University of East London: UEL student’s 874-mile walk gets people talking about brain injuries

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Psychology student, Dave Thomas walked the length of Great Britain, accompanied by his four-year old daughter, Willow, to regain his happiness, and raise awareness of brain injuries.

Dave Thomas, (
MSc Psychology
) and Newham resident,
walked from Land’s End to John o’ Groats
– the length of the island of Great Britain – with his daughter, Willow, to support his fight against his traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and raise awareness of the effects they can cause.

Dave, a retired senior semi-professional rugby player, discovered over lockdown that he had sustained debilitating neurological and psychological trauma during his playing career.

Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, after facing continual hospital appointment cancellations and lockdown – Dave fell into depression- with his family being his only support.

When asked by four-year-old daughter, Willow, what makes him happy, Dave’s response was spending time with her, sister Ash and mum Helen, which inspired them to walk together.

Willow and I walked every day – just the two of us. I was still a wreck at the time, but I had a glimmer of hope. Those daily walks spent chatting, singing and sometimes just in comfortable silence were the life support I needed. Walking with Willow saved my life.

Dave Thomas, (MSc Psychology)



The main symptom Dave sustained was disinhibition – a loss or reduction of inhibition which can stop people from understanding social settings and what to do or say.

Because of the injuries to my brain, I went from someone once praised for their rhetorical skills to someone struggling daily to process and monitor everything I say, simply to avoid accidentally oversharing or offending anyone, said Dave.

“I want to support people who have been through the trauma of brain injuries. TBIs send about 160,000 to hospital in the UK each year, about 1.3 million people are living with disabilities resulting from these injuries.

“Chances are, someone close to you will be affected at some point, yet until that happens you’ve probably heard very little of the impact they can have.”

Dave and Willow Thomas and Land’s End.
Now having received the medical support he required, Dave has spent the past two months walking Land’s End to John o’ Groats – also known as LEJOG – to raise awareness and £12k for brain injury charity,
Headway
.

Although spending 500 miles of the journey with Willow, Dave says that the most challenging part of his journey has been learning to be alone.

“Very few people know what it’s like to be completely alone walking for 10 hours a day with nothing, but your thoughts. I made a conscious effort not to listen to podcasts or music and therefore initially, I found this extremely uncomfortable. Over time, this has gone from uncomfortable to therapeutic as I’ve learnt so much about myself,” he said.


Dave and Willow Thomas complete their walk around the length of Great Britain.
As part of his recovery, Dave enrolled on a Psychology MSc at UEL to understand more about trauma and brain injuries.

“I have spent nearly two decades of working with people on their physical health,” said Dave.

“During this time, I realised a large part of what I did was actually supporting their mental health and well-being.

“I realised that if I was to truly help people holistically, I would need a better understanding of the psychology. I have learnt a significant amount about head injuries and about trauma. I think this has been my main learning; to understand the impact that physical trauma can have on mental distress.

“I’m halfway through my MSc and although my age is slightly up against it, I would love to go into clinical psychology. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the course.

“I’ve learnt a significant amount and one of the most surprising aspects has been how much I’ve enjoyed the research element. I have no background in academic statistical research and yet, so far, I’ve passed the whole module with flying colours.”

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