Bel Clarke was a two-time reality TV star in her native New Zealand with hopes to become a social worker when her life came to a grinding halt one fateful day earlier this year.
On July 19, the 28-year-old former Married At First Sight NZ contestant suffered a traumatic brain injury while out for a run with her beloved dog, Millie, who unknowingly tripped her up from behind.
“Everything happened so fast and I woke up on the ground,” Bel told the NZ Herald on Monday.
Despite hitting her head on the pavement, a dazed and disorientated Bel managed to get to her feet and make her way to her family’s home where one of her brothers helped her ice the area.
She then drove to the airport to collect her mum but remembers having an extreme headache, trouble speaking as well as ‘passing out at the wheel’ along the way. Her mum took one look at her and rushed her to the hospital where she was diagnosed with a concussion and sent home with some painkillers.
‘Brain about to explode’
But Bel soon returned to the ER after her speech issues and headaches continued to get worse — “...feeling like my brain is about to explode,” she wrote on Instagram at the time — prompting doctors to conclude that she’d suffered a traumatic brain injury.
What followed for Bel — who appeared on both 2017 seasons of MAFS NZ and The Bachelor NZ — was weeks of re-learning to walk, talk and generally be independent.
Today, she proudly takes Millie for walks using her walker or cane — which she fondly calls ‘caney’ — and is able to share smiley video updates of her progress with her followers on social media.
Long road ahead
It hasn’t all been easy, however, with Bel telling the NZ Herald she still struggles with poor balance, a stutter, blurry vision, memory loss, trouble concentrating and migraines that often cause her to vomit.
After celebrating an ‘amazing’ Father’s Day with her family over the weekend, Bel took to Instagram to reveal that she’d pushed herself too far and was feeling ‘defeated’.
“I spent the whole night vomiting with such an intense migraine,” she wrote in an Instagram Story.
“I try to keep it positive and fun but it’s not always like that,” she added, explaining that she was planning on staying in bed in the dark for the day.
With the encouragement of her family, friends and newfound online community of other people living with brain injuries, Bel hopes to one day return to driving and her social work studies.
“I have amazing support. I think that is the most important thing,” she said.