vehicle so he had extra incentive not to.
We were driving home at 11:30 p.m. in a small Suzuki jeep, and we were dropping off friends; me and my friend Craig were in the vehicle. We were broadsided by an 18-year-old under the influence, going 170km per hour in a full-sized GMC van. It was quite the crash scene – pretty dramatic. He bent our car’s frame, he was going so fast.
Photo of the October
1994 crash scene.
With head injuries, you don’t know what’s going to happen, what areas going to be damaged, what problems you’ll have.
I broke my face. I wasn’t breathing and had to be resuscitated twice – at the scene and at the trauma centre.
I was in the hospital for six months. I don’t remember much of it. I had the mind of a 12-year-old because of my brain injury. I was in ICU for 120 days, and was in a coma for 108 days. The medical staff told my parents that they wouldn’t know if I could talk or walk when I came out of the coma. They had to wait and see what the damage was.
Being involved in brain injury rehabilitation is not a simple recovery. It’s a long process and a new reality. The damage was to my left frontal lobe, so memory is still a big thing for me. My personality changed a lot. I’ve had to relearn what’s socially acceptable and what isn’t. It’s just like starting over again.
I used to be right-handed, and now I’m fully left-handed, because my right hand is kind of snoozing.
I had to relearn how to walk after being in a wheelchair. Learning how to take a step again is a highly complex thing, something that you normally don’t even think about, like chewing gum. Walking to the bus, I still have to think about walking properly every time. If I don’t do it right, the mechanics and physics of the body break down.
Keep yourself in good physical shape. At the time of the crash, I was physically fit, I wasn’t drinking that night, and had my seatbelt on. I was in a good place when sustaining my injuries. I was a young guy who was a ski instructor. I rode my bike, played football, basketball, rugby. The reason why I survived was because I was really active.
Before the crash, Sandy was an avid skier, and was featured in an enthusiast magazine.
Call for help as soon as possible. With a head injury - both physical trauma and having a blocked airway - even if you have your first aid, you might not be qualified to help at the scene, but it helps. Advanced Life Support should be there. They got me breathing again at the scene, and got my heart going again. Because I was in good health, I survived that. Many little things added up to make a big difference.
Don’t drink and drive. You take responsibilities for your actions; you will be held accountable for your actions. There’s nothing cool about drinking and driving. This is so serious; one mistake can be devastating.
A big reason of my recovery has been my support. Brain injuries are invisible disabilities. If you learn more about brain injuries, you'll find that no two brain injuries are the same. Having a family willing to learn what that was all about and support me along the way was huge.
By being understanding and willing to help, you’re making a person’s day a little better.
The PARTY Program
(Prevent Alcohol and Risk Related Trauma in Youth) has also been such a good outlet for me. I’m telling my story as a way to share recovery and support information with other families. I tell people that you can’t give up on a brain-injured person. A head injury not only frustrates the person with injury, but those around them. After a head injury your personality may be totally different and your ambitions change - this can affect the people around you.
My treatment and my care was so, so good in Victoria. I’m lucky to have been in the right situation with the right trained staff, and my care was great from the beginning. Without the excellent support of the Victoria Brain Injury Society and Gorge Road Hospital to support me and my parents, I could have had more serious issues, and life could have been so different.
Thanks to the care I received, though I’m fully head injured, I’ve got a great life. I’ve been able to move on.
My injury could have been so much worse.
The help that I now provide to others comes naturally and I hope makes a positive impact on somebody else. I want people to realize that recovery is a long-term thing, but you’re always able to heal a bit and make things a bit better.