In 2015, Leah Abrams became a drunk driving statistic in New Zealand when her car was hit by a driver under the influence of alcohol.
Suffering serious injuries, Leah has battled her way to recovery, with the help of her network of friends and co-workers. It was the impact of this support that led to her setting up a charity, NESA (No one Ever Stands Alone) in 2016 in New Zealand, to raise awareness of drunk driving in NZ and assist other victims of drunk driving collisions and their families.
Here, Leah shares her story with Three60 and explains how NESA aims to raise awareness of the dangers of drinking and driving.
What happened on October 10, 2015?
I had a quiet dinner with my friend, and as I was driving home after I dropped her off, I saw a car swerving on the other side of the road. The SUV then slammed into my vehicle. As the vehicle was coming towards me, my hands came off the wheel, I lay down across the seats and I covered my face. I believe that saved my life that night. I was cut out by the emergency services and rushed to hospital where I found out my right arm was severely broken in three places, so I now have a metal plate where the break occurred. I had a six-hour surgery and spent a week in hospital.
Tell us about the recovery process.
From October 2015 to the end of 2016, I had two surgeries, was off work for eight weeks and spent three months gradually building back up to full time work. I also spent every week for the entire year of 2016 in rehab and pool therapy to repair the damage to my arm. As well as this I spent time having counselling to work through the trauma of the crash and it took another few months to actually gain the courage to drive a car again.
How has the incident affected your life?
The crash affected every area of my life, beyond physically not working and learning to write and use my right arm again for everyday tasks. I was affected by the trauma of the crash and became scared to drive, but I have learned to do that again. It affected my social life and my health through having to recover from the injuries and giving my body time to heal. I believe 18 months later, my arm is still healing and recovering but I am doing a lot better than before.
At what point did you decide you wanted to do something to help other victims?
It was around this time last year. I realized how much support I did have during this horrible season in my life and how other people may not have the same support that I had. As I was recovering in 2015, I did come to realize that there is no charity in New Zealand that is solely committed to raising the awareness of drunk driving and supporting victims and their families. I realized that, because of these two reasons, I could make a difference and help other victims just like me. Out of this, No One Ever Stands Alone, or NESA, was created and launched.
What does NESA do?
We are committed to ending drunk driving in New Zealand. Our aim is to raise the awareness of how this affects and impacts people just like me in our nation. Until itâ€™s eliminated, we will show the victims and their families that they are loved and cared about during this horrible time in their lives. Our goal is to get New Zealand talking about the effects of drunk driving and listening to the victimsâ€™ stories so they are not forgotten during this difficult time in their lives.
You must have heard some heart-breaking stories since setting up NESA. How do you deal with this?
I do; however my story doesnâ€™t compare to other victims that I have met in these last few months. I think every time we send a â€˜We Careâ€™ gift of flowers to a drunk driving victim, it brings a bit of healing to my heart. And unlike others, I can relate to some of the feelings that victims go through. I feel that the fact I have been a victim and can relate to other victims, is an important strength to NESA.
How do you plan to raise awareness of the dangers of drinking and driving?
I believe there are a lot that needs to be done and not enough hours in the day in New Zealand to raise the awareness of drunk driving. I spent time liaising with like-minded charities across New Zealand and Australia last year. This year I have been connecting with various media outlets and have been featured in a few newspapers, radio and on a well-known TV news show here called The Project. I also have a national campaign imitative that can be implemented across the country but that is currently in the infancy stage.
What measures are needed to tackle drinking and driving?
In New Zealand, I believe the media and police donâ€™t share all the drunk driving stories and donâ€™t give enough details of when crashes were caused by drunk driving. I think more awareness at sporting and other events of the effects of drunk driving and promoting designated drivers is needed. Only in the last few years, New Zealand drunk driving limits have changed and I think the general public really still doesnâ€™t know what that means when they get behind the wheel of a vehicle.
Whatâ€™s your message to people who drink and drive?
My message is simple; there are people on the other side of someoneâ€™s bad and wrong decision. People just like me: a female, working professional, with an active social life who was supposed to get home on 10 October but never made it home because someone chose to drink and drive.
Drinking and driving is a DECISION and I encourage everyone to think about that decision, take their friendsâ€™ keys away before they make the wrong decision and use taxi/Uber or public transit because drinking and driving is never worth it.
I would be happy to share more of my story and the vision for NESA to anyone, or hear anyone elseâ€™s story who has been a victim of a drunk driver.
Leah Abrams can be contacted via the NESA website: www.nesa.org.nz