James Piercy's life changed forever on a summer day in 2011. He and his family were heading out of town when a nail punctured a tyre and their car veered off the road. His wife was killed in the crash and he suffered severe head injuries and brain trauma. He spent two months in hospital, including a week in coma, and still has no memory of the first three weeks after the accident.
Brain scans showed injury on both sides of the brain, which affected his speech and body awareness. "I just had to keep looking at my body to check where my arm or foot was, rather than instinctively knowing that."
Three years later, he still tires easily and has to pace himself, but doctors describe his recovery as phenomenal. He says he was lucky that he received prompt treatment and was flown to a hospital with a special brain injury unit. Other factors in his favour were his age and physical health, and something known as cognitive reserve.
'Some recent research shows a clear link between the number of years you spent in education and your recovery. The idea is that you spend your whole life learning, rewiring your brain, and therefore when you need to do that because you've had an injury to part of your brain, you are better at doing it.'
James Piercy is in New Zealand to share his story and insights into brain function at the New Zealand International Science Festival, to be held in Dunedin from July 5 to 13. You can find out about other events in the festival programme.