Story of survival

Rebecca Bishop reflects on her ten-year anniversary since her horrific crash. Pictures: STEWART CHAMBERS 204998_13

By Mitchell Clarke

Rebecca Bishop was extremely lucky to survive a horror smash in Berwick which left her trapped under a semi-trailer for over three hours. A tough decade later, the Maryknoll woman is vowing to use her traumatic story to inspire others.

On 20 February 2010, the Princes Freeway was closed for seven hours as emergency services worked to free Rebecca Bishop from her mangled wreck of a car.

Following a “long and intricate” rescue, Ms Bishop was airlifted to The Alfred hospital with a host of injuries – too many to name, including bleeding on the brain, facial abrasions, a broken clavicle, fractured scapula, severed tendons, cartilage damage, nerve damage, a haematoma to the left thigh and bruising to the pubic bone after the steering wheel was jammed in there for so long.

At the time, emergency services said it was the “biggest rescue” they had completed in 30 years.

Ms Bishop remained in hospital for a week and spent a month in rehab. It took three weeks before she could walk without a frame, wash herself or eat by herself.

“It was the worst thing I’ve ever been through,” she explained.

“I had little use of my right arm for about a year.”

While the physical injuries healed over time, the psychological trauma continues to haunt the 37-year-old.

“I have since struggled significantly with PTSD, anxiety and depression – though I’m proud to advise that I feel as though I’ve kicked depression’s butt in the past six months,” she said.

“I’m still working on my battle with PTSD and anxiety – it’s a daily battle, but one I feel that I’m winning.”

A few months after she returned home, at 40kg, she felt she looked a “bit fat” and it turned out she was nearly four months pregnant and had completely missed the first trimester.

“I was recommended to terminate due to the birth defects at risk of the medication and surgeries,” she said.

But she kept the baby and despite worrying about losing him throughout the entire pregnancy, her “perfect” son was born on 15 November that year.

“I have struggled significantly since the accident and tend to focus on the positives however we can’t bypass the difficulties,” she explained.

“There are days when I’m really good and every engine is firing and then there are days when I’m in so much pain that I can barely bear it and I cry myself to sleep or I take a sleeping tablet and knock myself out so I can start afresh tomorrow.”

Ms Bishop hasn’t driven since the accident, which has robbed her of her independence, but she says getting behind the wheel isn’t something she wants to do.

“The thought of it petrifies me,” she said.

“Don’t get me wrong – I wish I could, my kids wish I could, my husband wishes I could – but I see the risk as being too high and just can’t bring myself to do it.”

In 2019, Ms Bishop said she made a choice.

“I decided that I couldn’t live like this anymore. I’ve felt like this before and tried really hard and I’ve always returned to the depression, anxiety and PTSD and been a victim to it,” she explained.

After her youngest son began showing an interest in football, the passionate Collingwood supporter decided to sponsor players of the club and begin attending games again.

“I used to go to games all the time when I was young and regularly as an adult,” she said.

“I went once after the accident in 2010, but ended up with a anxiety and freaked out and hadn’t been since other than a couple of times in a corporate box.”

But last year she knew that if she was going to spend that kind of money to support the club she grew to love, she’d force herself to attend games, events and put herself out there. She went to at least a dozen games.

“The Collingwood Football Club has unknowingly saved my life,” she said.

“They’ve unknowingly made me a better parent and a better person – I am a stubborn woman and I am very hard of myself, so I knew I would force myself out of my comfort zone and attend games and events.”

Ms Bishop has also celebrated a number of personal goals in the decade following the event.

In 2009, she began a law degree but a year in she was forced to step away from her studies following the accident. She struggled significantly due to her upper limb immobility and a brain injury which sees her struggle to retain information.

In 2017, she graduated with Honours.

“It was one of the proudest moments of my life and to have my husband, kids and parents there celebrating it with me was the best,” she said.

Another personal achievement was being finalists in the Casey Cardinia Business Awards four times since 2016.

“I helped my husband, Nick, obtain his builder’s license in 2013 and he has gone on to be a builder since 2014 with the company I incorporated in 2008 in anticipation of this moment – Elite Building Services,” she explained.

“And I’m so proud of him – I’m so proud of us. One of our homes even featured on the Nine Network’s Open Homes Australia earlier this year.

“I also applied for the HIA Victorian Business Partner of the Year award last year and was named a finalist and then won. It was incredible.”

Despite her remarkable personal achievements, Ms Bishop continues to battle her demons, but she’s vowed to make 2020 her year.

“I have lived an existence for a decade – I have merely existed and I have not really been living,” she explained.

“I knew that in order to get well I had to push through the discomfort and experience the fear and difficulty to gain the benefit, but I’ve never been prepared to do it.

“I am scared of everything. Every noise I hear makes me jump – sometimes even makes me cry – but I am slowly chipping away at it in my own time and I know that I am destined to do something truly great.

“I am here to help people. I am living proof that you can overcome your mental health issues.”

While she’s never spoken about her struggles publicly, Ms Bishop is in the process of contacting Beyond Blue to see if they need speakers to inspire and give hope to others.

“Everyone’s story is different and the reaction to trauma is different for everyone,” she said.

“I am here to tell people who are struggling that I understand and that your story is not written in stone. It is not permanent and it can change. I am changing mine right now.”

While each anniversary of the accident provides its challenges, Ms Bishop says this milestone is different.

“This year I’ve decided not to lock myself away on 20 February – this year I’m celebrating the fact that I’m alive with the most important people in my life with a brisket cooked by my husband at my home surrounded by my family and friends who I am eternally grateful for.”

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