Sam Norris is a name people may recognise in the future. He has his sights set on getting to world-class level in speedway. It has been his passion since the age of five and he has many medals under his belt. But it’s also the sport that almost cost him his life. On June 16 2019, Sam – riding at the British Youth Championships in Glasgow – had a serious crash. He had severe head trauma and medics rushed him to the local intensive care unit. Sam was in a coma and put on life support. Sam’s parents Claire and Chris sat in shock at his bedside.
Claire, Sam's mum, said: “Sam first opened his eyes three days after the crash but he couldn’t focus or track anyone when they talked to him.”
They waited eagerly for the MRI scan result, but it revealed the nerve fibres in his brain were damaged. He was diagnosed with Diffuse Axonal Injury (DAI) – one of the most common types of brain injury, but one of the most severe. Claire said: “Sam’s neurosurgeon warned us of the harsh reality of his severe brain injury, and that his recovery would be a long one.” Sam was flown to a hospital closer to home and, ten days after the accident, began to make progress, starting to move his left arm and hand then grabbing objects. Claire said: “I had been using sign language to communicate with Sam, and he told me that he wanted to get better and ride his motorbike again.”
Claire started a Facebook page to keep everyone up to date about Sam’s progress. In July 2019 she made a big announcement that got over 1,000 ‘likes’: Sam had a place at The Children’s Trust. We are the UK’s largest rehabilitation service for children with acquired brain injury. We’re widely recognised as a leading centre of excellence. Our centre is one of the only places that can provide the most complex rehabilitation in the UK. Sam’s parents knew that he’d get the best chance of making the best possible recovery with us.
When Sam arrived in August 2019, he could take some tentative steps but had weakness in his left arm. Our Occupational Therapist Mairi, Physiotherapist Jo, and Speech and Language Therapist Emma, talked to Sam about his goals, which included to walk and communicate, and then put a tailored plan in place. Sam was eager to get back on his bike, but that was a huge step. So we broke it down into smaller more manageable ones.
Occupational Therapist, Mairi, said: “Sam never imagined baking would help. But it calls for the coordination of both hands to hold a bowl, use a knife and stir. At the same you use cognitive skills and build strength too.”
Rehabilitation is intensive, involves all kinds of therapies and is hard work. But by the end Sam was walking confidently, talking and had regained strength in his left arm. He returned to school part-time, which after such a severe brain injury felt nothing short of a miracle to the family. For Sam, the biggest moment came when he could get back on his bike. On 28 June this year, he won his first competitive race since his terrible crash.
Sam said: “I hope it helps other people who have received an acquired brain injury, and gives them hope to achieve their end goal.”