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Medway's deputy mayor Jane Etheridge works with charity Headway to set up brain injury support group after son left for dead

By Jenni Horn

Three years ago, William Etheridge lay dying at the side of the road after his car had crashed into a bridge.

His mother, Medway's deputy mayor Jane Etheridge, has spoken publicly for the first time about her son's ordeal as she launches a campaign for better support for people with brain injuries.

William suffered horrific injuries when he swerved to avoid two elderly women who were crossing a notorious road in South Africa, where he was living at the time.

William Etheridge in hospital in South Africa

Mrs Etheridge said he owes his life to a passing off-duty nurse.

The nurse was only passing at the time because she had left work early as she was suffering from stress after killing someone on the same stretch of road just a month before.

Mrs Etheridge said: "The police were on the scene but they hadn't called an ambulance. The nurse called the ambulance.

"William was in a terrible state; his eye was on his cheek, his ear was torn off and he had a hole in his skull. He was in a very bad way. He had been left for dead."

William had more than 100 bleeds on his brain and at first medics would not operate because they did not think he would survive.

After 14 days in a coma, he spent three months in hospital, during which time his parents re-mortgaged their home to pay for private health care.

William eventually got well enough to fly back to the UK where he returned to live with his parents at the family home in Watling Street, Strood.

Jane Etheridge with son William and the nurse Priscilla who saved his life

But their troubles were far from over. William's injuries have affected his speech, memory and personality. He struggles to communicate and easily loses his temper.

Mrs Etheridge said: "It is like walking on eggshells all the time. Any more than a few hours with him is just so draining.

"As a mum you try to see the best things but it has exaggerated all the worst parts of his personality. When he struggles to communicate he gets so frustrated. Frustration and anger comes out in so many ways."

William is now living in a rehabilitation centre in Liverpool. Mrs Etheridge said: "Having William living with us was so stressful, in the end we couldn't cope.

"His accident shows that you can go out of the house and 30 seconds later, life can change forever for you and your family."

Jane Etheridge with son William (far right), daughter Laura and son in law Martin, at the mayor making ceremony last May

Mrs Etheridge is working with the charity Headway to set up a weekly support service at The Sunlight Centre in Gillingham, the first of its kind in Medway.

The drop-in sessions will offer advice and support to people who have suffered an acquired brain injury following an accident, stroke or tumour. It will also support their families and carers.

Mrs Etheridge has applied for a Lottery grant to get the project set up and fund it for the first year. If the application is successful, she hopes to start running the sessions from September.

She said: "I have only got my experience to go on but I am telling my story to try to get things moving."

This week is Brain Injury Awareness week and Mrs Etheridge has organised an information session at the Sunlight Centre in Richmond Road when people can find out more about Headway and the future plans.

It will be held on Wednesday from noon until 4pm and visitors can drop in any time.

If you would like to be involved in future fundraising events, email Mrs Etheridge at cllrathome@yahoo.co.uk.

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