TEN years ago Christina Corp’s parents were told that she had died.
She had been a passenger in a fatal car crash and spent 13 weeks in a coma.
They were also informed that if she did live, they were told there was a strong chance she would remain in a vegetative state.
“For a permanent vegetable, I’ve done pretty well!” laughs Christina as we chat at her kitchen table.
“I’m quite happy in my life – I’ve achieved so much.”
She certainly has. The 27-year-old who lives in Stubbington has achieved far more than her parents, Jackie and Danny, could ever have imagined when they visited their comatose teenage daughter in hospital.
“The doctors more or less said that she’d never leave hospital, so it’s a joy to see her now,” says Jackie.
“In the very early days, all we worried about was life or death. Then it’s every little step, so you think ‘if she opens her eyes and speaks, we’ll be happy’.
“Then as soon as she reached one milestone, you just wanted the next one.”
Despite suffering severe brain damage, today Christina lives a fulfilling independent lifestyle. She lives in her own home with a housemate and their two dogs. She has a long-term boyfriend, regularly rides her horse, has a voluntary job, writes poetry and has been to college. And she wants as many people as possible to hear her story, to encourage others not to give up hope.
Christina knows that today her life is very different to how it would have been if the accident – which took the life of the driver, her friend, Vicky Waters – hadn’t happened.
Christina when she was in hospital after coming out of her coma
“Had I known what would happen I would never have got in the car, but I did get in the car,” she says.
Christina has lost the memory of her life before the accident and even today often cannot remember doing things.
“I know everything I did, I just can’t remember any of it,” she explains.
“I remember emotions, but not experiences. They call it ‘experiential memory’ that I’ve lost.
But I’m lucky that I’ve got the emotional memory, so I know how stuff made me feel. I remember my ex-boyfriend’s face, I know how much I was in love with him, but I can’t remember going out with him.”
While Christina says that her memory loss can be frustrating, she adds that it also has its advantages.
“I know I can never be who I was, but I can’t remember who I was anyway,” she says.
“I feel like I’ve got a different life now.
It’s good that I can’t remember my old life because it means I can’t dwell on how I was and what I’m missing. I can’t think ‘I used to do that’ because I can’t remember it.
“For other people, it might be hard because they remember how I used to be.”
Before the accident - Christina as a bridesmaid
Christina’s mother, Jackie, explains how complicated the family’s feelings about her daughter have been.
“When someone dies, you grieve,” she says.
“We didn’t grieve the old Christina because we got a new one, but you never get a chance to grieve the old one and it all merges into one. Also, Christina wasn’t a fully developed adult.
“It’s difficult to know how her personality has changed because she was only 17 when the accident happened and was still going through her teenage stuff, when parents and teens don’t communicate.
“I don’t know what our adult relationship would have been like if she hadn’t had the accident, but her determination and tenacity are the same as before.”#
Christina shortly after the accident
Jackie adds that today, Christina, who was bullied at school, has better self esteem but notes that that could also be a result of growing up rather than forgetting the bullying.
She says that there are moments when she feels sad that Christina isn’t living the life they had anticipated, but adds that no one really knows what would have happened to her and what choices she would have made if the accident had never happened.
“She always had the lead role in amateur dramatics shows and very occasionally I’ll think ‘I’d love to see her up on stage,’ but that will never happen – not in the way we’d imagined anyway. But then it might not have happened anyway,” says Jackie, who adds that the family’s strong Christian faith has helped them greatly.
And Christina has her own plans and ambitions. She has been with her boyfriend, Joe Sweeney, who she met through Hampshire disabled dating charity, Stars in the Sky, for 18 months and hopes that they will marry and eventually have children.
With her boyfriend, Joe
She was always a gifted writer and writes poetry and songs, as well as working on her life story, which she hopes to one day have published.
She keeps herself busy with various clubs, sports and voluntary jobs, including working at the local Headway shop – a brain injury charity which has given her lots of support.
And she and one of her carers – or PAs as she calls them – have set up a voluntary group, taking a sound beam, which allows disabled people to easily make music, to care homes in the area.
She has a wide circle of friends, including ones from before the accident, who she has been on girly holidays with to Greek islands, as well as lots she has met at the various groups she takes part in.
Today, Christina has three ‘PA’s’ – she says she feels the terms carer or support worker are demeaning to her – who take her horse riding and to some of her social groups, but she is an independent adult.
And both she and her family notice that she is still making improvements.
“They said that after two years we wouldn’t see any change in Christina but that was nonsense,” says Jackie.
“It’s a lifetime of recovery – I think that’s recognised now. It’s all about the person and their attitude to life too.
“It’s important to find that balance between not giving people false hope, but giving them enough hope not to give up.
“If I had listened to what the doctors told me, I sincerely believe Christina wouldn’t be here now or she would never have got out of a wheelchair and would need a lot of care. I’m glad that today the medical community seems more engaged in supporting people to reach their potential.”
With her parents
Christina certainly hopes that her story will inspire others to remain positive.
“I want to spend my life showing people what I’ve achieved and how much can be done and giving them hope to other people who have gone through the same thing, and their families,” she says.
“I want people to read a good news story. It gets depressing reading the news sometimes! I want to tell my story to everyone.”
Bricks - a poem by Christina Corp
What would I do without my bricks?
People holding me up with their hope and support.
Solid grounds for me to stand on.
They believed I could even stand!
Never walk, never talk, that’s what family were told.
A permanent vegetable.
But they didn’t lose belief.
They were on the tree of support, A very strong leaf.
I was standing on, a building made of bricks.
Family and friends the most.
No-one believed the hospital.
They thought: she’s not ready to go, And guess what? I wasn’t!