Living with a Brain Injury: Stefan Hadfield

Living with a Brain Injury: Stefan Hadfield


A major skiing accident in Canada had left Stefan unable to walk or talk. I mean if you can imagine somebody coming
at you with a very large hammer and beating you on the head,
it’s something like that. I made it pretty clear that if
he did survive, there was going to be every chance he was going to be pretty majorly impaired. WHen he was getting better, recovering,
it was like watching a two-year-old grow up to a late teenager within a few months. The trauma to Stefan’s brain means
he’ll never be quite the same again. Stefan’s accident says much
about the brain’s ability to recover. It was just an unlucky thing, maybe it was like, I was meant to have this new life, meant to have
this whole new extreme learning experience that I’m having now. At 24, Stefan Hadfield was a superman, admired by his mates. A university graduate, he had a
mathhematical mind, and was a qualified geologist. He was sort out by a group of international
extreme adventurists to take part in a challenge never attempted:
to traverse pole to pole using only manpower. The trip had taken them to Canada for training. Even there, he instantly became leader of the pack. He stood out. Straight away. Came from physically really warm, and supportive of people. Someone — there’s a bit different
every day, kind of life. And he had lots of integrity,
or does have lots of integrity, so he was a great leader. On March 1st, 2007, Stefan was
skiing on these slopes at Whistler, Canada. With him, two of his friend: Dave Hinley
and Eric Hughes. The three daredevils had gone off piste
in search of the highest drop-offs. These boys thought nothing of plunging
over a face forty meters high. It was just a fun morning skiing, you know,
in beautiful terrain, and having fun and laughing, and just doing what you do. Just skiing, you know? There was definitely some steep
stuff and we did a couple double diamonds, but it wasn’t — I mean actually it
was some pretty big stuff we did. Stefan was like, “come on, mate, let’s go faster!” the whole time, so he was goading Eric
the whole day, it was quite funny. Stefan’s life changed in a moment. [crash] Suddenly I head Eric call out.
Just screamed “Dave” from — he was way above me, by then I’d skied down quite a long way. And he was really just “Dave, Dave…
Stefan’s fallen. Stefan’s fallen.” Stefan had been skiing at speed along
an icy ledge, when he careened down a cliff face, smashing his head on a rock, before
colliding into a tree. And I was…just…really really surreal
from that moment on. Stefan’s brain injury is described
as the most severe ever seen on Whistler. Other skiers who have sustained injuries
of this level have died. And he was just moaning. Straight away you could tell he wasn’t at all well. It really felt like he was
going to stop breathing any second. So we made the decision to move. But we gotta have a bit of change underneath
this tree, that we can land. And he started to hoot, when we
started to move him and hit a broken hat and the whole of other things and
probably a pretty sore head. His eyes were just open, and
he was still conscious, a little bit, and I just thought like he would be
screaming inside his body going, “what’s just happened? This is wrong.
I wanna get out of here.” I don’t know what’s gonna happen from here,
I don’t know if he’s gonna be really brain damaged, I don’t know
if he’s gonna be dead. This could be the end of Stefan. And then, before we knew it,
there was doctors everywhere. He didn’t have blood everywhere,
he didn’t have a mess of injuries on his face, he was just drooling and making quite
a bit of noise, but quickly after that he went quite calm. They spent nearly an hour and a half
on the snow with him, stabilizing him, so that they certainly weren’t in a hurry to move him,
because things were so critical, I guess. I had my camera with me and I actually, I felt a bit morbid doing it, because
I thought, who gets their camera out and takes pictures of their mate when they’re…injured? But at the same time I thought,
well, this could be very helpful, later on. for Stefan or for…his family. [helicopter noises] In Hamilton, New Zealand, Stefan’s dad,
John Hadfield, took the call he had always dreaded. I got a phone call from one of the guys
up there, a friend of Stefan’s, and it was pretty… difficult to hear, actually. I think they had three or four attempts
to get the whole message through. But even on the first call it was
“Stefan’s been skiing”, something around that, and, you know, I could just tell it wasn’t
about “we had a good day”. I mean they just seemed straight away, “where are you”, “how long before you get here”, “it’s really serious, we’re not sure if
we can survive him.” It was a full 24 hours before John could
get hold of the doctor to learn if his son was alive or dead. When his girlfriend, Madeleine,
took the call, she excitedly expected to hear Stefan’s voice. Instead it was a friend,
telling me, the most terrible news I’ve ever had in my whole life. When Stefan’s head smashed into
the tree, it shattered his skull, causing damage to both sides of his brain. Stefan was rushed by helicopter to
Vancouver General Hospital. There, swelling and pressure escalated
inside Stefan’s brain. Doctors recorded it as “out of control”. Surgeons inserted a tube
deep inside his brain to drain the central canals. If you put a drain and you can remove
some of the fluid and allow the brain to have a little bit more space to swell, it also means you can monitor the pressure inside the head. The hospital model of Stefan’s skull
shows the extent of damage caused by the impact of his accident. It left his entire brain traumatized. No one truly believed he could survive. When it smashed against the rock,
this fragmented, he would have had fragments going into the brain,
he would have had lacerations, there would be a very high danger of infection. John Hadfield flew 28 hours from
New Zealand to Canada. And feared his son might not
be alive when he got there. Nothing could prepare him
for the state Stefan was in. When we arrived, he was plugged into every gadget imaginable. The doctor reiterated it was really serious,
and he didn’t know what the outcome would be. Within the first few days,
Stefan underwent emergency surgery twice, as doctors strived to stop the hemorrhaging inside his brain. I mean, we even had a discussion at this
stage of how do you make the call on whether Stefan would have a life still
even he would be happy with, you know? Nineteen days after his accident,
Stefan stirred from his coma. Relief turned to horror when
his family realized how severely brain damaged Stefan was. He had virtually no vision,
no speech. And absolutely no idea where he was,
who they were, or who he was. I think the only thing we could do
is deal with it as much as it came, really. Trying to think too far ahead didn’t really help. Having spent 100 days in Vancouver Hospital, dcotors judged Stefan strong enough
to be flown back to New Zealand to continue his treatment close to family. My first memory was when we landed in New Zealand, and I asked, are we in New Zealand now? The answer was yes, and I said
“ah, good”. Girlfriend Madeleine had spent
weeks waiting to be reunited with Stefan. But the accident had obliterated his
memories of their time together. I remember her from before the accident, and then when I saw her again,
finally, I just said, “Hello…Hello girl.” I didn’t know what her name was. And that took me
quite a long time to get back to knowing. Madeleine had expected to care for Stefan. But as a girlfriend, not as his mother. When I had the accident, that’s
when that brought me back to being like a young child. Because I thought I was three years old at the time, I just…Everything was just going
round and round and round in my head. I didn’t know much at all. You go from — head-first somebody
who is learning all their basic functions all over again. It’s not like he was a baby,
but it’s like someone who’s taking first steps at everything all over again, and so…very much in need of support
and you have to be… sort of there to help them do everything. I was twenty-one when I met him. That’s quite young. [laughs] I’m aware. I’m aware that somebody
having such an accident I could have just easily moved on and wiped the dust off my shoulders and
say “oh well, what a pity”. But I just thought I’d be patient,
and see what happened. Three months after the accident,
Stefan’s life was again at risk. Weak and fragile, he contracted
a hospital superbug. It attacked the area of his head that
had slammed into the rock. The massive bone fragments and
brain tissue became grossly infected. Again, his head swelled, forcing his eyes shut. His condition became critical. To stop the infection spreading,
surgeons removed all of the fractured bone, leaving a gaping hole in his skull. His brain’s only protection today
is a synthetic plate. Now, I can knock my sides,
and that feels fine. It feels normal. Nothing’s strange. If I poke in here, it’s safe.
Put my finger there, I don’t want to push, because I could push my finger
in there. That’s the one spot that could be a bit risky. Back home, he grew strong once more. But huge chunks of his former life
are blanked, seemingly forever. – Ah, no!
– [laughs] Madeleine believes she can make
a difference, and abandoned her studies to help Stefan relearn. [Madeleine] We always used to play things
like Hangman or “guess which utensil he was holding when he was drying the dishes
and I was washing them”. That kind of crazy stuff that
you do with little kids, and I’m glad that didn’t last very far. The process of his recovery has
puzzled everyone. There were so many gaps of his
understanding of day to day life. Yet, Stefan recovers much
of his athleticism and strength. We don’t understand what the circuitry
is for those different things or where exactly some of those things are in his brain, so it’s hard to know what
has been damaged and what hasn’t. And what things, over time,
Stefan has now adjusted and learnt to do it using different pathways. Pre-accident, Stefan spoke
a dozen languages. Words trickled back,
but he has no idea which language he is using. [Stefan] If I thought about what I couldn’t do,
that would be depressing, but I think about what I can do,
because I love the things I can do, that’s what motivates me to get better, quicker. Stefan once knew complex
mathematical equations. Now he’s forgotten even simple things. He’s having to completely relearn
the sort of music and clothes he likes. Even the food he likes to eat. He had some pretty strange eating habits. He would survive on those liquid meals
for starters and anything that was sweet! And he’d mix tomatoes and grapes
and…start with anything with dessert, and sort of…I don’t know, it was a really strange mixture. Now, I know what I like. I know which colors I like,
I know which food I like, I know what activities I like. [laughter] – It’s Dave…How’s it going, alright?
– Good, thanks! Stefan’s skiing mate, Dave Hinley is home. Yeah, so what’s it like? [laughs] Seeing these images, these
new memories or old memories. It’s Dave’s second visit to Stefan. But last time, Stefan had no idea who Dave was. This whole process of getting
back to some of these memories, is not just a new thing for me. Whenever he’s confronted with
something from the past, Stefan sees it as a challenge. I keep enjoying the bits like,
“Oh, yeah!” because the stuff that links up to more than just the basic photos,
it links up to experience, experience, experience. And you were up in these trees here. So from there, there was three or four minutes. Don’t lie. I have no memory of ever
been skiing at Whistler. But you know, I really hear the stories
and see the photos and I guess the more I hear, the more
I’ll at least have the info in my head. – And I’m keen to go check it out.
– Yeah? – Yeah.
– Cool. [Stefan] Yeah, for sure. Just probably not too soon. [laughs] Madeleine has stayed by Stefan’s
side for two years now. Time to go! They’re off on a camping trip,
just like the old days. Months of patience have paid off. He’s a real boyfriend again.
A little more quirky! She didn’t just go “ah well” and move on,
she stuck with me. She stayed with me and
the fact that I came back and I literally couldn’t do the walking and talking
for a while, and I didn’t really know much about myself, my history or anything,
but she stuck with it. She stuck with me the whole time. You just had to sit back, and be friends, again. And that was for quite some time. But you could tell that he knew
the difference between me and other friends, you know, like… he was more emotional towards me. She believed in miracles,
and I, because of that belief from her end, got to the point of achieving that “miracle”! Which seems like, now, straightforward,
but when I think about what I actually went through, it’s like, “how did I do that?” I went from not having a proper head,
not being able to breathe, see or hear, and here I am! I can be [selected?].
I’m happy I can be [selected]. Legally, Stefan’s unable to drive. That’s a cause of frustration. He’s got to a point where he’s done
most of his recovery, but every day you could see, before, that he was
definitely learning, and recovering. But now, you think to yourself,
“oh, I wonder if he’s learning anymore.” But, actually, he is.
He’s still learning, and I think it will take maybe another two or three years
until he’s maybe back to where he started. Stefan never knows when a former
talent is going to reemerge. A year earlier, he didn’t even
know what a guitar was. Now he’s playing better than he used to. ♪[Come on kooka?, pick up the pace]♪
[laughter] ♪[Go Kooka, go Kooka, go, go Kooka]♪ ♪[Went to the shop to buy some cheese]♪
♪[But they didn’t have the flavor that I please]♪ ♪[So we settled the budget, and said]♪
[laughter] ♪[I think it kinda tastes like plastic]♪ – Good plastic.
– It’s quite…fantastic! Mmm…[in German accent] This is good! Yeah! The reason for some of those tasks,
like climbing and guitar playing, coming back, I don’t know exactly. – What’s [bukeqi]?
– It’s like, you say [xiexie], thank you, and [bukeqi] is you’re welcome.
– Alright. I think the reason that might have happened
is because I started learning those when I was young.
And so I’ve had a lot of experience in my life, time-wise, for those. [Madeleine] But you know it,
cuz you do it all the time! Up till now, he’s been like a toddler. Now Stefan’s becoming teenage-like. Despite the risk to his skull,
he’s hankering for adventure. He’s convinced everyone around him
that he should be allowed to enter a bike race. The ride is up Mt. Ruapehu, the
highest mountain in New Zealand’s north island. Well, it’s called the [Kuni Climber],
which is a race up Mt. Ruapehu, to a ski area. It’s 17 kilometers in distance,
it goes from 697 meters to 1780 meters so it’s just over a kilometer in height, in altitude. I worked out the average angle of
that would be 22.6 degrees. That’ll be an interesting challenge for me
considering my very low level of training today. I think it’s fantastic that Stefan is going to
get back into such events. That’s what he kind of lives for. Whereas once Stefan would be out to win,
he claims he’s now happy to simply take part. Before he was very much someone who said, “Why not be the best at something,
or be really good at something.” Now, it’s like, if he gets the chance to
do all of these things and do them well again, that’s a pretty good target. So there’s a little change in everything. – Number 26.
– Cool. Thank you. That’s just one year younger than me, that! A lot of people here have got prepared
with their cycle shirts on and their cycle pants.
They look like they’re ready for cycling. I’m pretty serious too, cuz I’m wearing orange
and that’s my favourite. So I think that’s the key thing. To be happy. I think happiness
is the key to doing well. But I’m not an extreme dresser
for those events, often, So I tend to wear stuff I like, rather than what is gonna be
beneficial for the event itself. I like the orange pants, I like the orange t-shirt, I like the orange hat. There’s one reason for that: I like orange! – Oh, good luck, Stefan! I’ll be timing you! Go! [Madeleine] I think he won’t come first,
but he definitely won’t come last. Yeah. He’s pretty fit. [John] Before the accident,
I found it amazing, the sort of things he was capable of, actually. So when he had this, it just seemed
to me such a shame, that someone who’d been sort of right at the
peak of his capability in doing so many things quite efficiently
should be…suddenly laid so low. Stefan constantly promotes himself
and his recovery to anyone who will listen. In part, he needs to remind
himself how well he’s doing. – I was in a coma for 19 days. I thought wouldn’t be able to walk or talk or anything. Thinking I couldn’t see. Thinking I couldn’t live. I did get a little bit tired when I was talking, cuz I was telling quite a lot, and he said, [?] and I’d talk, talk,
talk, talk, talk, and I still felt okay, so I kept talking. Maybe more of a workout, but I thought it was nice to share information rather than try to beat them. – So I’m just gonna pass you.
– [chuckles] You must be in a hurry. Here’s the finish! Destination, already! I felt we were about… two thirds or
three quarters up. I made it from bottom to top. I’m alive. I smile. I’m happy! Well done! Stefan’s often striving to impress Madeleine. She can tell he’s frustrated by his limitations. So, only five seconds, not seven or eight. [laughter] Never really seen a man cry much, but I’ve seen tears in his eyes. [laughs] He gets concerned. He’s – he’s not one to admit being in a negative way, but he has been, and he usually brings me up if I’m down, so even if he’s down, so I do the same back for him. He gets worried sometimes, and he has said to me on a couple of occasions that he just want to impress me the way he used to impress me and I said, well you still do impress me. But I think he just feels like he’s on show,
the whole time. Three years ago Stefan Hadfield
was one of New Zealand’s finest rock climbers. Extreme sports were his thing. He’s decided he’s ready to get out there again. [Stefan] Because I have no memory of the crash, or of anything negative about skiing, I’m not afraid of it. At all. I’m — rather than being afraid, I’m keen. Nice to be safe in a helmet these days, you know, not gonna [whispers] break my head again! Cardrona Ski Field near Queenstown is holding the annual Sports Festival for disabled sports men and women. If there’s ever a safe time to give skiing a go, it’s now. I understand a lot about what happens sort of after life too, cuz I essentially was in that process for a moment, and… it’s just, it’s nice to be back, I can be a proper human again. In his earlier life, Stefan was a skiing instructor in Switzerland. The skiing has come straight back to him. Okay! Are you good to go, Stefan? – Yep! Stefan’s back, doing what he’s always done: enjoying life, having fun, and not taking anything too seriously. Nice to feel what the rhythm is again! I was really keen to see if I could ski, but one of the things I was skiing for was to know if when I’m skiing, whether I’d get a memory back to when I had the crash, whether it would just take me back to something or just whether it would bring back bad memories, good memories, or something? It didn’t bring anything negative back, I still have no memory of the skiing when I crashed, I just remember all the good stuff I did before it. It’s just nice to be back skiing, just
back doing one of the things I love to do, one of the many things I love to do, but it was the one that sort of finished me off. But, didn’t finish me completely. I can start again.

13 thoughts on “Living with a Brain Injury: Stefan Hadfield”

  1. So inspiring! His recover was just amazing! Our brains do work in mysterious ways… He can still remember some words of foreign laguages, his ability in sports its still there… Just the most simple things are the harder and that he has to learn.
    On my bike accidente i was only on a coma for 4 days. But i woke up and i could only mumble. Had a lot of broken bones and my memory was affected.Long therm and short term too. I didnt know the name of certain things in my mother language and i would know in another language. I did some speach therapy so i speak normaly now. But because i've always spoken 5 languages, i sometimes get confused and mix in some words of the wrong language. I cant play the guitar anymore, and i refused to learn cuz it frustrated me. Seing people like Stephan is trully meaningful and makes us appreciate everything more tbh… He's a hero. And his gf is an amazing girl! <3

  2. You did incredible recovery. I'm so proud of you and giving hope to us. My boyfriend and I was biking by the water in Dunedin, New Zealand for vacation at February 11th,2017 then one camping van was kicked him off the bike and he got DAI brain injury. He has been in the coma for 1 week and other 2 weeks in Dunedin hospital before flew back to Canada for his rehabilitation treatment. Now after 4 months, he is always be frustrating and he is still struggling to walk and talk everyday. He's see double if he is open 2 eyes in the same time. ..

  3. Amazing recovery. Would be interested to see where he is now in 2018 and if his recovery continued so well. Thank you for sharing, love your channel!

  4. Inspiring story. Keep up the good work with Attitude. Best wishes from the First City to see the light “You’re not disabled (limited) by your disabilities, you are able (enabled) by your abilities.”

    from

    https://craigsquotes.wordpress.com/2016/12/28/youre-not-disabled-limited-by-your- disabilities-you-are-able-enabled-by-your-abilities-4/ and https://www.facebook.com/livingwithheadinjury/

  5. This young man is such an inspiration. The support from those who love him is equally inspiring. He really is a walking miracle. Does anyone have an update on Stefan please? And his girlfriend! Thank you.

  6. Bless you m8 keep going keep positive you are amazing dont give up headway nottingham great britain uk gud luck x

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