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Dublin: 3 °C Sunday 17 November, 2019
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I had to live for two years without a forehead - all because of one tiny mistake

Gráinne wants to help prevent other people going through the same trauma.

grainne kealy Source: Gráinne Kealy

I would just hope and pray that people will listen and learn from my horrible experience, because it really has not been an easy road at all, and it’s a road I’m still on.

A YOUNG WOMAN who had to live for two years without a forehead bone after an accident is appealing to people not to travel with their feet on a car dashboard.

Gráinne Kealy (31) was just 22 in 2006 when, as a passenger in a car driven by her boyfriend, she was badly injured in a crash.

She had been sitting with her feet on the dashboard, so when the airbag was inflated, her knees flew up and hit her in the face.

Her forehead was so badly injured that it had to be removed, and was replaced two years later by a ceramic forehead.

Helping others

Now Gráinne, who also received minor acquired brain injury (ABI) during the incident, is sharing her story to make sure others don’t experience what she did.

“After all of the pain I went through, I really wanted it to be for something more worthwhile,” said Gráinne, who shared her story in a widely-reposted Facebook post.

She told TheJournal.ie:

I would absolutely hate to think of somebody else going through the same thing. My family has been to hell and back.

She said her stomach turns every time she sees someone with their feet on the dashboard, and that she wishes she could stop the car and tell them what happened to her.

The accident

grainne 2 Source: Grainne Kealy

On 16 December 2006, Gráinne and her boyfriend were travelling from Galway to Laois (where she now lives) when their jeep skidded on a patch of black ice and crashed into a wall.

Her boyfriend got out with minor injuries, but Gráinne suffered multiple facial injuries. Her mother was told her daughter had broken every bone in her face. She also had a fluid leak from her brain, and lost two teeth.

She was told by the maxillofacial team in Beaumont Hospital that she had pushed her face in and up, and they would have to undo that. Part of this involved the removal of her forehead.

Gráinne said she and her family have used humour as a way to cope with the trauma of the accident. She has no memory of the day, and only patchy memories of the months afterwards.

Her first memory of the hospital is being asked by a nurse what month it was.

She said September.

It was, in fact, December.

Seeing her reflection

Looking in the mirror for the first time after her accident was particularly difficult for Gráinne.

“I thought I was somebody else,” she said.

I jumped out of the way as though somebody was standing behind me, I don’t think that will ever leave me. My dad walked past my hospital bed at one point – he thought it wasn’t me.

Every year on the anniversary of the accident, Gráinne has an ‘I’m still alive’ day.

“I get texts and phonecalls from family and friends, and my sister always sends me flowers. Instead of moping about it, it’s about getting dressed up and we celebrate the fact I’m alive. It definitely has helped.”

Her friends even call her the bionic woman, because of the ceramic forehead.

grainne 3 Source: Grainne Kealy

During the two years without a forehead, Gráinne didn’t go out much. “I did get strange looks, and I completely understood that,” she said.

“If you see someone who looks different, you are going to glance. My family were more upset.”

She wore a lot of hats.

My hat was always my safety net. I still always have a hat in my handbag, I would still be quite paranoid about it. I held my head down a lot.

The two-year wait for the new forehead was down to the unusual injury – it took time to track down a company that could make a new forehead of the right size.

She does have some small dents on her head from the operation, but is hoping they will get filled in in the future.

Life moves on

There are no photos from when Gráinne was at her sickest, and she didn’t have mirrors around her bedroom for quite some time. But now, things are moving on. She has learned to drive – she sits her test next week – and she has a nine-month-old son.

She has also moved out of home and into her own house. She’s been helped by her family and the people at Acquired Brain Injury Ireland: “They do such amazing work.”

“This is a whole new chapter,” she said of being a mother.

“It’s something I didn’t know I could have, so it’s fantastic. It’s only in the last couple of years that I have come to terms with the fact that I will never be that person [I was before]. I was fighting so much to get back to the person I was. It took me so long just even to accept the fact that I wouldn’t be that person because of everything I had gone through, but that wasn’t a bad thing.”

As part of that recovery, she’s spreading the word to ensure that her traumatic experience helps others. “Don’t ever travel in a car with your feet on the dashboard,” is her message to everyone out there.

Read: ‘She gives the best kisses’: Temple Street kids tell us why they love their mums>

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