Published: 00:01, 04 May 2014 |
When a horror car crash left Louise Summerfield fighting for life, doctors feared she would be brain damaged and never walk again.
But the inspirational 29-year-old has now completed her miracle recovery in the most remarkable way this week.
Louise Summerfield remembers nothing of her horrific accident in 2011.
Now 29, she comes across as a confident, independent young woman.
It is hard to believe this is the same girl who battled for life and fought against the odds to make a full recovery.
Louise's life was turned around in a split second - at the Chilham turn-off on the A28.
Her parents, Marisa and Michael Summerfield had been expecting at a barbecue to celebrate Michael's birthday.
Instead, they were forced to hurry to the crash scene - being told "things did not look good".
But it looked as if she had been involved in a crash on her way over from Chilham.
Alarmed but remaining calm, Marisa and Michael headed out from the family farm in Old Wives Lees.
They tried to brace themselves, yet nothing could have prepared them for what they were about to see.
Police cars, a fire engine and an ambulance blocked the carriageway in both directions surrounding the mangled wreckage of a silver hatchback – unmistakably Louise’s Citroen Saxo.
On a grass verge, rotors spinning, sat the Kent Air Ambulance, poised for takeoff.
Rescue crews swarmed the scene and bystanders had begun to gather at the roadside.
And amid the carnage, surrounded by paramedics, lay Louise, motionless on the tarmac.
Marisa said: “We thought we’d lost her. We thought that was it.
“She was lying in the road near the wreckage of her car and they were holding blankets around her as they worked on her.”
Louise, then 26, had been pulling out onto the main road when her car was hit side-on by a 4x4 heading out of Canterbury.
Driving the smaller vehicle, Louise hadn’t stood a chance. She suffered catastrophic internal and external injuries when the cabin of her car buckled.
Louise was painstakingly placed on a stretcher and loaded aboard the waiting helicopter.
Marisa is in no doubt the medics saved her daughter’s life as they flew her to King’s College Hospital in south London.
“We couldn’t go with them. They needed space to work on her,” she said. “She was flown to King’s. They said ‘get there as quick as you can’. We were as prepared as you can be for the worst. We sat in the family room for what seemed like an eternity.”
Louise had suffered head and back injuries, a shattered pelvis, punctured lung and broken ribs.
Marisa, Michael and Louise’s younger sisters Jane and Anne sat waiting for news at the hospital.
They were told that if she pulled through, Louise may never be the same again.
“They said be prepared for a life in a wheelchair. They said she could be brain damaged,” Marisa said. “It’s hard to say how we took that news.
“We are a strong family, we were in it together. We were thinking whatever happens, we’ll cope.”
Louise remained unconscious for several days before gradually coming to. But it was not for several weeks before her family was able to properly communicate with her.
“Knowing, mentally at least, she was going to pull through – that was a blessing ,” said Marisa. “They operated on her, basically pinned her back together.
“She had an external fixator fitted and was told she would be horizontal for three months. She was brought back to the William Harvey Hospital after a few weeks.”
The family decided they would rather have Louise back at home where they could look after her. For several weeks she remained at the farm in a specially installed hospital bed.
Gradually she was able sit up and spend a couple of hours each day in a wheelchair.
She was tended by a succession of district nurses, family and friends and, in September 2011 – just three months after the accident – had the fixator removed.
“I remember we went back to King’s to have it taken off,” said Marisa. “The doctors had a wheelchair ready but Louise insisted on trying to walk. She is so determined, so strong.”
Over the following two years Louise underwent extensive physio and made a gradual recovery. Earlier this year – more than two years after suffering her injuries – she was judged to have made a full recovery.
Marisa said: “I have to think about the word ‘miracle’ – I don’t want to dramatise.
"But when I consider it properly, how far Louise has come and what could have been, it really is a miracle.
“Jane and Anne – they played a huge part in Louise’s recovery. I think what got us through in the end was spirit, and that Louise would never give up.”
And it is even harder to believe she has just completed the renowned Tough Mudder challenge – an impressive physical feat by most people’s standards.
“I don’t remember much of the first few weeks,” Louise says. “I would have come to and my family would have been sitting there, but I don’t remember it,
“I’m told I said a few words but I couldn’t tell you what we talked about.
“I vaguely remember being in hospital. Apparently, I tried to walk after the fixator came off!”
The road to recovery was not a short one. She only moved out to her own home, in South Canterbury Road, six months ago.
At the time of the accident Louise had been working for a firm of solicitors in Ashford. She has since moved to architects firm Clague, in Burgate, Canterbury.
It was here, at Clague, that the idea of taking part in the Tough Mudder challenge came about.
Tough Mudder is an assault course of 10-12 miles which, according to the website, tests participants’ “all-round strength, stamina and mental grit”.
The course is punctuated with a series of gruelling obstacles – anything from scaling walls, wading chest-deep through water, swinging precariously from rope and so on.
“I think the accident has made me cherish life all the more. You only get one chance in life and I suppose I want to live for the moment" - Louise Summerfield
So popular have the challenges become that they are held at sites across the world. Organisers now say millions have participated globally.
Yet few, if any, will have done so having experienced what Louise has in recent years.
But she teamed up with colleagues Josh Neal, 29, Aileen Waddell, 27 and Cheryl Clarke, 33, to take on the challenge in Henley-Upon-Thames.
Employer Clague, keen to encourage the team, stepped in as main sponsor.
Louise said: “I know how lucky I am and how amazing it is that I’ve fully recovered. They said I’d be in a wheelchair, they thought I might be brain-damaged.
“Yet here I am. I haven’t even got any pins in my body.
“I think the accident has made me cherish life all the more. You only get one chance in life and I suppose I want to live for the moment.”
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