This is the story of Sam Ford as told by his brother Joel. In October of 2009, a late-night scuffle outside a Coolangatta bar left a promising young surfer with a severe brain injury, and a devastated family.
Now, three years later, Surfer magazine sat down with Sam’s brother Joel to talk about their story.
Tell me about your relationship with your older brother Sam.
I have always been close with Sam, and I always looked up to him when I was growing up. Growing up a kilometer from the beach in Cabarita, our dad taught all three of us boys how to surf, swim, and love the ocean at a young age. We’ve always had the beach as our backyard and playground.
What do you remember from the night that changed everything?
I was 16 at the time. On the night of the incident, I had been working in a local restaurant and was picked up from work around 10 p.m. At the time of the assault, I was at home asleep in bed. My dad came into my room, yelling at me to get dressed quickly and get in the car. He gave me no other explanation until we were in the car and on our way to the hospital; neither of us had any idea what had happened, all we were told was that Sam was in the hospital. We didn’t know how severe the attack was until we had arrived at Tweed Heads Hospital. I swear to God, it was the longest night of my life. After waiting for the results of the brain scans, the doctors from the emergency ward informed us that Sam’s injury was serious. Sam was still unconscious, and he was being transferred to the Gold Coast Hospital. He was operated on instantly. They needed to cut out a piece of Sam’s skull to try to release brain pressure, and then placed him into an induced coma. Other than these basic facts and a few dulled memories, the rest of the night was a blur. The only clear part of the night was when we were told that Sam probably wouldn’t make it through the night.
And what was the result, for Sam and your family?
Sam spent 536 days (18 months) in the hospital, but now almost three years later he lives with an acquired brain injury, and will remain disabled for the rest of his life. But in those two years and eight months, Sam has come further than they predicted he would in five years. We are all so proud of his strength and motivation to move forward with ongoing rehabilitation, physiotherapy, speech therapy, and art therapy.
Read the full interview here.
Below is a video by Toby Cregan, which catches up with the Ford brothers at their home in Cabarita.
Sam has received much support from both his family and the local Cabarita community in which he grew up. Fundraising contests have been held to help his family cope, though nothing will ever undo Sam’s condition. For those interested in justice, Sam’s attacker, a fellow teen who had a promising rugby career in the making, was sentenced to 6 years in jail for the assault. Sam’s family was outraged at the verdict, pointing out that their son Sam was left with a life sentence.