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06 Jul 2022

"I don't know where life with brain damage and this disability will take me but I'm glad I fought so hard to get back to work"

Derry girl who survived horrific RTC chats to Derry News three years on about her recovery, her mental health and how her veterinary career has played such a vital role in her healing process 

"I don't know where life with brain damage and this disability will take me but I'm glad I fought so hard to get back to work"

Katie pictured outside her work, Drumahoe Veterinary Clinic, which Katie describes as the biggest focus of her recovery

Katie Keys, was seriously injured in an RTC at Burt in County Donegal on July 13 2019.

The 30-year-old, who was the passenger in the accident, spent a month in a coma in Beaumont hospital in Dublin where they have a specialist Brain Injury team.

She was later transferred to Altnagelvin Hospital in Derry where she received further treatment, before spending months recovering at Spruce House rehabilitation unit at the hospital.

Katie has remained an outpatient of the community brain injury team for three years where she has continued rehabilitation with physios, psychologists and occupational therapists. 

Katie was described as a 'walking miracle' by doctors but admitted that this placed a lot of pressure on her recovery and her life post-accident.

Katie explained: "The effects of a trauma like mine are more mental than physical which is hard because I look so "normal."

"Although I had to learn to walk again and I only have 80 percent strength on the left side of my body, the fatigue and emotional aspects are much worse. Being described as a walking miracle by doctors puts a lot of pressure on to keep going."

Katie says she owes so much of her strength and drive in her recovery to her job who have supported her throughout her recovery journey.

"My job and the work that I do has really helped me heal," Katie said. "Drumahoe Vets, who are owned by Independent Vetcare, have supported me the entire time.

"They installed a special seat in my office to support my back and neck which still aches from whiplash. They encourage me to take breaks and walk the dogs to assist my ongoing physiotherapy. 

"They set up for me to work from home on the days my chronic fatigue is at its worst. I have regular catch ups with my business support manager to check I'm doing okay.

"When I first started back, I couldn't get up and down the stairs at work so that was my first goal. I told my OT, I have to be able to get up and down the stairs at work.  

"Doctors and professional advisors weren't sure if working in the vets would be possible after my trauma - being so close to upsetting situations and running a team who are saving animals' lives every day - but it made me work harder to get back to work and do a good job for the local community.

"I remember holding a breathing tube for a dog when I hadn't been back at work long and all I could think was somebody had held one of these for me and my family had to see me like that. It just made me more determined to help this dog.

"Seeing the pets so happy going home to their owners reminds me of how happy I was to get home after spending so long in the hospital. 

"Seeing the owner's happiness is even better. I still remember my sister's smile when I walked for the first time again."

Katie (right) and her sister Lizzie 

Katie is now trained as the Mental Health first aider in her work, and she encourages her team to take time to talk and that it's ok not to be ok. 

Katie's team have said, 'Katie is a brilliant practice manager, she really has a way with people and is so good to us all.'

Katie continued: "We empower each other. It is so nice to be a part of this team.

"I still suffer with severe PTSD, anxiety and depression but I will do all in my power to reduce mental health issues in the industry and the city, and break the stigma attached to admitting you need help. 

"I don't know where life with brain damage and this disability will take me but I know that I will be supported by my team the whole way and I'm so glad I fought so hard to get back to work."

Katie is currently working part-time as Manager at the vets and said her job definitely kept and continues to keep her going. Drumahoe Veterinary Clinic work with local charities, Pet FBI and Rainbow, which Katie says makes her job all the more fulfilling.

"I suppose going to work every day is a form of therapy and it really does help, it helps you heal. 

"I remember my dog came in to visit me when I was in the rehab centre in Altnagelvin. I was in a wheelchair and she just made me so happy. 

"I've told them that as soon as Covid is over, I'd love to come back and bring my dog in to cheer people up when they're in there, you know.

"You feel so cooped up, lying in bed all day and unable to walk. I was unable to even shower myself for months. Being a young woman and losing all your dignity basically overnight is scary. 

"I just know that all I wanted to do was get back to work, I just wanted to find some normality. In my life, work was the only thing that resembled getting back to the old me. 

"I've just always loved working and I definitely missed that. Every other aspect of my life had changed. Work was one thing that I thought, right, 'If I can get back to work, that's all I care about.'

"Everyone at work was sending messages to me at the start of my recovery and it was so emotional. Those messages gave me hope and made me want to get back to work even more."

Katie says being described as 'a walking miracle' puts pressure on her recovery and life post-accident

Katie is determined to help as many people as she can and provide support, awareness and hope to as many people as possible.

"Initially, they weren't sure if I was going to make it out. I really do feel like I've been given a second chance at life and I just want to use it well. 

"I'm not running marathons or doing anything crazy like climbing mountains but I do think that going to work each day is a big, big thing. It is the reason that I keep going. I just love the team, we are like a family. 

"I still think, why was I given this second chance? And, why did this happen to me? But I do feel like I can make a difference to my team and other people as well. 

"I want to show other people that there is life after an accident, and it's okay, sometimes, to not be doing crazy things and doing what you are doing is enough. 

"For me, helping owners and their animals, that helped me. Healing others healed me."

Katie admits that for a long time, returning to work and her old life was her focus and accepting her new life was initially difficult.

"I remember somebody saying to me one day, you just need to accept the new normal; the new you. But I thought to myself, 'I don't want to be the new me. I like the old me.'

"Initially, that was my mindset, I wanted to get back to as much of the old me as I could. I thought, 'Why do I need to be this new me?' Now I get it. I realise if the new me is able to help or make a difference, then, I should use the new me for a good purpose.

"I feel like that was the purpose of the accident happening to me, I need to use this time to help other people."

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