Dialog Box

A thank you for a life given back

A thank you for a life given back – Mark and Letetia Berthelsen’s story

Mark Berthelsen credits the PA Hospital with saving his life, and the hospital’s Brain Injury Rehabilitation Unit (BIRU) with getting him back to the life he loves, managing the family farm at Mundubbera.

Mark became a patient at the PA after a horse accident on his then Chinchilla property in May 2012. The accident was so severe Mark was transferred by helicopter to the PA, where he was in a coma for more than two weeks. He had suffered three skull fractures and four broken ribs and would have post-traumatic amnesia for 67 days.

Mark Berthelsen in the PA Hospital within the first 24 hours of his accident.

After waking from his coma, Mark spent six months rehabilitating as both an inpatient and outpatient of BIRU, learning the tools he would need to return to life on the family farm.

Mark’s memory of his accident is not clear, outside of working one moment and then waking up in hospital the next, but his wife Letetia remembers just how scary the time in their lives was.

“He should not be alive, at one point the doctor said to me we have done everything we can do medically, now it is up to him we are going to back the medication off and we will have family meeting tomorrow morning,” Letetia said.Mark and Letetia Berthelsen with their three sons.

“At the time, our sons we are 14, 12 and 10. It felt like your whole world was collapsing around you, and I remember having the meeting the next day and the doctor said I do not know what happened, but he is coming back around.”

Thanks to the support of PA social worker Annerley Bates and her BIRU colleagues, Mark’s rehabilitation has been a success and he and Letetia are still running their family cattle business at Mundubbera and Gayndah to this day.

“I came out of BIRU in September 2012 and went back as an outpatient until Christmas. Even then in my own mind I thought I nothing was wrong with me, but it was really two or three years after that I really started to get back to who I was before the accident,” Mark said.

“Everyday things became clearer and got a bit easier, it’s such a long process but it all goes back to the foundations I learned at BIRU.”

Mark on the first day he was able to return to his breeder property.

“I cannot praise Annerley and all of the staff there enough, the information and support they give you is so useful,” Letetia said.

“The way I explain it to people is thanks to BIRU and the PA we got 98 per cent of the man back which is better than zero.”

Mark and Letetia have given back to the unit ever since by presenting their journey as patient and family member to BIRU patients when they’re in Brisbane for the annual Brisbane Exhibition (Ekka). With Covid-19 putting a stop to their visits to speak with patients for now, they wanted to find another way to say thanks.

Coming up on 18-19 June they’ll be doing just that with half the proceeds of a working dog training and stock handling school they’re hosting on their property to be given to BIRU to help patients.

“The last talk we did before Covid, we had a presentation up on the screen just to show the whole journey. Because every patient in BIRU will be at different stages and their outcomes will also be different,” Mark said.

“They see me back then in the condition I was in. I had lost 35 kilos, I could not stand up, a, I had to be assisted to walk. I was able to show them, that was then, this is now.

“It gives them direction and they can see what is possible, they see how I was and how I am now and think there might be hope for us yet.”

“We would do it again and do it for life if we had to, it is great for patients and family members to hear both sides of the story, Mark’s side and what he went through and then mine as a family member watching him go through it,” Letetia said.

“The PA saved his life so it is the least we can do.”

Annerley said Mark’s and Letetia’s presentations are a highly effective in engaging BIRU patients and inspiring them along their rehabilitation journey.

“It gives patients a sense of hope,” she said.

“Because they both have lived experience of newly acquired brain injury, when they speak at our patient support groups it is always something the patients really benefit from.

“From where he was 10 years ago, to where he is now, BIRU patients and their families can see him and be reassured that there is light at the end of the tunnel.”

Mark and Letetia both agreed that when trainer Sean Barrett offered to give 50 per cent of his proceeds to a cause close to their heart, they quickly thought of BIRU because of the amount of people treated and the high numbers of people from the bush who are treated at the PA.

“We want to do what we can because there is more people out there with head injuries than people realise and a lot of people from the bush and regional areas,” Mark said.

“BIRU is such an important place for patients to help them achieve the best outcome possible.”

“The most rewarding thing out of Mark’s journey while we were at BIRU was the city meeting the rural aspect because the city people don’t always understand what life in the country is like,” Letetia said.

“The vast area of land that we manage is hard for some city people to comprehend, just what people in the bush do to sustain our lifestyle, it is everything from doing bookwork to managing the cattle and the land to support the cattle to generate your income.

“Putting that into perspective for BIRU staff, explaining our situation was a great help for them to be able to tailor his rehab. They got a better understanding of Mark’s needs from me as a family member and it was really rewarding that they took that all on board and tailored his rehab to the person that he was prior to his head injury.”

You can donate to the Berthelsen's fundraiser here.

07 June 2022
Category: Patient stories