Mark rides back to health
A rollercoaster ride to better health
Moving at 100 miles per hour, with little regard for himself or anybody else was a pretty accurate description of Mark Thomas a few years ago. However, a serious bike accident put him on a very different path involving years of physical and mental rehabilitation. Now he’s just proud to have a balanced life and a balanced mind.
When Mark took up mountain biking his competitive nature compelled him to race in several regional and national competitions. It was while he was practicing for an event six years ago that Mark’s future changed dramatically. He was going downhill on a track called Broken Axe, when he clipped a tree root.
“It was just two inches high and covered in mud,” Mark recalls. “My arms crossed over and I flew over the handlebars - I couldn’t get my hands out to break my fall.” Mark hit his head on a large rock, causing a hole in his helmet just over his frontal lobe area, and he was knocked out. Mark was helped down to the bottom of the track, however, despite feeling pain down his neck he went home and not to hospital: “Next thing my friend was telling me to wake up as I’d be late for work.”
Within 25 minutes of arriving at work Mark was convulsing and vomiting. He was taken to hospital for tests and x-rays and despite needing 24-hour care, went home a couple of days later. At that stage couldn’t get up, had no balance and needed to be fed, showered and toileted.
Set backs and serious issues
With speech therapy and a walking frame Mark made steady but slow progress over the next few months. However, as he tried to do things for himself he began to feel mentally unwell. “While the accident forced me to stop and slow down, it also made me face a lot of issues from my past involving family, alcohol and drugs,” Mark says.
He had been swimming regularly but gradually drifted away from it. As he sat around Mark gained weight and was struggling to cope with terrible nightmares. Luckily he asked for help: “I had the will to get better but just didn’t know how to.”
While the pool had helped Mark’s physically recovery, he needed specialist help with his mental health issues. Instead of letting his past feed his depression and anxiety, Clinical Psychologist Elena Moran helped him put things in perspective and establish positive thought patterns.
Mark also sought help from the Wellness service at Nikau House. The service aims to improve the physical health and wellbeing of people who access mental health services. Wellness worker Paul Sullivan started Mark on a ‘gym and swim’ programme. Gradually he was able to increase his swim times and introduce a gym programme designed around his brain injury and mental health issues. “I am not a weight bunny though - I need to do stretches with a Swiss ball and the heaviest weight I lift is 15 kgs,” Mark says.
Future looking bright
Mark no longer moves at 100 miles per hour - but he is still a busy person. He exercises four days a week, has a voluntary job every weekday morning and is parenting his two boys, three days a week. He bikes everywhere, has shed 26 kgs, eats a healthy diet and is off all medications.
Mark credits his wellbeing to hard work and support from a few key people he says were crucial to his recovery. Fiona Price from the Brain Injury association inspired and helped Mark to find the right people to talk to. Nicola Davis, a Registered Nurse at Nikau House does regular reviews with Mark to keep him motivated and fine tune his diet and lifestyle.
Paul Sullivan says despite some set backs, Mark has always continued to move forward: “His progress gives me a buzz and is such a positive thing for me as a wellness worker.” Ironically, Marks says his life is more fulfilled now and definitely more organised. “I don’t long for my previous life. I want to enjoy life and help others. I am a soft person with a big heart who wants to help.”