A life changing accident led Amber Smyth becoming a health ambassador, as she tells Arlene Harris
A year ago, life was rosy for Amber Smyth who is a university student at Queen’s Belfast. But last November the 21-year-old was involved in a car crash which left her with considerable injuries and lucky to be alive.
Now just over a year later, she is recovering well but says it is down to the speed and efficiency of the emergency services.
“I was travelling to work on November 28, 2020, when I was involved in an accident,” she says.
“I have no memory of what happened or even the days which followed, but all I remember is that I was in a car when it occurred.
“I have been told that a road ambulance arrived very quickly, within 20 minutes, followed the HEMS team from the Air Ambulance who attended the scene and administered critical care interventions, before transporting me to the Royal Victoria Hospital where I underwent multiple surgeries.
“I spent five days in ICU and a further two weeks in the Major Trauma Ward as I sustained multiple and significant fractures which have been described as life-changing injuries and I needed many surgeries to repair them.
“I also needed to have hydrotherapy which was very hard but essential for my recovery and focused on both exercises and using equipment such as anti-gravity treadmills to help me to walk again.”
Not wanting to dwell on the actual nature of the accident or her injuries, Amber, who has two younger brothers and a sister, was discharged home to her parents Ciaran and Wanda just before Christmas 2020 and continued attending outpatient treatments to aid her recovery.
“I was discharged on the December 19 and was very thankful for the efforts made to get me home before Christmas as I found it very difficult to be in hospital with the restrictions in place due to Covid-19,” she says.
“I was allowed one visitor for one hour a week, which had to be the same person each time, so this meant I didn’t get to see many of my closest family members which was really tough and made the days longer, especially as I was immobile at the time.
“It was also a terrible time for my family as I literally had to choose between my parents. But thankfully the trauma team at the hospital pushed really hard to get me home before Christmas and although I was still in need of round the clock care, they provided me with a hospital bed to aid my recovery in the comfort of my own home.
“I realise now how I took precious things for granted before the accident including walking unaided, getting a shower, time with friends and family or even studying and attending university.
“But the surgical teams and healthcare professionals in the hospital and post discharge, along with the care of my family, really assisted in providing a better outcome than was first expected for me.”
Indeed, having a supportive family was crucial to her recovery and this, along with expert medical care is the reason why the young woman believes she is doing so well today.
“I was able to go home thanks to support from my parents which I recognise that I was lucky to have, as without this my journey would have been very different and I wouldn’t have been deemed fit for discharge because as I was still in the very early stages of recovery,” she says.
“This emphasises the importance of the hospital discharge process in providing the necessary information to support patients’ recovery and rehabilitation at home — and I am extremely grateful for the care I received while in hospital, and the benefit I had from the specialist care team in the recently opened major trauma ward.”
Amber began attending intensive weekly physiotherapy appointments in the Royal Victoria hospital in January and says the expertise of her physiotherapist played an integral role in her recovery.
She has also become involved with TORC, the Trauma and Orthopaedics Research Charity, which aims to improve the lives of patients with musculoskeletal injury or disease in Northern Ireland.
Having recently become an ambassador for TORC, she says it has been very beneficial in helping her to rehabilitate and get back on course to live life to the full again.
“Words cannot describe how grateful I am to everyone who has been involved in my care and recovery and that’s why it is an honour for me to become an ambassador for TORC,” she says.
“I want to give back to the charity in any way that I can to benefit others who find themselves in a similar situation to me, as I understand that without vital research my recovery could have been very different.
“TORC, along with their Patient Liaison groups, have aided this and provided involvement and advice on the development of patient education booklets.
“It works with a multidisciplinary team to continually improve provision of care, for example through the publication of more than 120 research articles and the fund-raising of £2m in joint replacement research.
“I was asked to become an ambassador for the charity after their recent rebranding to include trauma patients, and I am aware of their ongoing commitment to encouraging engagement between patients and their surgeons — so that they may better understand the needs of the other, for instance through the Patient Liaison Group. And I am very happy to be an ambassador as I recognise that I could have had a very different outcome.
“Instead, I have recovered quicker than I first expected, which is a testimony to the dedication of the surgical and trauma teams and highlights the important work TORC is doing in the areas of research and improving patient outcomes to restore active lives.”
Speaking about Amber’s role as an Ambassador for TORC, Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon, Owen Diamond, is delighted with her involvement.
“As a trustee of TORC, I am excited and grateful to welcome Amber as an Ambassador for the charity as we work to continue to improve the lives of all patients with musculoskeletal injury or disease in Northern Ireland,” he says.
“Amber is a great example of someone who had the determination and a great positive attitude to appreciate that although they may have made her work hard at times, the trauma team were dedicated to helping restore her active life.”
Amber says having a positive outlook is vital to recovery and she would encourage anyone else who is in a similar situation to try and be both patient and forward thinking and focus on life after recovery.
“I would say to other patients that they should be patient,” she says.
“I learned very quickly to take every day slowly and that my pain needed to be well managed.
“I kept a patient diary and found it useful for keeping track of pain levels or new symptoms, so I didn’t get overwhelmed.
“It also helped me to look back and realise how far I’d come by comparing previous weeks and months — and helped to inform the trauma team on my condition.
“Also, keeping a positive mindset when recovering from injury can result in better outcomes — there has been a lot of research in support of this.
“So, if someone else is in the position I was after my accident, I would advise them to take it one day at a time.
“Celebrate every small goal achieved in the rehabilitation process — accept your new circumstances and trust in the professionals involved in your care that every step will be taken to aid your recovery and restore an active life.”
For further information on how you can become involved with or donate to TORC, visit: www.torcni.org; follow TORC on Facebook at: www.facebook.com/torcni; and on twitter at: www.twitter.com/torcni