A skiing accident left Alexander Laing with severe damage to the frontal lobes of his brain. He has become reckless in his sexual behaviour, losing his inhibitions. His stepmother Deryth, 72, tells BECKY SHEAVES how his family has coped:
An army skiing accident left Alexander Laing, 31, with severe damage to the frontal lobes of his brain. This area controls social and moral judgment, and Alexander, of High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, has become reckless in his sexual behaviour, losing his inhibitions. Here, his stepmother Deryth, 72, tells BECKY SHEAVES how his worried family has coped.
When I saw Alexander after the accident, I was aghast. He was in intensive care, unconscious and covered in tubes. It was awful. But the Army doctor reassured my husband, Tony, and me that when he woke up he'd be the same as he'd always been.
If only that had been true. Instead, six years later, we have learned what brain injury can do to a fit, confident young man who had his whole life ahead of him.
Alexander made a fantastic physical recovery, but the damage to his brain has had an extraordinary effect on his sexual behaviour — he has completely lost his inhibitions.
Back in his early 20s, his future was looking so bright. He'd been a difficult teenager, probably because he'd lost his mother to cancer when he was just ten. She was a close friend of mine and I supported Tony, her husband, and his children, Alexander and Joanna, by cooking them a meal every night.
Tony and I grew close and we've now been married for 20 years. Alexander calls me Mum and I think of him as my son. I'd do anything for him, just as I would for my other children.
As a teenager, Alexander went to the military boarding school where his grandfather, a brigadier, had been a commandant.
But he hated it and, at 16, he dropped out and spent a year at home, arguing with us. He refused to study and brought home strange girls to stay the night. He drove us to despair.
A family friend who was a colonel in the Army Air Corps then persuaded him to sign up.
Alexander went for basic training when he was 18 and his life turned round. He got fit and had plenty to keep him busy. He played hockey for the Army and went on exercises in Australia and Germany. The Army was good for him.
In 2000, he decided he wanted to make the Air Corps skiing team. It seemed a long shot as he'd only been on a couple of school skiing trips, but he got a chance go to Lillehammer in Norway to train.
It wasn't as though he was off to a war zone, so I wasn't at all concerned about the trip. But at 11pm on December 4, 2000, there was a knock on the door. It was an Army major, telling us Alexander had been in a serious accident.
He had been skiing behind two other soldiers when he'd hit a bump, fallen backwards and tumbled down the mountain, hitting the front of his head several times.
Tony and I rushed to be with him. We were sick with fear. An MRI scan revealed that the front of his brain had become corrugated by the repeated impacts, but we were told he would recover fully.
It wasn't until Alexander returned to the UK, to an Army hospital in Gosport, Hampshire, that we had an inkling of the problems he faced. He was doing all sorts of bizarre things: kicking off his bed covers, refusing to wear clothes and even sleeping on the floor.
A nurse on the ward had been caring for brain-injured patients for 21 years. She said his behaviour was a textbook case of frontal lobe damage. 'He'll improve for the first two years,' she said. 'But that will be as good as he gets. After that he'll stay the same.' She was right.
At that stage, Alexander could hardly speak and was almost completely paralysed down his left side. I did everything I could think of to stimulate his brain. I took in family photographs and would spend hours showing them to him.
One day, a neurologist came to examine him and found that the damage to his frontal lobes was irreversible. We were devastated.
We were told that the brain's frontal lobes play a key role in personality. This was discovered about 160 years ago when a railway worker, Phineas Gage, accidentally drove a metre-long metal pole through the frontal lobes of his brain.
Gage astonished doctors by making a full physical recovery. But his character had changed: he became quick-tempered and foul-natured — very different from his former self.
We were warned that even though Alexander's intelligence could remain intact, his social behaviour could alter radically. But we didn't realise that it would free up his sexual desires.
Alexander went into a rehabilitation centre and things seemed to be going well. But as he grew stronger, the change in his behaviour became more apparent.
He persuaded the centre to discharge him after just six months to a hostel in Kent, where he had heard there were a lot of other young people recovering from accidents. He believed he would have fun there. We soon realised he was far from ready to be living independently.
Obsessed with sex
Alexander was obsessed with sex, but in no position to have a real relationship. He was still physically infirm, mentally vulnerable, impulsive and easily upset.
He got himself a computer, but soon ran up a £600 bill looking at internet pornography. Then he attacked one of the other patients — a recovering stroke victim — who had, he said, been rude to him.
The police were called and Alexander was thrown out of the hostel and put up in a hotel. As he now confesses, he was like 'a dog on heat' and went on a rampage through the hotel completely naked, looking for sex. Again the police were called. This time, he spent the night in a cell.
Alexander then lived with us, but we couldn't cope. He would walk through the house naked and aroused.
But it was his violence I found even more worrying. He picked a lot of fights with his father and I was scared he would do something drastic. Once, he threatened to grab a kitchen knife and attack him. We realised he would have to return to rehab.
Back in the clinic, Alexander spent another three months having intensive cognitive therapy, helping him to read people's body language and understand when he was receiving the brush-off. Slowly, he realised other people have feelings and points of view, too.
A big improvement came when Alexander was prescribed a beta-blocker, which calmed him and took the edge off his violence and sexual risk-taking.
But he's still very 'over-sexed'. It's like a hidden agenda which is always on his mind. Sadly, this is unlikely to change. He is, though, a lot better than he was.
He has learned to treat women as more than objects. Once, when he was in rehab, he took a bus and saw a girl he liked the look of. He moved from the front to the back so that he could spend the journey staring at her breasts. I hope, and believe, he now realises this sort of behaviour is inappropriate.
Aleaxander tends to have relationships with foreign girls. He says it's because he prefers them and he likes their accents. I think there's more to it. British girls can spot quickly that he still speaks with a slight slur and isn't quite 'right'.
Foreign girls don't pick up the signals and so tend to be more receptive to him. After all, he's a good-looking, very fit young man with a kind heart.
Tony and I tried to get some financial compensation from the Ministry of Defence, as Alexander wasn't wearing a crash helmet when he had the accident. But the case collapsed and we ended up owing the MoD more than £20,000 in costs.
I'm sure the closeness of our family has helped Alexander to rebuild his life. My son Michael and his wife and two children live near Alexander and often pop in to check on him. He also has a care team and sees his psychiatrist every three to four months.
Alexander has done brilliantly integrating into society. He has moved from sheltered accommodation to his own flat in Milton Keynes, although he comes home to us most weekends. He also goes to salsa classes and is religious, which he had little interest in before. He often goes to church.
He's a good person and I'm proud of the way he is so positive about his life, even though I sometimes find it hard to share his optimism for his future.
The damage to Alexander's frontal lobes seems to have exaggerated his character, although experts aren't sure if this is the case. I think the impulses were always there, but the lack of inhibition means he cannot control himself.
Perhaps one day he will meet a girl with whom he can settle down, and who will love him the way he is, just like we do.