Mother's drive to help others after riding accident trauma
MUM Samantha Garner is starting life again after a horse-riding accident left her in a wheelchair for six months.
The Paignton mum was airlifted to hospital and was totally dependent on others.
During that six months when she could only use one arm, the trauma of the accident sparked a thyroid disorder, which in turn caused her to gain weight and lose all her hair.
In a final twist, Samantha's teenage daughter, Gemma, also started to suffer from alopecia at the age of 14 because of the stress.
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But their story is one of overcoming adversity. Now they are both campaigning to help others with alopecia.
And Samantha, now 43, has begun a new career doing the thing which she loves most — teaching and playing piano.
The riding accident on Dartmoor happened on Mother's Day in March 2009. She fell off on a canter downhill. She remembered falling off and rolling, but had no memory of landing.
She was left with a shattered shoulder and broken pelvis, and had an operation to fit 11 screws and a plate in her shoulder.
It took her over six months to walk properly again, during which time she was totally dependent on others, with only one arm working.
Then as her hair started falling out and she started to gain weight, blood tests showed an underactive thyroid. Despite tablets to stabilise the condition she lost all of the hair on the back of her head and patches at the front. It was diagnosed as alopecia areata, for which she still needs steroid injections in her scalp to control a cycle of bald patches and regrowth.
In a bid to take control she shaved all her hair off and had three wigs in different colours.
She then suffered reactive depression as a result of the accident and had counselling.
Sam said: "I was fat and bald and it was amazingly liberating.
"As a woman getting fat and going bald were huge things to deal with. Your whole identity is gone. It's hard enough for every woman getting older, because of all the pressure from society.
"But somehow I found it liberating. You do start to realise that actually it's what's inside that matters. I realised who I am and that actually I am a really strong person and had the strength to resist society's pressures and be who I am.
"The other thing that was difficult was having to rely on other people. I was used to being independent. It made me realise how lucky I was to have so many people around me who loved me.
"When I started to get better I went on a business start-up course with Outset Torbay and they were absolutely brilliant and really helpful. It gives you the confidence to do what you want to do instead of just doing whatever jobs come along to fit in with the children.
"I had always loved music and this experience slowly helped re-evaluate my priorities and goals and I decided to develop a business using music to help others.
"Now I have got together with a friend to form a duet, with her singing and me playing the piano.
"We are called Rubenesque because the artist celebrated the bigger woman, as there is a place for everybody in this world.
"Music is such a powerful tool. It is so expressive and therapeutic."
For more details of Sam's business contact www.gamathagarner.co.uk