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Saturday, 20 September 2014

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I couldn’t cuddle my children after car crash, says Cumbrian mum

Rachael Farrell was on the verge of making her lifelong dream a reality.

Rachael Farrell photo
Rachael Farrell and her children Harry Edward Naylor and Georgia Naylor

A devoted mum of two young children, with a passion for the outdoors, she had spent years honing her skills as a horse rider.

She was just weeks away from taking the exam that would allow her to qualify as an instructor.

But on July 17, 2011, as a friend drove her to a final pre-exam course in Morpeth, 34-year-old Rachael’s life was cruelly changed forever.

At the wheel of the Volkswagen Polo in which she was a passenger was 20-year-old Amber Sullivan, from Cleator Moor.

As she took a left-hand bend on the A66, the young driver lost control, her car careering across the road before slamming sideways into a tree.

Rachael, from Lowca, suffered appalling injuries: a shattered collar bone, leg injuries, and – most worrying of all – a broken neck.

“For the first few days after the accident, they didn’t know whether I was going to make it,” said Rachael, who also suffered what medics call a “moderate” brain injury.

She spent nine days in intensive care in Newcastle and six weeks in hospital.

Thankfully, she has no memory of the accident.

But in the week when top judges told the driver she had no grounds to complain about her £3,000 fine, Rachael gave a detailed account of the price she paid for the accident, describing how her injuries have changed her life.

She said: “My first memory after the accident is of being in hospital in Carlisle.

“In Newcastle, they’d put me in an induced coma because I had what the doctor’s called a ‘hangman’s’ break in my neck. It was the second vertebrae down. Until I’d come round, they didn’t know whether I’d be paralysed. Unfortunately, my neck hasn’t healed.

“They think I might need another operation.”

Rachael’s neat summary barely hints at the struggle she and her family faced and continue to face.

“Before the accident,” said Rachael, “I was always busy with my two children. Horses have been a big part of my life since I was 11.

“I was training to be a riding instructor, and now, because of my injury, I can’t have the career I’d dreamed of. If I got on a horse and fell off, there’s a good chance I’d be paralysed. I have to be very careful.”

For her partner Luke Naylor, 32, her parents Linda and Edward Farrell, and in particular for her children Georgina, ten, and six-year-old Harry, the fallout from the accident was traumatic.

In the days after the accident, as Rachael lay in hospital, surrounded by machinery and monitors, her children were being looked after by a family friend.

Because her neck needed to be stabilised, doctors had to fit Rachael with a ‘halo’, a cumbersome metal frame that surrounded her head.

“It was screwed into my skull, and went down to the bottom of my ribs. I had it on for 13 or 14 weeks and throughout that time I couldn’t lie down and couldn’t sleep. It felt horrid.

“I had to go to Newcastle to have it tightened every two weeks. We all had to go to live with my mum and dad until just before Christmas, except Luke who stayed at home to look after our animals.

“Anybody who knows me knows I love to cuddle my kids. But the halo made that impossible.

“After it came off, the first cuddle with them was amazing.

“If it hadn’t been for the accident, I’d probably now be a qualified instructor. I want to be the person I used to be but I know I never will be.

“The kids were out this week playing on the sledge in the snow. Before I’d have got on the sledge with them, but now I just can’t risk it.

“I was always there with them, doing stuff with them. But you learn to live with how you are. I’ve had such brilliant support from my family and friends, and that’s why I’ve made such a good recovery.”

Rachael’s mum Linda, 58, recalled how numb the family felt after the accident.

“It was an emotional roller coaster,” she said. “They had to fit a steel plate to her collar bone where the seat belt broke it.

“Rachael now looks okay, but people don’t see how drained of energy she can get because of her brain injury and how it can make her sleep all day. But she doesn’t want to be poorly.”

Appeal Court judges this week ruled that Amber Sullivan, of Bowthorn, Cleator Moor, who admitted careless driving, should have to pay her £3,000 fine, with £1,500 court costs.

Her lawyers argued that the fine was too harsh.

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