Laurie Balfour, 25, from Doncaster tells her story...
Stepping off the plane, a waft of heat hit me.
‘We’re here!’ my mate Claire grinned.
It was August last year, and I’d joined Claire and three mates on a girly holiday on the Greek island of Zante.
‘A week of sun, sea and cocktails,’ I smiled.
We were soon by the pool.
On our second day, we went to a boat party.
Afterwards, I remember getting off the coach, heading to a bar on the Laganas strip.
Then nothing. Until I woke up in a white room, alone.
Drowsy, head fuzzy.
Scared and confused, I didn’t know where I was or what’d happened to me.
It’s all a blur, but I must’ve drifted in and out for days.
At some point,I realised my mum Deana, 49, and dad Philip, 48, were there.
It was comforting to see them, but they looked so worried.
‘Do you know who we are?’ Mum asked.
Unable to speak, I nodded.
Pumped full of medication, I was aware of very little.
But, slowly, I became more alert.
I understood there’d been an accident. I was in hospital, on life support.
I had a tracheotomy in my throat to help me breathe, so I couldn’t talk.
When doctors and my parents asked questions, I silently mouthed the answers.
Finally, when I was strong enough, my parents explained what’d happened.
‘You’ve been in a coma,’ Mum said gently.
For four weeks!
She held my hand, explaining I’d been dancing in the bar. There’d been a huge 15st canister containing laughing gas by the bar – but it was unsecured.
I must’ve slipped, knocked it, or it dislodged somehow – nobody knew for sure.
But it came crashing down on my face, crushing my skull.
My friends hadn’t seen it happen, but Claire and Amy had turned to see me in a pool of blood.
I’d then been airlifted to mainland Greece and admitted to Intensive Care at a hospital in Athens.
My injuries were catastrophic. A dangerous baseline skull fracture, my brain swelling, internal bleeding. A broken nose, fractured cheeks.
Rushed into surgery, I had a shunt inserted in my head to drain fluid.
Surgeons performed a craniotomy – which involved removing part of my skull to relieve pressure on my brain.
My friends had called my parents.
Mum had jumped on the first flight, Dad close behind with my best mate Becci, 26.
When they arrived, I’d already had brain surgery, was hooked up to life support.
‘Doctors warned us you were unlikely to make it,’ Mum wept.
They’d sat by my side, hoping.
Two weeks in, I’d had surgery to repair my carotid artery. Without it, I could’ve lost my sight or had a stroke.
It’d still been touch and go.
Doctors kept me sedated as my brain healed – but warned I may never wake up. And if I did, I could be severely brain-damaged.
Now here I was… It was a lot to take in.
I suffered from headaches and nausea as I had more surgery and scans.
Eventually, my tracheotomy was removed.
And, after seven weeks, I was flown to hospital in Doncaster, where I looked in a mirror for the first time.
‘I look a mess,’ I sobbed.
My hair had been shaved, my face was swollen.
I’d lost 2st, couldn’t walk.
My recovery was tough – coming to terms with how I looked and felt.
But, with help from family and friends, I soldiered on through physio and was discharged before Christmas.
Back home, the shock of what I’d been through hit me.
I’d nearly died.
My confidence disappeared, I suffered from anxiety, depression.
The mental and physical fatigue – common after brain injuries – was debilitating.
I had hearing loss in my right ear, and suffered from vertigo.
Becci had set up a fundraising page while I recovered, and I was so touched by people’s support.
This May, surgeons at Royal Hallamshire Hospital fitted an acrylic plate to replace my missing bit of skull.
Hopefully that’s my last major surgery and I’ll be back to work soon.
My hair is growing back, my fractures are healing well.
I still have bad days and need counselling – but I’ll get there.
I’m just lucky to be alive.