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Levi’s story: recovering from a traumatic brain injury

Former fitness instructor Levi Rimmer received a serious head injury in a car accident when she was 24 years-old. Her life was saved by the neuro-rehabilitation specialist team at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, whose combined skills have helped Levi rebuild her life.

Levi sat on sofa
Levi Rimmer, six years after her traumatic head injury.

Addenbrooke’s Hospital, part of Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (CUH), is the major trauma centre for the East of England. It provides specialist trauma support including neurosurgery and neuro-intensive care to treat the most seriously injured patients in the region.

Levi’s accident happened in the summer of 2017, shortly after she moved back home with her parents. She was initially taken to the Lister Hospital in Stevenage before being transferred to Addenbrooke’s due to the severity of her injuries.

Because my injury was so bad, they sent me over to Addenbrooke’s Hospital straight away.

Levi Rimmer

Levi’s dad, Dave Rimmer, explained how grave the situation was, telling us:

They (the medical staff) thought that she might die that night.

Dave Rimmer

Adding: "she went to Addenbrooke’s and straight to the neurological critical care unit (NCCU) and they started to work on her. And we just waited and waited to find out what happened."

Initial CT scans didn’t reveal too much damage, but a later MRI showed that Levi had lots of tears to the brain which wouldn’t recover. Her parents, Dave and Debbie, were told that if she survived her injuries, she may not walk or talk again.

Levi was assessed as needing the highest level of neuro-rehabilitation support.

Watch Levi and Dave share their story


Video transcript: Levi's story

00:00:00:05 - 00:00:02:10

My name's Dave. I'm Levi's dad.

00:00:02:10 - 00:00:03:24

We had a knock on the door

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and we thought it was Levi,

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because she'd forgotten

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the keys the week before,

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and we thought she'd done it again.

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So, Debbie got up to let her

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in, as we thought,

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and there was two policemen at the door.

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They said,

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you better

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come with us

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because she's been in an accident,

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it's quite serious.

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And we arrived at Lister to find Levi

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in a really bad way.

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They thought she might die that night.

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They said because she's so ill,

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we need to take her to Addenbrooke's,

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they found

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lots of tears to the brain

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that wouldn't recover.

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And if she did survive,

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she'd never walk or talk again.

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I was driving in Stevenage, going home.

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Don't know too much about it

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because I can’t remember a lot of things.

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They're all very helpful (Addenbrooke’s

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staff) there’s ongoing support.

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Because when I first had

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my accident, I was distraught

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because I had the massive scars

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all over my face and neck,

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where they had to do the tracheostomy.

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But, it’s gotten a lot better now.

00:01:15:09 - 00:01:16:13

At first,

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there is no light

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at the end of the tunnel,

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but you just keep going because

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I could've been in a

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worse situation than I am now.

00:01:29:01 - 00:01:30:01

I just wanted to say

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thanks for all the help, even now,

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I am still getting help if I need it.

00:01:36:20 - 00:01:41:11

I can always ring them up for advice,

00:01:41:13 - 00:01:42:20

or anything like that.

Following her NCCU care, Levi was transferred to a rapid access acute rehabilitation ward under the care of Dr Fahim Anwar, a consultant in rehabilitation medicine.

Here her care was provided by a specialist multi-disciplinary team all working to support her complex physical, cognitive and psychological needs and plan her long-term rehabilitation.

Dr Fahim Anwar sat at a desk
Dr Anwar's team have cared for Levi since her accident

Dave describes the care Levi received on NCCU and afterwards on the ward, where he and Debbie spent many hours by her bed.

Staff were talking to her and we were encouraged to speak to her and let her know that we were there. Debbie and I would just sit and watch the monitors and look for any signs of anything going on.

"We were told that if the light changed to red, this would show that she was taking a breath for herself. We sat for hours watching the monitor, looking for a red light – which we did see on occasion and it gave us hope.”

After six weeks, she was transferred for specialist neurological support and rehabilitation to Northwick Park Hospital and then later The Marbrook Centre in St Neots, before returning home almost a year after her accident.

Dr Anwar explained:

For patients with head injuries, there is no such thing as a typical recovery.

"Every head injury is very different. For some, a minor head injury may have significant symptoms which continue to impact on their quality of life, whereas someone with a very complex traumatic injury might recover well.

It’s getting the right help at the right time and that’s what Levi got.”

Levi has continued to visit Addenbrooke’s Hospital for ongoing support, seeing Dr Anwar in outpatient clinic appointments.

She doesn’t have any memories from the period after her accident. And spent around four months in a state called prolonged disorder of consciousness, where she was sometimes able to respond to external stimulation, but not fully aware of what was happening around her.

Although her memory and thinking skills are much better, Levi’s injuries have been life-changing.

She has ataxia (opens in a new tab) which affects her speech, balance and co-ordination, making it difficult to walk and write. Her hearing has also been affected and although this has improved, she will soon need a hearing aid.

Levi told us:

When I first had the accident I was distraught because I had massive scars all over my face and neck where they had to do the tracheotomy. But it’s got a lot better now.

“I walk with a walking frame, and I am learning to walk with just a walking stick. I do that, but not at a great distance at the moment because it is quite difficult. But if I’ve got something to hold onto like a treadmill, I can do it.”

Levi still has regular physiotherapy sessions to help improve her balance and walking. She enjoys socialising with her friends and going to the gym to use the treadmill and stepping machines.

She is sharing her story to thank the team that have helped her rebuild her life and give hope to other families in the same situation.

I want to say thanks for all of the help I’ve had. Even now, I’m still getting help if I need it. I can always ring them up for advice or anything like that.

After six years, Levi is still seeing small improvements in what she is able to do, saying: "At first it feels like there is no light at the end of the tunnel but you’ve just got to keep going because I could have been in a worse situation than I am now. I am walking a lot more, talking better."