Teenage speedway star to reveal fightback from severe brain injury
- Credit: Carol Downie
An inspirational Suffolk teenage speedway star battling his way back to health after suffering serious brain injuries in a crash is to talk at a conference about his fightback.
Sam Norris, along with parents Claire and Chris, will speak at the annual Headway Neuro Conference at Wherstead Park in Ipswich in October.
Sam, aged 16, had to relearn to walk and talk again after sustaining a severe and traumatic brain injury in June last year. He was left in a coma when a bike struck his head while racing in a British Youth Championship in Glasgow.
At the time, he was 15 and part of the Mildenhall Fens Tigers squad.
His recovery has been described as miraculous by medics as he has worked on his balance, coordination, fitness, speech and cognition through rehabilitation treatment at Addenbrooke’s Hospital and the Children’s Trust.
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Sam, who lives in Linton, near Haverhill, returned to school in November and will sit six GCSEs in the summer.
In February, he achieved his goal of racing his bike again - just eight months after the crash.
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He said: “I want to raise awareness of how much a brain injury can suddenly change your life and how fitness is key to improving and that you can turn it into a positive. It also helps your mentality because you feel good about yourself that you can do it.
“You have to have determination to get better from brain injury. That’s the reason I got better, because I was determined and fit. It shows you how key fitness is.
“I had such a brain injury that the medics in Glasgow (Royal Hospital for Children) said if I wasn’t as fit and determined, I may not have survived or got better as quickly as I have.
“I go to the gym every day at school and I do my fitness routine at home every night. I have more energy in the evening because I’ve rested for longer as I’ve put my mind to resting and how much it is key to a traumatic brain injury like mine.”
Sam’s parents want to highlight important issues by sharing their experience.
Claire, a special needs teaching assistant and intervener, said: “For Sam, like a lot of other people when they eventually recover, it’s a hidden injury, so it’s important to raise awareness of that.
“It’s a life-changing injury. You’ll always be brain damaged but it doesn’t mean you can’t achieve. Raising awareness is turning a bad experience into a positive.
“Fatigue is Sam’s main difficulty. When he’s tired, his speech and thought process is slower and that affects everything else, normal things like walking.
“It’s great for Sam because he’s recovering and is looking forward. He has spurred on and encouraged other children in rehab and they’ve ended up walking after being in a wheelchair.”
Mrs Norris said she and her husband were eternally grateful to the Glasgow medics who treated Chris in the immediate aftermath of the crash.
She said: “It’s a traumatic experience to go through and I can’t praise the Glasgow medics enough because they saved his life.
“Some of the things we’ve seen are really heart-breaking. No-one prepares you for that and you end up supporting other parents. It’s very overwhelming and emotional.”
Mrs Norris urged other parents to ensure their children wore cycle helmets: “We’ve met quite a few children who haven’t worn cycle helmets because it’s not cool and we’ve seen what happens.
“We’ve also met people whose helmet hasn’t fitted properly, so they’re on a quad bike and they’ve had their brain injury through the helmet coming off. So it’s raising awareness around the importance of safety.”
Headway Suffolk is a registered charity supporting adults with brain injury, stroke and neurological conditions and their families through an extensive range of rehabilitation and therapy services.
Headway figures say there were 3,201 admissions to hospital in Suffolk with a brain injury in 2016-17.
Head injury was the most prevalent cause (41.18%) with 1,318 (789 male, 529 female). This includes any injury that results in a trauma to the brain – typically road traffic accident, assault, fall or accident.
Spokesman David Crane said: “Sam’s courage and willpower has seen him make an incredible recovery from a very severe brain injury and he is a great example to others of what you can achieve with determination and positivity.
“Claire and Chris have also been integral to Sam’s progress and we are very excited they will be sharing their inspirational story at our Neuro Conference and highlighting important messages about hidden effects after brain injury and taking sensible safety measures.”
Previous speakers at the conference have included TV health expert Robert Winston, author Jane Hawking, scientist Stephen Hawking and local brain injury survivor Andrew Renton.
The conference takes place on Wednesday, October 7, subject to coronavirus restrictions. Tickets are £40 and are available from Headway on 01473 712225 or by email from Helen Fairweather.
For more details go to the Headway website.