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The Moment: Salli Higgins

Ginger Gorman

Sometimes there’s a single day that changes your life forever. For former social worker Salli Higgins, 43, that day looked just like any other.

On March 30, 2012 Salli had taken her two boys William and Jack to school. And, just like she did every Friday, she met a good friend so they could go dog walking together.

Afterwards they grabbed a coffee at the local shops and went home. Suddenly Salli felt ill. She threw up and lay down on the bed. That’s the last thing she remembers.

Listen to Salli tell Ginger Gorman about the moment that changed her life in our podcast…or read on for more.

“In hindsight, I’ve been told that’s probably when the [brain] aneurysm had burst, and it’s the body’s way of trying to expel the foreign matter,” Salli says.

She never showed up to get her boys from school at home time. That’s when alarm bells started ringing. The school rang her husband, Tim. He then telephoned Salli’s parents.

“They just live in the next suburb to us, and they have a front door key, so they came across and then found me unconscious on the bed.

“I think they thought that initially I was asleep. Apparently I looked very peaceful…but then they realised they couldn’t rouse me, and that’s when they then called the ambulance,” Salli explains.

Once Salli got to hospital and had a battery of tests, the news was grim.

“At that stage, they were telling my husband to prepare the kids for me not coming home, and were giving him single digit chances of survival,” Salli continues matter-of-factly.

At the insistence of her husband, Salli was airlifted to Sydney and operated on by Michael Morgan, a professor of cerebrovascular neurosurgery. (That means he specialises in treating diseases of the blood vessels that supply the brain.)

To this day, Salli believes Professor Morgan’s ability to “to clip the aneurysm” is the reason she survived to tell the tale.

The stroke has “had a huge, huge impact” on Salli’s life and that of her family –  especially her two young sons, who were aged six and eight at the time.

“During this perilous time, my husband and mother-in-law took turns to sit in the school office waiting area where my boys were at school every day in case they needed them.

“My mother-in-law, Paula, slept in my sons’ bedroom on the floor every night,” Salli recalls.

It also prompted her sons to ask their father seemingly unanswerable questions, such as: “What’s the purpose of living when bad things can happen to good people?”

Once Salli came home from hospital, doctors advised she was not to be left alone. She explains that this “certainly changes the dynamic” in a marriage; however, Salli says Tim “didn’t complain ever and has just been hugely supportive and beyond fabulous.”

It’s four years since the brain aneurysm. For Salli, rehabilitation has been a long, hard road.

“Things are starting to get back into normal, but things are also very different,” she says.

Salli describes brain injury as a “hidden disability” and says that in her case, “my short term memory has been affected.”

“It knocked my confidence as a mother, wife, worker and friend,” she says candidly.

While Salli works in a support role at Canberra Hospital, she will never work as social worker again.

“When people get to retire, they usually get to plan when it happens. They choose a date. They use up all their leave.

“For me, I woke up, had the aneurysm, and that’s my career over with,” Salli says.

But despite all the potential negatives, Salli has a quiet way of fighting this adversity.

She firmly believes “there has been some good things as a result of my stroke.”

By way of example, she says the near-death experience caused friends and family to rally around her.

“I had lost contact with friends, through no other reason except that the busyness of life, and now they’re back in my life again, and for that, I’m really grateful.

“I have enjoyed and taken all the opportunities to thank people in person who helped me recover,” she says with a smile, adding that now she’s certainly “living life more in the moment.”

Salli also says her children are stronger because of what they’ve been through.

“I think they’ve actually come through it remarkably well and [are] more resilient because of it,” she says.

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Ginger Gorman

Ginger Gorman is a fearless and multi award-winning social justice journalist. She has an innate ability to connect and communicate with some of the most interesting and marginalised people in our community. Ginger works hard to translate those untold stories into powerful and insightful journalism. She regularly writes stories, makes radio and TV for media outlets such as: news.com.au, Fairfax online, The Guardian, The Big Smoke, HerCanberra and the ABC. You can follow Ginger on Twitter @GingerGorman. More about the Author

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