Sheena’s long road back from brain injuries

BROADCASTER Sheena McDonald has revealed how the trauma of recovering from near-fatal brain injuries put pressure on her relationship with journalist partner Alan Little and drove her into a clinical depression. Ms McDonald, who was almost killed when hit by a police van driving on the wrong side of the road six years ago, told the conference in Edinburgh yesterday how her family and partner had also suffered."Their trauma was psychological but it was perhaps even worse than mine because they were aware of everything that was happening. I don't think they had any support at all apart from each other."

She attributed much of her recovery – which has astounded experts – to Mr Little’s dedicated care, coaxing her to play endless word games and helping her recover memories. “Little by little,” she said, he brought her back. But there was no silver lining as, after years of struggling with chronic fatigue, Ms McDonald fell into a clinical depression 18 months ago and went on medication for a year.

“Alan’s reward for all his hard work was that I became dependant and possessive to a ridiculous degree,” she said.

During that time she developed an uncharacteristic “sweet tooth” and found herself eating boxes of chocolates and making frequent trips to a local fudge shop to fill up on sugar. “Who was that? I don’t like chocolates,” she said. In that “dark place”, Ms McDonald put on several stones in weight and was told she had become “self-obsessed”.

She has now shed three stone through “willpower” and stopped the medication, while Alan is spending more time abroad.

Ms McDonald, 50, was on her way to her home in Islington, north London, on a rainy night in February 1999, when she was hit by a police van answering a 999 call to a pub brawl near her home.

She told the Brain Injury Social Work Group conference, organised by Edinburgh-based co-ordinator Fen Parry, that it was only in the last year she had started to gain insight into how the accident had changed her and the stresses that it put on her relationship but that “denial” of doctors’ gloomy forecasts played a part in her recovery too.

For some time after her accident, she didn’t even recognise her partner, recording in her diary that “Mr Little visited today” but, although she didn’t know who he was, she trusted him and believed him when he said she would be OK.

While Ms McDonald, a well-known news presenter before her accident, was able to talk about Nigerian politics and the European Union, she had “lost” personal memories of 15 years.

“Personal memories are much more fragile,” she said.

She told the conference at the City Chambers she also attributed part of her recovery to her “anti-authoritarian” streak. Doctors told Ms McDonald that she would never be the same person.

“That makes no sense to me. I have changed but I am still the same person.”

She was told she was in “denial”, something she felt had positive aspects.

“Everyone uses denial. Some people think they look good in blue, some people think they can drive. Denial insulated me and it probably still does to some extent.”

The very fact she said she was “up on her hind legs” talking at a brain injury conference was probably “a manifestation of denial”.

Professor of neuropsychology Jon Evans told the conference that denial was “not always a bad thing”.

Evening News
December 4th 2004