Accidental teacher

A car crash and brain injury led Sarah to discover a passion for teaching.

Sarah Brooker

Sarah Brooker was on her way to achieving her dream of being a neuroscientist when, on New Year’s Eve 2002, she was forever changed by an accident that left her with a golf ball-sized hole in her brain and no memory of her former life.

But the almost unbelievable series of events that unfolded that evening, in split-second timing, are what Sarah describes as the luckiest thing that could have happened to her.

“I had no idea where I was or who I was. I'd broken almost every bone in my body.”Sarah Brooker

Sarah and her sisters had just finished celebrating their father’s birthday and were driving home. The first rain in months had made the roads slippery. Suddenly, the car skidded out of control and at that very moment, an aneurysm burst in Sarah’s brain, which meant she lost consciousness and didn’t steer out of the skid. The car smashed into a pole. It was her dad, a police officer, who took the call on the police radio, “car accident, three girls, one possible fatality.”

Sarah Brooker

Sarah was in a coma for weeks. When she finally woke she had no memory of those dearest to her, not even her identical twin sister Abi.

"I had no idea where I was or who I was. I'd broken almost every bone in my body. I looked at Abi and didn't know who she was or who anybody was,” she said.

Sarah had been studying neuroscience at Monash University before her accident. Amazingly, all of those facts from her studies remained in her brain, but she couldn’t remember being in class learning them.

After eight long months of rehabilitation, Sarah went back to neuroscience and studied honours.

“I didn't know what else there was to do. I understood the brain and it was comforting.”

Although Sarah loved science and questioning things, she found it lonely. She felt a disconnect from the other students.

“I was still learning to cross the road, to tie my shoelaces, and catch buses by myself, that was how small my world was. And here were these other honours students talking about going out on the weekend, or going on holidays. I didn't understand any of that. So I didn't get along with them.”

After finishing her honours, Sarah moved to Adelaide and commenced a PhD at Flinders University.

“I was lonely the whole time, and while I loved the research and the brain, I missed the connection to people.”

Sarah Brooker

When Sarah was working towards her PhD, she started tutoring to supplement her income.

“I reached the end of the PhD and I thought, ‘Science isn't where I want to be. What's made me happy is teaching.’

“I came over to the University of Adelaide to study teaching and had the most magic time.”

Sarah is now a high school relief teacher and recently published author, living with her husband Alan on a farm opposite Kuipto forest.

“I absolutely love teaching. And I'm so glad the accident happened because had it not, I wouldn't be a teacher. And I wouldn't have so much fun every day going to school and working with kids.”

Sarah tells her incredible story in her new book My Lucky Stroke, available now in book stores and online.


Story by Renee Capps
Photos by Meaghan Coles

Tagged in lumen summer 2020, lumen