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Zac’s road to recovery

Zac Brewer recovering in hospital after the incident. PHOTO/FILE

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When Zac Brewer fell out of a moving vehicle in Featherston in February 2018, the course of his life changed forever.

A day before the accident, the then 21-year-old had been filling out an application to become a chef’s apprentice.

Now, almost three years later, the 23-year-old is looking forward to beginning his life again.

Brewer suffered serious head injuries from the incident.

In critical condition and an induced coma, no one was initially sure if Zac would survive. But survive he did.

“First it was getting back home from hospital and getting back to normal, or trying to,” Zac said.

However, he continued to suffer severe headaches.

“I’d be in horrific pain because of that. They were very disabling,” he said.

“Virtually 24 hours a day for seven months.”

He underwent further surgeries to replace the pieces of his skull which had been removed when his brain had swollen.

When one side of the skull didn’t take, he had another surgery to take it out.

Finally, in September last year, surgeons placed plastic polymer plates into his skull and Zac has been headache-free since.

“If it wasn’t for everyone doing their job as well as they did, you’d be looking at a dead person.”

After the improvement of his health, Brewer began working at the cafe where he had planned to complete his chef’s apprenticeship.

“That was where I learned about my smell and taste.”

Zac Brewer holds a piece of his skull which was replaced by a plastic polymer plate. PHOTOS/SOUMYA BHAMIDIPATI

Brewer had lost these abilities due to the trauma to his head.

In order to test this, he walked around a mall trying to see whether he could smell anything.

“As we were walking around, I was trying to sniff everything.

“Then I got to things that were undeniably smelly.

“Once I realised that, everything started tasting grey.”

Brewer was no longer able to undertake his apprenticeship because of the loss of these senses.

“What kind of chef can’t smell or taste?”

While he had been in the ‘Acquired Brain Injury Rehabilitation’ unit, his mum had pinned up a large poster of a chef on the wall. The added loss of this career path was “devastating”.

“That was the motivation: ‘I’ve got to get out of this, I’ve got to get back to my apprenticeship’,” he said.

“It was a massive kick in the teeth because I was actually about to get somewhere … I couldn’t change the fact that I’d lost my smell and my taste.

“I’ve still got my bloody application in my drawer.”

Although he could no longer taste the flavours, Brewer still ate the foods he knew he used to like.

“How I explain it to people is when you’re walking down the street and you smell a house having a barbecue,” he said, “I just don’t get that. I’d get to the house and just keep walking.”

Since then, he has been doing work experience where he can, including at the local butchery. “I’ve gone and helped people with bits and pieces on their land.”

Brewer is now looking for a fresh start, including a new job.

He would like to do something hands-on and behind the scenes, such as pest-control or building.

“Being qualified in something is obviously the goal,” he said.

“Somewhere nice and small where I can talk to the employer if I had to and he’s not going to mind taking that two minutes.”

Brewer still experiences the effects of his accident.

His short-term memory has suffered, and he continues to meet with the Accident Compensation Corporation.

While it might take him longer to pick up the requirements of a job initially, he is desperate to prove himself.

“I don’t want to be mucking people around,” he said.

“I have to explain to them thoroughly that there will be occasional days that I’ll need to have off. I’ll make sure that I give it a decent go, anything I’m asked to do.

“I don’t want my job to be done for me, but to show me how to do it and do it properly … I’m a normal person, and I don’t want special treatment.”

The accident put a hold on Brewer’s life, but it was now time to begin living again.

“I know I’ve come a long way,” he said.

“Things that you can’t have, you accept that you can’t have it.”

In the longer term, Brewer dreamed of travelling to England and attending the Tomorrowland music festival. “For all the bad I’ve been through I’d like to treat myself to something good.”

Anne and Zac Brewer. 

Zac’s grandmother Anne Brewer said the past two years had been far from easy, but he did not want to use his brain injury as an excuse.

“Routine’s the key for Zac. He’d probably be really happy to do the work that other people would think was boring.

“I think it would be good if he got a job where he had a mentor,” she said, “He just needs someone with patience and time, and I know that’s hard in this day and age.”

Though there had been a lot of ups and downs, Anne and Zac were very close.

“Since he was four years old, I’d get a phone call saying ‘Grandma, do you want to go on a date?’.”

After the accident, Anne left her role as a caretaker to help and advocate for Zac.

“People say to me so often, ‘Oh, he’s so lucky to have you’,” she said.

“But the thing is, he’s my hero. He’s never moaned. Not once.

“I didn’t suffer the pain, but when you love someone as much as you do and you can’t do anything about it, it’s horrifying.”

Anne said she was very proud of Zac and hoped someone would see his potential.

“I’d like to see him happy and contented, working at a job he loves, with people he enjoys working with,’ she said.

“To get where he wants to be.”


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