Real Life

Ronny Franks: “My life fell apart”

A work place accident left a former safety officer with serious brain damage

By Aroha Awarau

Ronny Franks was the one person in the workplace who prevented accidents, and ensured that everyone was safe. So it was a painful irony that the former health and safety officer tripped over a cord at work, landing headfirst on a wooden floor.

The horrific incident left the Auckland grandmother-of-three with severe brain damage and crippling depression, and it took her two years to fully recover, having battled emotional and physical scars to get her life back on track.

The 66-year-old had previously worked as an assistant accountant for Air New Zealand, where she volunteered as a safety officer.

“I’m normally a stickler for taking care,” says Ronny. “I was the one who reminded people to be safe, so for me to have an accident while I was working was unbelievable.”

Ronny, who helped start Variety – the Children’s Charity in New Zealand – had decided to leave her accounting job to become a caregiver.

Her traumatic experience made Ronny realise the importance of seizing the day. To celebrate her recovery, she got straight back on her bike – or scooter!
Her traumatic experience made Ronny realise the importance of seizing the day. To celebrate her recovery, she got straight back on her bike – or scooter!

It was during call out, looking after a man in palliative care at his home, when Ronny tripped on an extension cord as she was carrying a basket full of washing.

“I spearheaded into the wooden floor. I was in agony,” she recalls. “I saw blue stars and don’t remember anything else.”

The painful aftermath left her with blurred vision, short-term memory loss, continuous ringing in her ears, and the inability to comprehend conversations and partake in everyday activities. It also took months for specialists to diagnose the full extent of Ronny’s brain injury and provide the appropriate treatment.

“I felt like a big blob. I just couldn’t function at all or do anything,” Ronny remembers.

“I would go to the cupboard and couldn’t recall why, or what I wanted. It was scary.”

Through her charity work, for which she received a Queen’s Service Medal, Ronny had formed close friendships with many well-known Kiwis, but after the accident, she found it impossible to socialise or have a normal conversation.

This feeling of isolation led Ronny into a deep depression, and she became alienated from the outside world.

“Everything changed and I didn’t want to leave the house. I used to spend days in my room and not want to come out.”

She was sent to an Auckland clinic to treat her depression, but to help the brain injury, she opted to try something different.

Ronny volunteered for a medical study by a team of AUT University researchers in Auckland, looking at the effects of taking Enzogenol – a pine bark extract, made from New Zealand pine trees – on people who had suffered a traumatic brain injury. Within weeks, she noticed a vast improvement in her memory and clarity of thinking.

Three years on from the accident, Ronny now has her life back and is overjoyed to have survived the ordeal.

During her Weekly interview, she shows little sign that she once found it difficult to hold a conversation or comprehend basic questions, and her laughter also indicates she’s in a happier place. She is even working as a caregiver again and does occasional accountancy work.

In March, she indulged in her passion for adventure and bought a Vespa. The purchase was to celebrate a full recovery.

“At first, I was scared to ride my bike, but after going through this experience, I realised life is too short. You need to embrace the things you love to do.”

She wants her story to be a lesson for people to take extra care when at work or home.

“I hope people are sensible, stop and think, and make sure they prevent accidents from happening,” she says.

“The pain and suffering I endured could’ve been prevented. I went through so much, but now life is good.”

Photos: Amalia Osborne • Make-up: Luisa Petch

read more from