Lachie was born with an ABI [acquired brain injury] as a direct result of a forceps delivery that went horribly wrong. Lachie sustained multiple skull fractures, multiple haematomas, including one at the Brainstem. There was bruising all over his head, neck and even one shoulder. He experienced seizures and, all the while, we were told that ‘this was to be expected as part of a forceps delivery.’ In the process of being born, he also suffered a stroke and was in foetal distress for 14 hours whilst still in utero.
We had to fight to get him transferred from the Preston & Northcote Community Hospital (PANCH Hospital) where he was born at to the Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH), in Parkville. He was only just 26 hours old when he had his first surgery on his brain & skull. This birth experience and subsequent journey was completely alien to our extended family. Thus, we became isolated as Lachie’s injuries and physical appearance were too much for them cope with. So we ‘coped’ on our own with the doctors, specialists, and the nurses at RCH our only support. My background as a Paediatric Nurse helped a bit but nothing can prepare you for what we and our son Lachie experienced and the accompanying journey.
Right from birth, we were told to prepare ourselves to have a child with disabilities who would not be able to communicate, have behavioural issues, would experience increasing seizures, and would not cope or be supported adequately in the mainstream school system. It didn’t help that we were in and out hospital with seizures, medication adjustments, more surgery and the multiple assessments, surgical check-ups, neurological check-ups – all on top of the usual maternal child health appointments that go with having a newborn. Our world was the Royal Childrens’ Hospital and doing all we could for Lachie.
Mr Klug’s Good Advice
Lachie was slower to meet milestones but he was still meeting them. Our Neurosurgeon, Mr Geoffrey Klug, gave us the very best advice that anyone could have given us.
He told us, “Not to define or confine Lachie because of what we feared…that we should allow him to be a kid and experience everything that normal kids do…to stimulate him and challenge Lachie…to just have Lachie be Lachie…that we the specialists maybe know approximately 10% of what the brain can do – so take Lachie home and let him be a kid with all that encompasses.”
This advice came straight after an appointment with the Developmental Team who had given us a very long list of things that our son wouldn’t able to do such as: make friends, communicate, sense of humour, cope with mainstream schooling demands, talk, read…the list goes on. Both my husband and I were gutted going from that appointment into to see Mr Klug. To have a renowned Neurosurgeon tell you to allow your child to be that – a child with all those accompanying experiences – gave us empowerment to follow what we were already determined to do, that is to give Lachie a normal childhood and make sure that what he had left of his brain – that we would somehow make sure Lachie used as much of it as possible to compensate.
The journey for Lachie from birth to now has been a tough one, with many steps forward as well as many steps backwards. He has had to learn to live with: seizures (which have diminished in occurrence, thankfully); more surgery; accompanying scars; Horner’s Syndrome; Heterochromia Iridum and Central Heterochromia Iridum (2 different coloured eyes with an additional 3rd different colour again around the pupil of one eye); Unequal sized, but reactive pupils; one fifth of his brain that is dead (this is not confined to one area as there is damage to both sides of the frontal lobe, part of both parietal lobes and the occipital lobe has damage as well); there is accompanying damage to the thinking or decision-making areas of the brain including damage to memory; with everything new subject/skills that he learns, he has to learn a way to learn how to learn it; damage to the parasympathetic nervous system; dystonia affecting his handwriting; severe migraines; another intracranial bleed in 2010, where he had to relearn things; learning how to cope with bullying in primary school, as he had to wear a helmet in the playground as his skull was thinner in places due to surgery and slowed healing/scarring; in high school, not so much bullying, just lack of understanding of what having an ABI means, but that improved as the school was very supportive. All this on top of the usual kid stuff that kids experience…oh plus having red hair, glasses for reading, and braces for 2 years.
Lachie is an amazing young person, as he has continually defied the expectations and redefined how his Neuropsychologists and Neurosurgeons view ABIs. He has inspired his teachers from Prep through to his current university lecturers, including the Vice Chancellor of the Australian Catholic University.
Schooling has been a challenging journey for Lachie, but he has never given up, and has been blessed with dedicated, awesome teachers during his entire school life who have supported, challenged, nurtured and inspired him to strive for his dreams/goals. We have never been able to get funding for our son, so we have worked hard finding resources, educating ourselves and somehow finding resources to help him such as, a Behavioural Therapist, Neuropsychologists, even giving permission for Lachie to be involved in an International Research Pilot Project on ‘Rehabilitation of Executive Function’ that Murdoch Children’s Research Institute was part of. Every step of the way, we have made sure we have a paper trail to document where Lachie was at every point along the way as we knew (don’t ask me how) that we needed to ensure that we had all we needed to make sure that we could fight the best fight for him academically.
Lachie’s Many Outstanding Achievements
At the end of Grade 6 (2009), Lachie was awarded “Outstanding Citizenship” by the Principal in addition to representing Our Lady of the Pines Primary School over his time there in Football (AFL), Athletics (200m and 400m), Swim Team.
Lachie reached the Victorian Primary School Regional Finals, just missing out making the State finals in Freestyle and Backstroke.
Lachie is a current 1st Dan Black Belt in Karate, has been training since 2005 and Sempai (assist teacher) teaching both Adults and Children since 2009, with this year seeing him taking classes on his own.
He recently achieved (February 2017) Level 3 Referee with International Sports Karate Association (ISKA) Australia; represented Victoria in 2010, 2011 and 2012, in the ISKA Australian Championships; represented Australia at the 2012 ISKA Australasian Invitation Only Championships; represented Australia at the 2011 ISKA World Martial Arts Championships in Kata & Point Sparring (ranked 14th).
Wonderful Support From Whitefriars College
Lachie attended Whitefriars College for high school, and it was the best decision we made for him. The College actively supported Lachie with his studies, despite not being able to gain funding or an aide for him.
It was Lachie’s Year 7 (2010) that our journey started with Nick Rushworth and his Brain Injury Australia (BIA) team. Whitefriars College Learning Support Team wanted to learn more about ABI and how to best support Lachie in the classroom despite no funding. We found BIA through a Google search, and they put us onto Melbourne City Mission (MCM), which has a Paediatric ABI unit.
MCM were able to send out a team to the school who then organised a Staff Professional Development Day so that all staff could attend and learn. It was just after this, that Lachie suffered another bleed within his brain which was totally unexpected and gutting. The journey back from that bleed was rough, and left us all with fear which remains with us through to today, as we continue to learn the full extent of the damage as the brain reaches it full development and growth. Without both BIA and MCM Paediatric ABI Unit, both the school and Lachie would not have achieved together all that they did for Lachie, nor would we have made it through the subsequent bleed and road back from it.
In his time at Whitefriars College, Lachie excelled because of the staff and the support/belief in him. Lachie achieved the following:
Service to the School Award Year 8 – 2011;
Service to the School Award Year 9 – 2012;
Leadership Award Year 10 – 2013; Peer Mentor Year 10 – 2013;
Academic Excellence Award for Cert II in Sport & Recreation Year 11 – 2014;
Peer Mentor Year 11 – 2014;
Half Colours Music Year 11 – 2014;
Peer Mentor Year 12 – 2015.
At the end of Year 12 in 2015, Lachie was awarded the Principal’s Award, which is rarely given and is based solely on staff nominations. Lachie was unanimously nominated by every staff member of the College; a first in the College’s 55-year history and testament to Lachie as a person.
On top of this, Lachie represented Whitefriars:
2010 ACC Swim Team Winners;
2011 and 2013 ACC Hockey Team Runners Up;
2010-2012 Double Bass player in the Junior Concert Band;
2011-2015 Bass Guitarist in Jazz Combo Band;
2011-2015 Bass Guitarist in College Rock Band;
2010-2015 Musician at College’s “Believe in Music” concerts for feeder Primary Schools;
2013-2015 Jazz Combo represented the School at Catholic Education Week Concert/Opening Ceremony;
2014-2015 Helped organise and play in a Charity Netball Tournament against Catholic Ladies College to raise money for Schools in Kenya and East Timor.
In addition to representing his school in music, Lachie (Bass Guitarist) and four classmates formed a Jazz Band “About Blue” in 2014 where they competed in the Young Gun’s festival and won it twice. They then competed in The Espy’s Showdown Band Festival in December 2014 and January/February 2015 winning the heats, then the semi-final but losing the final.
Over the years, Lachie took lessons for the Bass Guitar at school which led him to teaching himself the Acoustic Guitar, Electric Piano & Drums. Today, he and his little sister Megan, write songs, record them, post to YouTube as well as weekly Friday afternoon music jams at home.
A Wonderful Life, but a Tough Road
For all that Lachie has achieved, it hasn’t been an easy road. The lack of understanding or even basic knowledge around the fact that the brain, along with the spinal cord, do not heal – that once damaged, the area is dead. This, for us, has been the major road block that we have fought constantly to overcome and change through educating people. The fact that most people who have an ABI are excellent at being chameleons and that each ABI is unique due to each of our brains being different – makes understanding ABI challenging.
Lachie was one of these who blended in well. In the classroom, he was active in engaging in discussions, contributing, being ‘normal,’ but it was when it came to actively applying everything that things got challenging, and where problems arose as the learning became more complex/involving more and more complex thinking. Other students/parents/even teachers (until you educated them) found it very difficult to accept that Lachie had an ABI as he was ‘normal:’ funny, smart, witty, and able to answer questions verbally. They didn’t see or understand the effort that would go into those times of ‘normalcy’, of the work, the long hours, the tears/frustration/pain behind the scenes.
Our “Most Infuriating Fight”
Our biggest, longest and most infuriating fight was in the last 3 years of Lachie being at high school. We can’t praise Whitefriars College enough for all that they did for Lachie, they had our backs academically and in so many more ways too.
Our Fight was with VCAA (Victorian Curriculum & Assessment Authority) and it nearly broke us emotionally, after everything that Lachie and we as a family had been through. We were brought to the edge emotionally and having to bring in just about every Specialist that Lachie had ever been under the care of since birth just to prove that he had a permanent disability which required for him to be granted a simple concession of a 5 minute break per hour for every hour of an exam in VCE.
Basically, we had to fight to get VCAA to understand that Brain Injuries DON’T HEAL themselves, that the brain is dead in those areas.
The paperwork that we and the school submitted was considerable, with every ‘T’ crossed and every ‘i’ dotted. With the School, the Specialists and our stubbornness NOT to give up or take “NO” for an answer basely solely on their lack of understanding of ABI. Finally, we got VCAA to grant ‘Special Consideration’ for Lachie’s Year 10 End of year exams. This euphoria was brief for everyone involved, as we ended up having to fight the same fight – only harder – for Years 11 and 12, which is an indictment on VCAA, and its profound inability to understand.
Lachie had, prior to the start of VCE exams, already received 2 Guaranteed University Placement Offers, Latrobe University “ASPIRE” Placement Offer and Australian Catholic University “Early Achievers Program” Placement Offer. So, our fight was not one that was unrealistic or delusional. It also made us pause and think just how many other students with ABI’s had VCAA rejected as they didn’t understand or accept the expert supporting documentation of that student’s application. For us, all this fighting VCAA was worth it, as we not only did it for Lachie, but we also set a precedent for other students, parents and schools not to give up.
The journey still is not over. In early March 2017, Lachie had to undergo an emergency CT scan of his brain as the doctors were concerned that he was having a bleed. Prior to this event, we have had early warning signs to monitor his health since the last bleed in May 2010: headaches/migraines increasing in frequency, vertigo, ‘absent’ seizure increase. This time there was no warning signs, no increasing in frequency of headaches/migraines. He awoke in a poor way and it was straight to doctors/CT/monitoring.
His uni friends were brilliant, rallying around him, supporting him, jesting with him. The university has been supportive as well, particularly all his Lecturers and Tutors, even the Vice Chancellor. As for Disability Student Services (DSS) – well, that is a new journey which we are negotiating, as they have zero experience or understanding of ABI. This ‘fight’ is different, as Lachie puts it, ‘We start with bringing in the big guns first’ – so we have.
Life gives you unexpected blessings, in this we believe most whole heartedly. We met the Vice Chancellor of all ACU Campuses when we went with Lachie on the uni open day in August 2015. We were waiting for DSS people to turn up at their info table and fell into conversation with this lovely lady. She asked Lachie about himself, his journey to that point, shared witty quips and asked Lachie so many questions. She and Lachie talked for nearly 2 hours, with no sign of DSS people turning up. The chat ended with her handing Lachie a business card. She smiled and told Lachie that he was to contact her directly if he had any problems or concerns at all, that he was the type of student that her university treasures and to call/email her anytime. It was only then that she told us her role in the university was that of Vice Chancellor.
In the intervening time, Lachie has worked his butt off to pass his uni classes, with the support and encouragement of his friends, the lecturers and tutors. Things got a bit wobbly at the end of Semester 2 last year, where he had to sit a supplementary essay to pass the unit – but he did pass. Sadly, DSS has been of no assistance apart from creating an Education Inclusion Plan (EIP), and rarely if ever answer emails that he has sent seeking help/guidance, nor are they in their office for students to drop in – rather the students must make appointments via email. When this emergency occurred with Lachie, we contacted DSS via phone and left a message. Everything went downhill from there as they didn’t contact back – so we contacted the Vice Chancellor as the doctors were wanting monitoring and an emergency plan in place while he is at uni.
Lachie is back at uni, up to date with his studies and course work, his friends are still there – giving him cheek for ‘goofing off,’ but relieved he is back. The DSS still haven’t done a new EIP with an emergency procedure; however, the Vice Chancellor is working from her end to address DSS issues, and has again told Lachie to contact her anytime, as she has been following his progress and is proud of what he has and is achieving.
Above all, the one thing we all proud of – is Lachie. Yes, we – his parents and little sister, Whitefriars College, the Specialists – all worked hard together to support Lachie along the way, BUT it is Lachie who has achieved everything. It is Lachie who is now in his 2nd year at Australian Catholic University, studying a Double Degree – Bachelor of Teaching (Secondary)/Bachelor of Arts (Majoring in History with a Minor in English Literature). It’s Lachie who continues to redefine what ABI is for him. It’s Lachie who has had a goal/dream to be a teacher, to pay forward all that has been gifted to him from everyone who believed in him, supported him, challenged him and inspired him.
Lachie said at the end of year 12: “I have been waiting 13 years to achieve my goal of going to uni to become a teacher, my dream is no longer just a dream – it’s real.”
Every day in so many ways we are grateful for the advice and encouragement of Mr Klug who told us all those years ago to allow Lachie to be ‘just a kid,’ as Lachie wouldn’t be Lachie or achieve what he has without that.
We still have a way to go, it won’t be until Lachie’s brain is fully mature that we finally know the full impact of all his brain injuries as each development stage of his brain has tossed up curve balls. The journey of the last 19 and a bit years has gifted us strength, tears, love – incredible love, stubbornness, tenacity, resilience, humbleness, a belief in the neuroplasticity of the brain, and the belief that with the first step forward comes a great journey.
An Acquired Brain Injury does not define or confine who you are or what you can achieve as what Lachie has achieved on so many levels and areas proves that. As the motto of Whitefriars College states, “We Belong, We Believe, We Become”. For Lachie and us that motto has a greater meaning: “We belong to a family and wider support network, we believe that no one is defined or confined by what happens to them, and we become stronger to face and overcome the challenges to achieve goals and make them a reality.”