Touching Lives - September 2016
Caring for Kira
A life-changing accident when she was a toddler caused devastating injuries to Kira’s brain, leaving her with learning and physical disabilities, as her mum Erika explains.
“Kira is sixteen now, but in many ways she’s still a little girl,” says Erika. “Thankfully, she has no real understanding of what has happened to her and she’s got the same happy personality she had before her head injury.”
Kira was just two-and-a-half years old when she was involved in a tragic car accident. “We were living with my mother in rural France when the accident happened,” recalls Erika. “It was so terrible that I’ve blocked out many of the details. But I remember the helicopter landing on the local cricket pitch ready to airlift Kira to hospital. I remember her bleeding from her nose and ears. And I remember the way nurses wrapped a sheet around her head so we couldn’t see the extent of her injuries.”
While Kira’s accident was especially severe, head injuries are common in children and usually happen unexpectedly. They are most dangerous if they cause damage to the brain and every year more than 35,000 UK children are admitted to hospital with a traumatic brain injury.
“The accident was so terrible that I’ve blocked out many of the details”
Kira’s mum, Erika
The extent of the damage will vary and may not be obvious straight away. It can include problems with memory, concentration and learning, or behavioural issues such as aggression. The most seriously affected children, like Kira, will be left with long-term disabilities. Some may even die.
Kira’s brain injury has affected all aspects of her life. She now uses a wheelchair, needs help with everyday basics like washing and eating, and can only use the left side of her body.
After her accident, Kira was put into an induced coma to help her body heal. Her family was told that she had wounds, called lesions, on her brain and would be unable to talk. Thankfully she proved her doctors wrong and Kira is able to talk, but her speech is limited. She can also read at about the level of a six or seven-year-old.
“The doctors also told me that Kira was blind, but I refused to believe it,” says Erika. “I could see her silently laughing as she watched videos from her hospital bed.”
Erika, who was pregnant with her second daughter Olivia at the time, spent every day at Kira’s bedside. Her faith in her tiny daughter was rewarded when, to the medics’ amazement, Kira waved at a passing doctor – proving that she could see. She also surprised doctors by learning to sit up and trying to eat using her left hand.
Kira was moved to a rehabilitation centre and, three months after the accident took place, she was allowed home. But it was clear that Kira, previously a bright little girl, now had learning disabilities.
Today, at 16, Kira is well physically but, her mother says, very vulnerable: “She has no sense of fear or danger and, if anything happened, she does not have the vocabulary to explain. She needs supervision at all times.”
Carers come twice a day to help her get ready for the day with a bath or shower and go to bed at night. They also help her enjoy activities like making birthday cards.
“Kira is always positive and very popular,” says her proud mum. “She is a young lady now and, despite the severe disabilities caused by her head injury, it’s important that is recognised.”
Research that could help children like Kira is, Erika feels, very much needed: “The brain is so complex. There definitely needs to be more research into how different parts of the brain are used, and whether memory can be improved to help children in their everyday life,” she says.
“I would love to know more about what Kira is able to understand and whether she thinks ahead. More detailed brain scans have the potential to really help other children who have suffered a serious head injury.”
Action Medical Research is currently funding two studies to help children and young people who have suffered a serious head injury.
Professor David Sharp at Imperial College London is developing sophisticated new brain scans to enable more accurate diagnosis of children’s problems after head injuries. He hopes that, one day, this work will help doctors predict how each child may be affected and identify the healthcare and educational support that will be most beneficial. Since most modern MRI scanners could perform these scans, this work could benefit children across the UK and beyond. Action is jointly funding this work with Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity.
At the University of East Anglia, Dr Anna Adlam is developing a computerised programme for children who have survived a head injury, designed to boost working memory. The aim is to see if this offers benefits in terms of behaviour, emotional wellbeing, academic performance and family life.
Research previously funded by Action has also had a major impact in the treatment of patients with head injuries. During the late 1960s and the 1970s, we supported doctors at the University of Glasgow who developed the now-famous Glasgow Coma Scale to assess the severity of head injuries. This is now used around the world and a paediatric version has been developed for babies and children.
Action Medical Research has a long and proud history of funding research to help children with disabilities. Thank you for helping us make this vital work happen.