November 30, 2018
Darron Eastwell survival against all odds
To say Darron Eastwell is a lucky man is the understatement of the year. Narrowly surviving a serious cycling accident three years ago, the father-of-two sustained a traumatic brain injury that almost claimed his life. The 44-year-old miracle man shares his remarkable journey of survival and recovery.
“I had never really heard of a traumatic brain injury before, I always thought of a brain injury as something you were born with. It sure was a hard way to find out about it,” says Darron Eastwell.
A former banking executive, Darron and his family had not long relocated from Victoria to their dream location on the Sunshine Coast when, on that fateful day back in May 2015, the self-confessed fitness fanatic decided to go for a bike ride at Tewantin National Park that would change his life forever.
“I went by myself that day. I usually go with someone but we had just moved to the Sunshine Coast and I hadn’t been on the bike for over a month so I was champing at the bit,” he says.
“I left at 7am that morning and when it got to 2pm that afternoon my wife, Bianca, started to get worried, then she heard a knock at the door and it was the police, her heart stopped and she knew something was seriously wrong.”
Bianca and their two children were taken to Nambour General Hospital where they discovered Darron had suffered horrific injuries including a fractured neck, spinal fracture and a severe brain injury called Diffuse Axonal Injury. The injuries were so severe, Darron was placed in a medically-induced coma for 10 days in the intensive care unit. Doctors were unsure if he would survive, and if he did, what his quality of life would be like. The family prepared for the worst.
Miraculously, Darron did come out of the coma and to the astonishment of the medical staff and his family, he could walk, talk and function – not quite the same as before the accident, but he was alive, he was functioning.
Now the picture of health and vitality, speaking with Darron today, it’s hard to believe he was on the brink of death just three years ago. But his remarkable recovery has not been without sheer hard work, courage, perseverance, determination and a positive mindset.
“I’m not supposed to be like this, the doctors said, ‘You have missed a bullet mate’,” says Darron. “I did my best to break all sorts of records. Medical statistics say that if you suffer a brain injury like mine and you end up in a coma, 90 per cent don’t make it and the ones who do remain in a vegetative state.
“The main damage was to the frontal lobe of my brain, which affects cognitive function. I had a GPS on the bike which showed my speedo at 62 kilometres at the time of impact. I have probably gone over the handlebars and landed on my back. The impact made my brain go back and forth in the skull and that’s how the neurons get torn or damaged.”
The next few months were spent in different hospitals undergoing challenging and intense rehabilitation, including occupational therapy, speech therapy and physical therapy. Basically, Darron had to learn everyday life skills all over again.
“Therapy included things like cooking breakfast, doing puzzles, everyday stuff you take for granted. I had been on the computer in my job for 15 years and I couldn’t remember how to turn a computer on or where the letters were. I lost so much of my memory. I also had aphasia, a condition where I could form the words in my brain but I couldn’t say them, I still suffer with that today when I am really tired.”
After 12 months of traditional rehab therapies, Darron felt he had reached a plateau and decided to change focus and try a new approach, which included fitness and music therapy.
“I was sick of hospitals and sick of therapy and I was at a point where I needed something that made me happy, I needed exercise,” says Darron.
“When I started at the gym I could only do half an hour on the exercise bike and then slowly over time I built up to riding to the gym, doing two hours of exercise and then riding back.
“I also took up the guitar. My chiropractor recommended learning an instrument, it is fantastic for the brain and I love it.”
By his side throughout the whole journey has been his wife Bianca, who Darron credits as his number one support.
“Bianca has held my hand through the whole thing, she was my carer and has been my driver, until recently when I was cleared to drive again. I could not have done it without her and the kids,” he says.
“It really impacted the family, it was a complete role reversal and it was so hard for the kids to see their dad like that.”
Like many people who have been through a near-death experience, Darron says the accident has not only made him a stronger person, it has helped him realise just how precious life is.
“I’ve had a 360-degree turnaround. I think you really value your life more. I have this desire to help people from what I have gone through, part of me thinks that’s why I survived.”
A significant part of Darron’s therapy included writing a daily journal about his recovery to assist him with memory recollection and improve his fine motor skills.
Little did he know that over the next 12 months, that journal would evolve into his first book The day I broke my brain, which he credits as one of the best things he has achieved since the accident.
“I was amazed at how many emails I have received from people all over the world when it was published,” he says.
“It’s not only for those looking for information about traumatic brain injury, it’s about how anyone can change their life by changing their mindset.”
And despite the trauma the near-death experience has caused he and his family, remarkably, Darron says the positives still outweigh
Once I accepted that this was the new Darron, I was able to move on. I have learned not to look back, it’s a waste of time. Look forward, look at what you can do.
“Before the accident, I was the corporate banker, working ridiculous hours, climbing the corporate ladder. None of this matters anymore. I live in the moment, I spend more precious time with my family, I love my life and I know I am one of the lucky ones.”