Maria Williams and her son Matthew Sharp want others to be more aware about the realities of living with a traumatic brain injury. Photo: Harri Jordan.

‘Everything changed in a second’ – Matthew back from the brink


Matthew Sharp was in a coma for four days after he fell through the roof at Nayland College last year. Harri Jordan speaks to him and his mother about his journey back to recovery as part of Brain Injury Awareness month.

It was just an ordinary Saturday, but in one split second Matthew Sharp’s life was changed forever.

“Me and my mates were drinking and that’s the last thing I can remember,” says Matthew.

The accident happened on September 7 of last year when he fell through the skylight of a roof at Nayland College.

Matthew was in a coma in intensive care for four days after he sustained a severe traumatic brain injury.

He had concussion, a fractured skull and two bleeds on his brain.

“He had to learn how to walk again. He has double vision all the time so has trouble seeing,” says his mum Maria.

“Mentally it was terrible. He got so low and anxious for the first four months. It was awful to watch. He would have panic attacks and I didn’t know what to do.”

And while Matthew suffered the accident, Maria was left to pick up the pieces.

“I had to leave my full-time job which I loved. We had to leave Nelson. Leave our house. Leave our family. Leave our friends,” says Maria.

This month is Brain Injury Awareness month which is about understanding the growing prevalence of traumatic brain injuries.

According to Brain Injury New Zealand, one person sustains a brain injury every fifteen minutes in Aotearoa.

Maria says that she and Matthew struggle because there’s a lack of understanding from people who don’t know their full story.

“Since his accident, Matthew’s social functioning is a bit off,” she says. “You think he’s just a normal teenager getting up to mischief but because people can’t see it, they don’t understand it.”

Matthew says people can get angry at him because since the accident he doesn’t have a filter.

“I say whatever’s on my mind now. I talk back to people now when I wouldn’t have usually.”

However, there have been some positives for Matthew and Maria.

They say the injury has brought them closer together.

“I’ve changed. I’m a different person to be honest. I feel like I’ve changed mentally. I’m better at socialising. I’m wiser and I don’t have social anxiety anymore,” says Matthew.

Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case with brain injury trauma, as every story is unique.

“It’s bigger than I’ve ever realised. No brain injury is the same,” say Maria.

Reflecting on the accident Matthew is now far more conscious about putting himself at risk.

He wants to warn others about consequences that can happen when you aren’t thinking.

“Don’t think you’re invincible, because you aren’t.”

The Brain Injury Association’s street appeals are being held this week on Wednesday outside New World Nelson from 10.30 to 12.30pm and on Friday at New World in Stoke from 10.30 to 12.30pm.