A HOVE man who suffered a traumatic brain injury after he was hit by a car that killed his girlfriend is appearing at Brighton’s Waterstones to talk about his “inspirational” memoir.
Benjamin Clench, now 34, wrote Ben Again to tell the story of his recovery from a coma, his subsequent amnesia and how he was left with little physical control or ability.
As a result of his determination to recover, he has regained his sense of self, passed a second Master’s degree, run a half-marathon and learned how to live a normal life again.
“I’m so lucky to be alive,” says Ben. “I was so determined to get my life back. I didn’t want to sink into depression because it’s such a waste of time, so pointless. It was a challenge to write the book and I hope it will help other people in similar situations.”
Ben, who worked in international development, was 27 when he and his girlfriend Jazz were hit by a car while they in the Dominican Republic in 2010. Jazz was killed instantly and Ben was saved because doctors in a nearby car rushed to the scene and quickly got him to hospital.
Ben Clench, top, and his memoir Ben Again, above
“It was the last day of our holiday and we had just had our last meal,” Ben says. “We were only a street away from the hotel when we were hit by the car.”
As he lay in a coma, his family sprang into action and activated his £10 travel insurance to ensure he received good treatment . A few weeks later, still in a coma, he was flown back to the UK by private air ambulance and was in intensive care for a month. The prognosis was not promising.
Slowly, he emerged from the coma suffering from memory loss and with little control over his movement. He describes it in his memoir: “I wake and my body isn’t working. As I lie here, I can feel things sticking into me. In my arm. In my throat.
“I sense it’s not right but I can’t think why. I can’t think at all, in fact. Trying to think is too difficult. Confused snippets of thought slip by. They escape me. My mind isn’t working. There’s a tube in my nose. I try to twitch my nose. It’s uncomfortable. I reach my hand up and tug on the tube. It hurts like hell. I don’t know what it is, what it’s doing there. I fleetingly sense I don’t even know who I am.”
Expectations for his recovery were low but he defied medical opinion and embarked on an intensive self-directed rehabilitation programme. Just six months later, he went to the Glastonbury Festival, much to the dismay of his medical support team, and began studying full time for his Master’s degree less than a year out of intensive care.
It took him two years to remember Jazz at all. “Then all of a sudden, things started coming back to me,” he says. “I oddly remembered a guy called Max and a friend said to me, ‘That’s my husband’. She told me I’d met him before I was run over.
“But I couldn’t remember Jazz for a long time. Things came back to me bit by bit. I’m in contact with her mum and sister, who are extremely hurt by what has happened, and I’ve told them that I can remember her now – and it has contributed to my recovery. I’m so sorry Jazz didn’t make it – the fact that I can remember her now is great.”
Ben’s family – his father Hugh, mother Jenny and his younger brother and sister, who has subsequently married Ben’s best friend – and his friends have supported him through his recovery and unusually his story in Ben Again is told not just by him but through the contributions of 25 family members and friends, including Jazz’s friends. The book is dedicated to Jazz.
It was a doctor who suggested Ben write about his experience to give hope to others who have experienced a similar major trauma.
The doctor had shown head scans, which had been taken late in his recovery, to the delegates at a medical conference alongside another set of a patient who was faring considerably worse and in a wheelchair. The doctor asked the audience to predict how the two patients were doing and they said Ben’s scans showed he must be in a wheelchair and not doing well. As Ben was studying for his Master’s at the time, the doctor was able to demonstrate that brain scans are not a reliable indication of the progress a patient can make after a head injury.
Ben still has poor short term memory, poor hand control and a tremor as a result of his injury but he practices tai chi to maintain his physical fitness and he is hoping to resume his career in international development.
“I was driven before this but I was a lot more relaxed,” he says. “My life was panning out really well. I had some great years and I wanted to get my life back. It is only now that I can see how my determination has shone through massively. The book is about the struggles I have had to overcome through grim determination.”
Ben Again by Benjamin Clench, published by Outbound and priced £9.99, is available at ben-again.org.
An Evening with Benjamin Clench, who appears with his father Hugh, is at Waterstones, 71-74 North Street, Brighton, at 7.30pm on Tuesday January 23. Tickets £3. Phone 01273 206017 or visit waterstones.com.