29th May 2020 was a life-altering day for Steve Brennan, 40, and his family.
Within one hour of his jog around the Trafford Centre car park, the former driving instructor was in Salford Royal’s Neurology Department with a fractured skull and a bleed on the brain.
Now, one year on, the father-of-two praises the staff who saved his life.
At 9am on a Friday morning in lockdown, Steve Brennan left his partner, Stacey, and two children, Sienna (8) and Bailey (4) at his Eccles home to go for a jog.
Less than an hour later, two cyclists found the dad-of-two collapsed and unresponsive on the ground.
Since the incident, police haven’t been able to find a cause for Steve’s injuries, with insufficient footage and a broken CCTV camera at the Trafford Centre.
But whatever happened left him with a severe bleed on the brain and a skull fracture.
He said: “The surgeon (Mr. Holland) said it’s as if I had been smashed over the head with a baseball bat or if I’d been run over by a car, but they were saying neither happened.
“They did an MRI scanning and realised the severity of [the injuries] and said that basically, we need to operate today. Otherwise, the outcome would have been that I was braindead by the end of the day.
“I had blood clots, bleeding on the brain. Yhey couldn’t decide at the time if it was a stroke or a brain haemorrhage, fractured skull it was just so many different situations.”
By this stage, the ex-driving instructor’s fiancée, Stacey, had become increasingly worried about her partner’s whereabouts.
He continued: “It was a bit like a horror movie. She phoned me to say, ‘where are you?’ and a woman answered my phone… straight away she was like ‘what’s happened’ so she had the fear straight away.
“They’d insinuated to Stacey that it was a possibility she would have to say goodbye, you know, because of the severity at the time.
“They told her: ‘you just need to fear the worst. He might not walk, he might not talk again, he might not memorise who you are.”
After a five-and-a-half hour operation to stem the flow of blood, Mr Brennan was taken to ICU to recover with little contact from relatives due to the pandemic restrictions.
He said: “From the minute I could wake up in hospital, I was just fighting to get home back to my family where I belong.
“I could barely talk and wasn’t making sense. Nothing was making sense to me. I was scared and afraid. I just wanted to come home.”
He received care from various departments around the hospital, each accommodating his specialist care and needs.
“I was in ICU and then I was in like, an isolation room, then I was looked after in ward B7. They had speech therapists, obviously all the nurses, the consultants coming around, the neurology team, mental health.
“Then they said, ‘we want Stacey to bring some photos because he might not recognise anyone in the photo. Bring them through and see if he recognises his own children’, you know, so again, Stacey was just thinking ‘what’s going to happen?’”
Steve reflected on the insurmountable pressures his partner faced during the difficult time.
“The children asked her ‘why is he at work, why’s he at work all the time, his car’s outside, where is he, what’s happening?’
“It was just very difficult for Stacey during the lockdown as well, so the children were home, it was very difficult for her to hold herself together and look after the children, and try to support me whilst I was in hospital.”
Steve stayed at Salford Royal for just over three weeks before returning home to his family, on what he called one of the best days of his life.
“After what I’d been through the previous three weeks, just to finally see the faces, have those hugs, have those kisses, just to have the moments where they just kissed me on my poorly head,” he said.
“I kind of felt like I was a hero coming home, you know after being away in battle. I was home just before Father’s Day as well. It was such a lovely, welcoming home with banners and balloons and a little celebration.”
On the upcoming anniversary of his accident, Steve has reflected on his year in recovery and its impact on his life.
He said: “I’ve ran my own business for 17 years as a driving instructor where I meet so many nervous people, anxious people and they were lacking in confidence.
“I was the exact opposite as their instructor because I was getting them able to pass their driving test but now, I feel like I’m one of them.
“I’m anxious. I’m nervous. I can’t relax. I’m lacking in confidence, you know, my face looks different now, my skull, I’ve got big scar on my head. I’m missing some skull.
“And with no knowledge as to what happened to me, that’s the biggest bug-bear that I’ve got. I don’t know if it’s any fault of my own… I never actually understood what anxiety was before it happened, but now I feel like I’m a definition of it.
“It’s as if Stacey has got three children at times because she has to look after me, the children, she has to drive, she has to go to work she’s got to pick up the shopping. I’m so limited now, as to what I can do and where I can go.”
However, Mr Brennan’s optimism for life and the future cannot go forgotten. He added: “But now I’ve got a second chance at life, to be a family man, to be a father, to be with my partner. I’ve got a second chance in life just to look after the children and be there for them.
“It’s all thanks to Salford Royal. It’s made us look at life differently. We don’t care as much now. Let’s not go on holidays and we don’t need to get a nice car…we’re just grateful to what we’ve got.
“It’s made us realise, what you’ve got could just change in a heartbeat. Life is so enjoyable but so precious.
“We just want to be normal again, where we don’t need to be anxious on nervous or fearful of what’s going to happen.”
Steve and his family feel eternally indebted to the incredible work and professionalism shown by the staff at Salford Royal, both during and after his stay.
He continued: “Word’s aren’t enough. I can’t express how grateful, how thankful me and my family are for the way they’ve looked after me.
“If I had a choice, I’d always want to be treated at Salford Royal.
“Mr. Holland and the neurology team are just all fantastic and I wish I could just thank them myself for everything they’ve done for me, and for this second opportunity.
“I just wish there was other ways that I could just personally thank every single worker for the way they worked together as a team.
“They just made the best decisions of me and my life, protected me and gave me an opportunity to be able to crack on.”
Since his injury, Mr Brennan has contacted the hospital for his MRI scan pictures to show his children as they grow up.