How Tarli overcame amnesia and a traumatic brain injury to fulfil a long held goal to become a mum

Tarli with daughter, Freya.
Tarli with daughter, Freya. Photo: Supplied

When Tarli Bogtstra was 28, a horrific car accident while holidaying in the Northern Territory with friends left her with significant injuries. 

Tarli, from Melbourne, was left with a broken neck, lower back, knee and right eye injuries and doctors spent the initial first five weeks mistakenly believing she had been left paralysed. 

But it was the traumatic brain injury she acquired in the crash which was the most severe. When she awoke in hospital, she had amnesia and did not recognise her parents or her sister. She had no memory of the crash and significant memory gaps. 

Her family were told there was no way to tell how Tarli, who had been working as a genetic counsellor at the Royal Children's Hospital before the accident, would recover.

"Dad choked up about that and told me the one thing he hung on to was the doctor said to them that I will live, but they can't say what I will be like, they were very unsure," Tarli told Essential Kids.

Picture: Tarli six months before the crash that changed her life forever

Picture: Tarli six months before the crash that changed her life forever

But after four months in hospital and three years of intensive rehab, she began to rebuild her life as the 'new Tarli'. Now, 16 years after the crash she has fulfilled many of the goals doctors told her she may never be able to reach - including becoming a mum. 

"The doctors here in Melbourne who were in charge of my rehab called me the 'miracle lady' because they never expected me to recover as well as I have. To marry and have children, despite the brain injury," she continued. 

"It's a bit like the 'old Tarli' vs the 'new Tarli'. I guess deep down personality wise I am the same. I can look in the mirror and point to every scar and the ways I look different. There are lots of things I can no longer do, I can no longer dance like I used to, or (continue) previous occupations and I do have to have a nanna nap most days. It's affected me in many ways."

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"However the 'new Tarli' - I met my husband after the crash, had my children after it. It makes you realise what's important in life and what you do truly love and respect. It makes you realise you're lucky to be here still and to be grateful for the things you do have." 

Picture: Tarli spent years in intensive rehab during her recovery

Picture: Tarli spent years in intensive rehab during her recovery

While Tarli continues to experience some short term memory loss, she's learnt to adapt and adopted strategies that help her stay on top of her kids' - Freya, 11 and Judd, nine, busy schedules. 

"Life is busy, particularly with kids. I can forget things and fatigue from my head injury plays a part. But I know if i'm not organised and don't keep on top of things, it's unpleasant for not only me but the whole family," she said.  

Tarli says while all parents feel like they're blessed, she is particularly proud of her kids, saying they've never blinked an eye at what she describes as her 'invisible disability'. Adding she's never hidden it from them and they have never questioned it.

"Freya jokes with me, she'll say 'Mum you've forgotten that, but don't worry, I'll always be your memory'," she said. "As they're getting older, they'll occasionally try and play with it, try to get away with something and say 'remember mum' and i'll say 'no, no, no'."

While Tarli said she had some anxieties about whether she would be different to other mums when her children were younger, she now hopes her experience makes them more accepting and caring of people. 

"The kids and their friends are so honest and accepting, it's never been a problem. And children do make lives a lot busier. Not only school, but extra curricular activities, sport, parties etc. I often say they dictate our social life. In a sense it's like having to remember my own things as well as theirs - homework and thinking 'have they remembered their jumper, drink bottles, basketball etc?'," she said. 

"I don't know if it helps my brain with memory and retrieval, but the kids are fantastic! They've never known anything different and help me that way and don't give it a second thought. To them that's who I am."

Tarli adds that her kids have also helped her to stay positive, saying they make 'every day brighter'. 

Picture: Tarli with her husband and kids

Picture: Tarli with her husband and kids

"I think I was always a very motherly type, I always wanted a big family, to be honest I think this has prevented me having more children, with fatigue I knew I was physically not able to cope with more. I find that difficult. But what it has done is made me appreciate and love my children more. I absorb every little thing and don't take anything for granted.

"I guess I want to give them every opportunity that I can and maybe that's following the example set to me by my parents. Everything they did for me both growing up and through the crash and since then. I want to be that role model for my kids. Parenting ... I guess the crash has changed my view in a sense." 

You can hear more from Tarli and others on Amnesia tonight in SBS Insight at 8.30pm.