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Life lessons from people who’ve faced death: Alissa Smith

From a near-death accident, to presenting on Fox Sports

An image of Alissa Smith presenting on Fox News
An image of Alissa Smith presenting on Fox News

It’s the great irony that most of us never really appreciate life until we’re faced with death, so what can we learn from those who’ve been closest to it?

It’s a question we put to an eclectic group of people with a few key similarities – they’re all brave, strong and resilient and have seen first-hand the fragility of human existence.

This week as part of our series on life lessons, we spoke with TV presenter for Fox Sports and Sky News, Alissa Smith.

30-year-old media personality and self-confessed workaholic, Alissa had a car accident when she was just 21 that changed her life.

This is her story.

TCU: Can you talk us through your accident?

Alissa: On the 14th December, 2010 my entire life changed. I left the house at 6am to go to the gym early on a Sunday morning and remember reversing out of the driveway in my soft-top car. That was the last memory I have from before my accident occurred.

Only 700 metres from the house, my car flipped several times.

Windows exploded, the roof crushed the top of the seats, my car flipped off the road and it landed upside down in a 5ft-wide drain filled with water. I was unconscious and my car was filling with petrol and oil.

A man from a nearby property tried to enter the vehicle but couldn't see me, because I was crushed and hunched over in the driver’s seat. He told my parents later that just as he was going to give up, he heard a slow tapping sound and crawled back to investigate; the tapping was my shoe which had fallen from my foot and was hanging from the roof – that’s when he realised there was still someone in the car.

Another neighbour arrived and suggested to leave me still in case I had spinal damage, but because I was bleeding from my ear, nose and mouth, they concluded that I was already dead.

They unclipped my seatbelt but couldn’t pull me from the vehicle; I had to be cut out by the Jaws of Life. A helicopter landed but I couldn't be transported by chopper because I had perforated my eardrum. I ended up in hospital for weeks.

TCU: How did you react when you found out the extent of your injuries?

Alissa: When I eventually woke up, the doctors and my family told me what had happened, but I was still severally concussed and I don’t remember much. My family tell me I reacted extremely distressed because I had no memory of the accident - I couldn't remember anything from the past six months or so.

I had fractured my skull, my brain was bleeding, I had concussion, whiplash, bruising, permanent hearing damage, tinnitus, and damage to my facial nerves. Still to this day, I can’t feel the right side of my face. I had to relearn how to build blocks and memorise numbers and pictures - I had to keep a diary to try and help my memory loss.

I don't recall my life flashing before me, however, I relived the car accident over and over and over in my dreams for a couple of years after. My mind would play out different scenarios of my accident and I would always end up coming close to dying when I would wake up dripping in sweat, screaming and crying hysterically. It would be so bad that I'd have to change my PJs and have towels next to my bed to put down over the sheets. Post-traumatic stress is the worst.

TCU: Do you have a different perspective on life now?

Absolutely, I don't take people or life for granted. I will always be grateful for the amount of support I received from my family, partner and best friend. I try not to stress the small stuff as I realise life can be a whole lot worse. I used to push myself immensely to achieve all of my career and personal goals but have since learnt to be a little kinder to myself.

TCU: Has being close to death made you less or more afraid of your own mortality?

I've never been afraid of death but for a long time after my car accident, I found it hard to travel in small cars and wanted to wear a helmet when travelling. I've only just recently ridden in a convertible nine years since my accident. I'm still not afraid of death but I do tend to be more cautious with the extreme activities I do partake in.

TCU: If you had to pass on one piece of advice, what would it be?

Appreciate your health, your family and the simple things in life. And don't take the simple moments for granted as your simple moments could be someone else’s big moment.

Life doesn’t always go to plan, so it might be time to consider taking out a life insurance policy. nib offers a number of options to suit your individual situation. Get a quote online today.