Beaten, left in gutter: Ryan turns nightmare into bright future
Ryan Croft's Sunshine Coast home is a sea of calm.
Fragrant incense wafts across the room, soft music plays in the background and beautiful artworks adorn the walls or are propped on easels.
A man with sparkling blue eyes and an easy smile welcomes you and you can't help but return that smile immediately.
Mr Croft is a man with an effortless sense of humour and a passion for life and beauty.
He also lives with an acquired brain injury (ABI).
In his late teens, he had dreams of becoming the next Darren Hayes while working as a graphic designer at a high-end advertising firm.
Then, at age 19, all that changed.
"I woke up in hospital and it was like being reborn, it was like I was a newborn baby. I still had my 19-year-old body, but I couldn't do anything," Mr Croft, now 47, says.
"I woke up in hospital with my mother tending to my toileting and I couldn't understand what had happened. And I couldn't communicate. I felt like I was in a clag glue dream. Like my brain was on pause. I was trying to move but everything was so slow, like I was in a dreamlike state."
The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates more than 700,000 Australians live with an ABI, with as many as two out of every three people acquiring their brain injury before the age of 25.
Three quarters of people with a brain injury are men.
Mr Croft's ABI was the result of a beating outside a pub during a night out with friends.
He was left in a gutter, choking on his own vomit, resulting in a lack of oxygen to his brain. He says cognitive diversity means he is often confronted by indifference and open hostility by the general public.
Despite this, Mr Croft is refreshingly honest about his disability when meeting new people.
He openly explains how he often gets overly excited or effusive, something he feels might be beyond what is considered socially acceptable.
It's an attempt to put others at ease.
Mr Croft lives with his partner Bernard, who is also his carer.
Determined to control his life after the incident, Mr Croft has been proactive in his own rehabilitation over the past 27 years to return to, as he puts it, "for want of a better word, normal."
The reality is Mr Croft knows he has an ABI.
"It's not like a grazed knee. It is never going to get better," he says.
But what can be improved is his quality of life.
Mr Croft accesses his support co-ordination through 121 Care as part of his ongoing therapies and life goals set out in his NDIS plan.
One of those therapies is Suncoast Integrated Therapies' MOllii Suit.
MOllii is a functional garment that consists of a jacket and a pair of pants with a computer control unit which sends electrical signals to the targeted areas of the body via electrodes.
"Since I've been using MOllii Suit therapy, my friends and support co-ordinator have commented on less gait in my walk, the slur in my speech has quite improved so that's not as evident as it was before, and also I think my cognitive function has improved also," he said.
Mr Croft lives a full and loving life, forgiving of things that would be for most people, beyond forgiveness.
Well-read, fiercely intelligent and with an abundance of creativity, this extraordinary man has a life outlook that is truly humbling.
With the assistance of his loving partner and his support programs, Mr Croft's future looks as bright as the twinkle in his eyes.
Disability Action Week runs from September 13 to 19.