‘I woke up after a coma and couldn’t remember my own name’

After Helena Wilkinson suffered a freak horse riding accident, medics said they didn’t hold out much hope. “They didn’t know if I’d ever be able to walk again, talk or manage myself. I had to learn everything from scratch”, she said.

Following the accident, equine psychotherapist Helena from Reynoldston was put into an induced coma and when she woke up, she couldn’t even remember her own name. “I had to literally learn everything again, to swallow, to eat, to sit up, to communicate, to see- just basically everything,” Helena said.

On July 16, 2019, Helena was out riding with four of her friends when one of the horses they were with got a prickly branch stuck in her tail. The friend that was riding the horse got off to get the branch out and suddenly the horse pulled out of her hands, turned around and charged up the lane at great speed.

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Helena Wilkinson, 59, suffered life-changing injuries after a freak horse riding accident in 2019
Helena Wilkinson, 59, suffered life-changing injuries after a freak horse riding accident in 2019

Helena was riding at the back of the group with her pony ‘Sweetie’ at the time, unfamiliar with the horse charging towards her, Sweetie panicked, spun around and cantered and bucked at the same time which threw Helena into the air before she came crashing down onto hard concrete. Bouncing onto the concrete multiple times, Helena broke her pelvis, spine and clavicle and her head hit the floor.



Helena riding her horse before the accident. Helena said she still loves horses and does not blame Sweetie for the accident.
Helena riding her horse before the accident. Helena said she still loves horses and does not blame Sweetie for the accident.



Helena was hospitalised for seven months after the accident had to re-learn how to eat, speak and sit up.
Helena was hospitalised for seven months after the accident had to re-learn how to eat, speak and sit up.

An air ambulance was called to the scene and Helena’s left pupil was “fixed and dilated” as a result of serious bleeding within her brain. As the ground they had been riding on in Ilston, Gower was so bumpy, firemen had to run to Helena and take her to the air ambulance and she was put on life support at the scene before she was flown straight to The University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff. As soon as she arrived at the hospital, she was taken in for scans and put into an induced coma, Helena spent three weeks in an intensive care unit there before being transferred to Neath Port Talbot Hospital.

Helena was in hospital for a total of seven months and recalls when she first woke up from the induced coma: “It was so severe, I couldn’t talk, I didn’t even know who my friend was when she came in to see me and I didn’t even know what my name was. When I could talk, my first words were “Light hurts” and I asked her ‘What’s my name’.” She left hospital able to walk with a rollator, and a carer helped wash and dress her for six weeks before Helena’s friend moved in to help look after her.



Helena said the "basics of life were cruelly stripped away" due to the freak accident but her outlook on life has changed for the better
Helena said the “basics of life were cruelly stripped away” due to the freak accident but her outlook on life has changed for the better

The equine therapist who was a successful businesswoman and had published eleven books on topics such as anorexia and trauma, remembers trying to use a computer for the first time after she left hospital. “The first time my friend helped me switch my computer on, I didn’t even know where the switch-on button was even though I used to use it all day every day. I didn’t know my password and I literally had to learn Word all over again.” You can read more stories about Swansea here.

Despite having a severe traumatic brain injury, Helena’s memory has improved dramatically since those early stages of recovery, but she still suffers from chronic pain which she said feels like stabbing pains all over her body. “My very worst thing that I have been left with is the neuropathic pain and sensations all over my body. I have sensations of broken ribs and various things. The physical side is a lot worse than the cognitive side.”



Helena and Sweetie before the accident that left her with life-changing injuries
Helena and Sweetie before the accident that left her with life-changing injuries



Helena's vision is impaired and nerve damage is still causing her pain all over her body but she has become more independent and mobile throughout her recovery.
Helena’s vision is impaired and nerve damage is still causing her pain all over her body but she has become more independent and mobile throughout her recovery.

During lockdown, Helena said it was “really, really frightening” as she did not receive any communication from doctors. Suddenly, she received a phone call from the brain injury outpatient unit and was told she was at the top of their list as she had so many medical issues. The doctor she saw over Zoom made five medical referrals and Helena was forced to wait for over a year to see a doctor about one of her medical problems due to the long waiting lists during the pandemic.

Helena said she is “still on the recovery journey” and visits three different hospitals regularly. Helena’s vision is impaired and nerve damage is still causing her pain all over her body but she has become more independent and mobile throughout her recovery.

The freak accident has not changed Helen’s love for horses and she still adores her pony Sweetie who was involved in the accident. When she first saw Sweetie after coming out of the coma, he buried his head in her lap and would not move until she told him “It wasn’t you’re fault. I don’t blame you.” Helena said that Sweetie then lifted his head and she kissed him and he would not stop nuzzling her, “It was so sweet.”

After Helena’s hospitalisation, Sweetie was sent to another equine therapist 150 miles away in England and Helena did not have the funds to cover costs for someone to help look after the horse at an assisted livery. After a Go Fund Me page was set up by friend Rachel Kiley, who was at the scene of the accident and had to keep Helena’s airways open while they waited for the air ambulance. The page helped raise £3,520 to cover transport costs home and the costs of a year’s livery. Sweetie and Helena are now reunited in Wales and have rekindled their bond after the traumatic events that separated them.



Helena's friend helped raise over £3,000 to reunite Sweetie with her owner
Helena’s friend helped raise over £3,000 to reunite Sweetie with her owner



When Helena first saw Sweetie after coming out of the coma, he buried his head in her lap and would not move until she told him "It wasn’t you’re fault. I don’t blame you."
When Helena first saw Sweetie after coming out of the coma, he buried his head in her lap and would not move until she told him “It wasn’t you’re fault. I don’t blame you.”

Before her accident, Helena loved singing and performing in her spare time and starred in a local production of Oliver as well as singing in her church choir. After coming out of her coma, Helena had to re-learn how to communicate and started talking again but was still unable to sing after months of rehabilitation. A doctor suggested she started music therapy and during one of her sessions, her therapist encouraged her to write a song. Helena will be performing her own song with a local choir at the South West Wales Brain Injury Conference next month at Swansea.com Stadium.

On her life-changing accident, Helena said “It changed my outlook on life and it’s made me want more relationships with people. I used to be very work-focused and people have become a lot more important. I have been more positive and I have stopped and thought about things in a different way.”

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WalesOnline – Swansea