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Brisbane tradie’s inspirational return to work journey following brain injury

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When talented, award winning Brisbane bricklayer, Ben Roche landed head-first onto concrete after falling over five metres from a collapsed scaffold in March 2017, his life hung in the balance and his future
looked bleak.

Suffering from a severe brain injury, Ben was hospitalised for over two weeks and placed in an induced coma in intensive care for 10 days to reduce swelling on his brain.

Such a catastrophic injury was a massive shock for Ben who left school in New Zealand aged 17 to pursue a career in bricklaying. A promising tradie, Ben won Best Apprentice at New Zealand’s national Golden Trowel awards in his first year on the job. He followed up this achievement with an outstanding fourth place finish at the World Skills competition in London in 2011.

“Bricklaying was always a passion from the time I left school,” Ben said. “The hardest part (post-accident) has been adjusting to the reality that I’ll never be able to do it again because it’s not safe for me to work at heights or deal with the mental stress of managing teams.”

Determined not to let his future be dictated by injury, Ben embarked on an intensive rehabilitation and return to work program in close partnership with WorkCover Queensland and specialist medical practitioners.

Ben’s treatment included weekly speech therapy to improve memory and reasoning skills, exercise physiotherapy sessions twice a week to improve hand eye coordination and occupational therapy support to identify suitable duties at home and in the workplace which would enable his recovery.

“It was initially frustrating to be told by the doctors about all the things I could no longer do because of my injury, but I’ve been really determined to find things in life that I can still enjoy.”

One of Ben's passions is rugby. While his injuries will prevent Ben from playing the sport he loves, he has embraced an opportunity to coach the local Under 6 rugby team.

“Talking to the kids and helping them improve their rugby is so fantastic because it lets me pursue my passion for rugby and still be involved in the sport,” Ben said.

A key factor in Ben’s rapid rehabilitation, according to Ben’s WorkCover Queensland Customer Advisor, Sandra Hennessy, has been the holistic engagement of medical practitioners specialising in traumatic
brain injury.

“Bringing the right medical specialists together early meant that Ben’s rehabilitation program was tightly coordinated and could be modified to support his gradual recovery,” Sandra said.

Ben also fast-tracked his return to work by tapping into his network of friends and old work mates. Accepting an offer to drive trucks for a local earthmoving company in November 2017, Ben started slowly, working one day a week and has now graduated to working four days a week.

Ben’s boss and owner of McManaway Earthmoving, James McManaway, said the decision to give Ben a start came down to his eagerness to give work a genuine go.

“Despite his injuries, Ben has been so positive and motivated about his recovery and has been a reliable employee since day one,” James said.

“Ben has been so keen to get back to work. He’s so committed to picking up new skills and he tackles every task we give him with energy and confidence.

“We make sure that Ben doesn’t feel pressured to do any jobs he’s not confident of performing safely,” James said.

While Ben continues to experience the effects of his brain injury, he’s so grateful for the opportunity to live a normal life and make a positive contribution to his community.

“It’s great having a boss who’s really flexible, understands my condition and knows how far I should safely push myself.

“I know, if I’m not feeling right, my boss is happy for me to stop work and go for a quick walk and get some fresh air.

“It’s about my happiness,” Ben said. “I keep reminding myself that this is my life and it’s up to me what I do about it.”

Last updated
14 March 2018