Life changes after serious brain injury

Raising awareness: Margaret Sauer’s speech is slower and  she still gets tired 35 years after her brain injury.
Raising awareness: Margaret Sauer’s speech is slower and she still gets tired 35 years after her brain injury.

Thirty-five years ago Margaret Sauer's life changed forever when she suffered a serious brain injury in a motorcycle crash in Richmond.

Yesterday was the anniversary of the crash. It is a date she calls her "second birthday".

"It's like a new life started then."

Mrs Sauer, then 16, had just learnt she had been accredited with University Entrance, when she got on to the back of the motorbike. She was filling in some time before her parents were taking her to see a New Zealand Ballet performance.

The motorbike she was a passenger on collided with a car at the Wensley Rd, Oxford St intersection in Richmond. Mrs Sauer hit the kerb and a concrete pole.

She was unconscious for weeks and then had the long task of relearning to walk, talk and undertake everyday tasks like eating and writing again. Eight months after the accident she walked again.

Mrs Sauer said yesterday she wanted to share her story to raise awareness of brain injuries and the Nelson Brain Injury Association.

She hoped the more people learned, the more they would understand about brain injuries.

Brain injuries are frequently referred to as the "hidden injury", due to the fact the effects of the injury are not always visible.

"Don't judge by appearance until you know the story," is a message she wants to get across.

As part of her brain injury her speech is slower, she still gets tired and it affects her walking, her gait can be un-natural, especially when she is fatigued.

She finds mornings easier as she was less tired and had to have a rest after lunch each day.

She is active on the Nelson Brain Injury Association, and shares her story as part of driver awareness programmes.

Nelson Brain Injury Association liaison officer Fiona Price said Mrs Sauer's story showed that people could still live an active and normal life following a brain injury.

It also showed how far awareness and support for people who had brain injuries had come in the past 35 years.

Mrs Price said when Mrs Sauer had her injury the hospital wanted to discharge her to Ngawhatu Hospital, and her parents Don and Mary Blyth had fought to take her home.

They had also worked on their daughter's rehabilitation without the range of services now in place. ACC did not provide support or rehabilitation as it does now.

The Blyths were part of a group of people who helped set up the Brain Injury Association in Nelson and were involved in the landmark court ruling against ACC regarding 24-hour care.

Mrs Sauer went back to primary school for a time to relearn and went back to secondary school to start doing UE, which she had passed, in an effort to jog her memory.

She learnt to type and trained as a beauty therapist, but she did not work in that field. She is married and has two sons, Jason and Joey.

Mrs Price said awareness of brain injuries was growing as people now knew more about how the brain worked.

People with brain injuries were sometimes mistakenly thought to have an intellectual disability, but their intellect was often intact they just had trouble communicating.

Mrs Price said another message from Mrs Sauer's story was that brain injuries did not necessarily go away and people with brain injuries, and their loved ones, had to learn to adapt to a new life.

She said Nelson had one of the most active brain injury support groups in the country. It held weekly support group meetings and about 400 people had contact with the associations.

The association also hoped to set up a support group for carers in the future.

For more information contact 03 546 6656.


Every day 90 people in New Zealand sustain a brain injury. A brain injury occurs when brain cells or pathways connecting them are damaged. There are numerous causes including car crashes, accidents, sports injuries, assaults, brain tumours and neurotoxic disorders. Brain injuries can range from mild to severe. Even a mild brain injury can leave someone with memory and concentration difficulties, fatigue, depression and reduced awareness.

The Nelson Mail