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Composer's niece fights back after crash

08:53 19 March 2007

THE niece of composer Andrew Lloyd-Webber has told for the first time of learning to talk and walk again as she recovers from a car crash which left her critically injured.
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THE niece of composer Andrew Lloyd-Webber has told for the first time of learning to talk and walk again as she recovers from a car crash which left her critically injured.

Iona Barclay, 23, from Suffolk, who spent six weeks in a coma after the accident last year, says it is almost as if she fell asleep in 2005 and woke up in 2007.

She has lost more than a year's worth of memories, but is now fighting her way back to full health.

The skilful horsewoman, who was brought up near Woodbridge and attended Woodbridge School, travelled to France at the beginning of September to take part in the Student Gumball Rally - a 1,500-mile road adventure from the UK to Eastern Europe for university students.

She was a passenger in a vehicle which crashed near the Croatian capital Zagreb on September 6, but it was not taking part in the rally at the time.

Iona, who studied international equine and land management at Cirencester Agricultural College, broke her jaw, cheekbone and badly damaged her hip, but it was a severe brain stem injury that left her fighting for her life in hospital.

She finally awoke from a coma in November last year thanks to round-the-clock medical care and the devotion of her family, who kept a bedside vigil.

But it was at this point another battle began, and she was forced to relearn the ability to talk and walk.

Speaking for the first time since the crash, Iona recalled yesterday the moment she regained consciousness in a Croatian hospital and how she is fighting her way back to full health.

“Apparently when I woke up I told the doctor I was 19,” she said.

“It felt really odd. I remember I went to get up to do things but I couldn't. I wasn't really scared because I knew I was safe.

“I just remember feeling very, very frustrated. I thought: 'I've only been asleep. If I wake up in the morning normally I can do everything'. It's very weird not to remember anything.”

Iona's grandmother, Gillian Gurdon, of Burgh, near Woodbridge, said: “It was touch and go for about a week. Then her mother, Miranda, was told that actually she would probably live.

“It was terrible leaving her at night. It was so hard for everyone.

“I remember once sitting beside Iona and I said: 'If you hear people shouting in a foreign language don't be scared'. She squeezed my hand.

“They were wonderful and completely saved her life.”

Iona, whose aunt is Lady Madeleine Lloyd-Webber, wife of the multi-millionaire composer, was transferred to Addenbrooke's Hospital in October once she had regained consciousness.

There she began to make steady progress before being allowed to continue her recovery at home in Suffolk.

“I had to re-learn everything at Addenbrooke's. I couldn't speak or move so they had to teach me everything all over again,” she said.

“They had to teach me to walk and stand up because to start with I couldn't do either. I could just lie still, that's all.”

Iona has since shown a miraculous improvement and is gradually rebuilding her life.

But she cannot remember anything about the crash or any details about the year before it.

“I don't remember even getting in the car,” she said.

“I can't remember last year at all. It feels like I went to sleep in 2005 and woke up in 2007 because I don't remember anything at all.

“I don't remember my 21st birthday party. I've seen pictures of it and friends said it was really good fun and I just think: 'That's good'.”

Iona, who has a sister, India, and brother, Alexander, says she is feeling better by the day but she knows it could take two years before she fully recovers from her injuries.

She has recently applied for a place on a racing secretary course at the British Racing School in Newmarket and is hoping to begin this in the summer.

“I feel fine. I'm ready to start re-training,” she said.

“My degree doesn't mean much now because after it I had a brain injury. I'm going to have to start again.”

One of the most devastating outcomes of the accident is that Iona has been advised by doctors never to ride a horse again, which was painful news given that her life revolved around competitive horse racing.

“With my brain injury, my head will always be weaker now and if I bang it, they can't mend me twice,” she said.

“But they say I'm quite lucky as with a brain stem injury you either die straight away or you recover fully.”

Iona's treatment is ongoing but she remains positive about the future and is looking forward to launching a career.

“I feel as good as I was. I'm very lucky to have had so much help.”

Her family wished to thank those involved in her care yesterday, including the Icanho Centre for brain injury patients in Stowmarket and Green Farm at Pettistree, which provides her hydrotherapy.

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