My name is Andy, I was born in 1963, three years before England
won the football world cup. I was too young to see the game then
and after our recent performance in the 2000 + 2004 European championships,
I think it's unlikely I'll see them win it again! Still we can all
live in hope and who knows what surprises life will throw at us.
I live in a place called Orwell, which is a small village just outside
Cambridge in the United Kingdom. I have two lovely children from
a previous marriage, a boy called Gregory, born in '91 and a Girl
called Josephine, born in '93. I use to be a Police Officer in the
Metropolitan Police Force working all over the London Area. In July
1994 I had just completed over 14 years of service with them. I
had been selected for promotion to the rank of Inspector, for which
I had studied hard in the previous 2 years to achieve.
I was a very keen sportsman, loving all sports. I was a keen runner
and cyclist but my particular passion was for windsurfing. I had
taken the sport up when it was pretty much in its infancy in the
UK. I had progressed over the years, from continually falling off
a beginners board and drinking large amounts of disgusting reservoir
water, to jumping waves in force 6-7 winds in the seas off the South
Coast of England. The sense of freedom and of being at one totally
with the elements is amazing. I remember those days very fondly
I had everything to live for, and used to think could life get much
better than this? Then on a hot summer's day on the 16th of July
'94 I had been given the day off work. It was late afternoon. I
decided to go for a quick 40 minute hard cycle on my mountain bike,
taking in local woodland and parks. I remember thinking how much
I was going to enjoy the beers afterwards on my patio in the evening
sun. The rest as they say 'is history'
The Accident: I had a relatively
low speed fall from my bike with the most horrendous consequences.
I broke my neck, shattering three vertebrae very close to where
the spine joins the skull. In an instant I went from being fully
able bodied to being COMPLETELY paralysed from the neck down fighting
for my life. To this day I'm not sure exactly what caused me to
fall off my mountain bike. I was travelling uphill at slow speed.
It was probably a hole in the ground or an exposed tree root that
caused the front wheel of my bike to stop suddenly. I don't remember
leaving the bike or hitting the ground.
One minute I was enjoying a summer's afternoon cycling across a
local park. The next thing I recall is lying on my side on the grass
next to my mountain bike. I could see my arms and legs but couldn't
feel or move anywhere below my neck. I had great trouble breathing.
It felt like I was trapped under a collapsed rugby scrum or something
similar. Surprisingly I felt very little pain but I knew straight
away that I had injured myself very badly.
I remember a number of people talking to me but I couldn't answer
them as my breathing was extremely difficult. I was totally helpless,
fighting desperately to remain conscious. I was physically very
fit but now my life depended totally on help from other people at
the scene of my accident. I recall 2 or 3 young boys telling me
an ambulance had been called. I saw a woman walking towards me with
a few pillows in her hands. I knew from my first aid training in
my own job that it was essential that I wasn't moved. She wanted
to make me more comfortable, I tried to say 'don't move me' but
my breathing made it impossible. Before she could move me one of
the young lads told her not to and to wait for the ambulance. I
will be eternally grateful for his intervention. Any movement of
my head at that stage would have had very serious consequences,
making my injury a lot worse and maybe even killing me.
I heard sirens in the distance and soon 2 paramedics were looking
after me. I could tell by their faces and their conversation that
my injuries were extremely serious. They told me that they were
going to see if the 'Air Ambulance' was available to get me quickly
to hospital. Fortunately for me it was flying that day and was landing
alongside me about half an hour later.
I was soon being treated by an extremely competent Doctor. He injected
steroids straight into my neck, to help reduce the swelling. He
told me that he thought my neck was broken. With the assistance
of the two paramedics he stabilised my neck in a collar. I was then
very carefully lifted onto the helicopter's stretcher. In a few
minutes we were airborne heading for the Royal London Hospital in
Whitechapel, London. The helicopter was met on the roof of the hospital
by an emergency trauma team. Soon I was in the highly sophisticated
emergency trauma unit. I remember lots of people talking to me but
soon afterwards the numerous drugs I had been given had kicked in
making me very sleepy. After a lot of x-rays and scans I was taken
to a high dependency unit.
The scans and x-rays revealed that I had badly broken 3 bones in
my neck. Their medical name is C2, C3 and C4. It wasn't known at
this stage how bad the damage was to my spinal cord. I would be
facing one of the most severe physical disabilities were it severed
Halo Traction: My neck was stabilised
using halo traction, this involved drilling 4 titanium screws through
my skin and into my skull. Then about 8 Kilos of weight were hung
by a series of pulleys off the head end of my bed. This was to stretch
my neck and allow the broken bones room to start healing. I recall
seeing family and friends but was drifting in and out of sedation
all of the time. After a week at this hospital, it was decided that
the best place to treat me would be a specialist spinal injuries
unit. The Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital, in Stanmore, Middlesex
was chosen. This necessitated the removal of my halo traction and
another helicopter transfer
On arrival I was met by a specialist Spinal Consultant and his colleagues.
I was put in halo traction again and was looked after by a very
competent nursing team. I started getting very breathless and had
real scary hallucinations. The next day a more senior consultant
decided I would be better suited to a more advanced form of halo
traction. So for the third time I had more holes drilled into my
skull and another halo fitted. Today I still have 8 scars
in my head where all the screws were fitted. Click on the
thumbnail to see a detailed diagram showing
Shortly after this I became very weak and unwell, I woke up some
4 days later unable to swallow because of a pipe going down my throat.
It was very scary, I could hear things being said about and to me
but couldn't communicate in any way. It took me a long time
to realise what was going on. Apparently, I had been put on
a ventilator and sedated to give my body more chance to recover.
It was two further days before I was taken off that machine.
My SCI Treatment: By this time
the Doctor's had decided on my treatment. They ruled out repairing
my broken neck bones with metal plates. Mainly due to the complexity
of the breaks themselves and the very real risk of making my spinal
cord damage worse. They would also have had to use the base of my
skull bone as a securing point for the metal work, which effectively
would rule out me ever being able to look left or right again without
moving my whole body. I was also told that the extent of my spinal
cord damage wouldn't be known for at least 4-6 weeks after my injury,
because of the swelling and the fact that the 'cord' goes into 'spinal
shock' I was told it was unlikely that I would walk again and I
would probably remain paralysed from the neck down. Then I was told
that I would have to spend the next 6-8 weeks in bed, motionless
to allow my neck to heal. The thought of that was horrendous.
I was transferred to the high-dependency ward of the spinal unit.
I would get to know the ceiling in this room very well over the
next few weeks. I would become very good friends with the man in
the bed beside me. His name is 'Ray', he broke his neck the week
before me in a motorcycle accident. We would spend a lot of the
time talking to each other. Because we were both in skull traction
it was going to be 8 weeks before we were both able to put a face
to the voice from the bed next door. It seemed an eternity before
those weeks passed. They were helped along their way by numerous
visits from family and friends.
I had to have 'everything' done for me, I'm not going to detail
everything here but let's just say personal dignity was on the back
shelf. As the days became weeks I started to regain some sensation
back in my legs. I could feel very faintly but movement was still
impossible. By now I had a regular routine of physiotherapy in bed
and passive exercises.
The hours soon turned into days, the days into weeks and finally
some eight weeks since my accident the Doctors were thinking of
allowing me to sit up in bed. I couldn't wait! I had some movement
and feeling in my right side and was sooo looking forward to seeing
something other than that hospital ceiling. I was warned that I
may feel unwell. That was an understatement! After just 10 minutes
of sitting at 45 degrees I wanted to lay flat again. Apparently
the sick feeling and light headedness I was feeling was normal.
Over the next few days I gradually managed longer and longer, by
now my halo traction was attached to a body brace which I had to
wear for a further six weeks. I looked like something out of a science
Up and About: Gradually, as
days went by, I was able to last longer than those 10 minutes. Next
came the task of getting me from the bed to a wheelchair. The only
way of doing this was by using a device called a hoist.
For those of you not familiar with a hoist, basically you have to
have a sling placed underneath your body, this is then attached
to the hoist. You are carried rather like a baby in a Stork's beak.
It takes four to five nurses and a lot of patience to lift a tetraplegic
man successfully into a wheelchair. To say this experience is uncomfortable
and feels dangerous is a massive understatement. I hated the indignity
Once in my wheelchair for the first time I was given a tour of the
spinal unit by one of the nurses. I was amazed at just how different
the unit actually was now I was upright again. It looked totally
different than I imagined it when I was lying in my hospital bed.
I was now able to see other patients faces properly for the first
time. I then realised just how much for granted we all take our
surroundings. This was the first time I was able to look out of
a window in nearly two months. The colours of the sky and the trees
were somehow more vibrant than I remember them. I sat there for
several minutes just taking it all in again.
A good friend of mine called Deane, had a horrific motorcycle accident
in 1991. He broke his back in several places, and spent a year in
hospital and on various spinal units, eventually ending up for several
months at Stoke Mandeville. After a lot of hard work and recuperation
he managed to leave the unit walking on sticks as an incomplete
paraplegic. We were always good friends at work and I used to visit
Deane on a regular basis during his recovery. I remember seeing
newly injured tetraplegics in the spinal unit he was was on. I remember
thinking I couldn't possibly live like that, little did I know I
would find myself in that same position just three years later.
Deane became a tremendous source of encouragement and motivation
to me. He helped me through some really difficult times and when,
at times, I was prepared to give up he was the one who made me carry
on. He understood more than anyone what I was going through and
I will always be grateful for his dedication.
It was really good to be up again. It was nice to be able to have
my children sit on my lap and cuddle me. Even though my arms still
sat as useless extensions to my body on the armrests of my wheelchair.
I desperately wanted to cuddle them back, but couldn't. My emotions
were really up and down during this time.
The Spinal Unit: It was great
to actually meet a lot of other patients too. I found the general
friendship and community spirit on the spinal unit was what made
it so good. It was that together with encouragement from friends
and family that got me through the bad times and wanting to make
the most of any recovery I was going to experience. Although every
patient had a different story and a different injury we somehow
all shared the life changing experience of a spinal cord injury.
We all knew what it was like what not to be able to urinate on your
own. We all knew or were going to learn the complications of SCI
and the adjustments to normal life that were going to be necessary
when we all left hospital.
Beds on spinal units are hard to get, by their very nature these
injuries take a long time to treat. Consequently many people are
waiting for a place to become free on a spinal unit. On average
at the spinal unit I was on their would be one or two new admissions
each week. Diving accidents abroad, motorcycle accident's, and sports
injuries to name but a few. Now that I was up and about, I always
tried to visit new patients and their families trying to give what
help and encouragement I could.
Gradually the time I was able to spend in the wheelchair increased
until I was able to stay up in the chair the two to three hours
at a time. You may wonder why I couldn't spend any longer than that
the wheelchair? There are many reasons, perhaps the most important
one is that, with any spinal cord injury your feeling and skin sensation
will be affected.
Some will feel nothing at all or may have very limited perception
of touch or pain. This can lead to the skin becoming damaged, and
if left untreated to the further complication of skin pressure sores.
These can be life-threatening if they get too bad. That's why every
tetraplegic or paraplegic will have to keep a very watchful eye
on their pressure points and their skin and do what is called pressure
relief every half-hour or so. This is to prevent the skin cells
breaking down and dying.
I was soon attending the spinal unit gymnasium once or twice a day.
Here the physiotherapists went through various exercises to strengthen
my legs abdomen and arms. A lot of these exercises were passive,
as I didn't have the movement to do them myself. It felt to me,
that my arms were very weak and a lot weaker than my legs. I asked
many nurses, physiotherapists and occupational therapists if it
was possible for someone to recover enough movement to walk, yet
still not be able to use their arms. They all said yes it was, this
didn't seem possible to me. Having lived with spinal cord injury
for over ten years I know too well that it is entirely possible.
Frustrating Times: I still had
to be pushed from the spinal unit to gymnasium and therapy areas
by a member of hospital staff. I found this very frustrating as
a lot of the well recovered paraplegics used to fly past me in their
wheelchairs. I often wished I had broken my back and not my neck
so I had the full use of my upper body. At least then I'll still
be held to take part in sport and become entirely independent. Nowadays
with the recovery I've had, I've come to terms with being a tetraplegic.
Whilst I won't be able to take part in sports that I used to love,
there are many things I can do independently or with a little intervention
from other people.
At mealtimes I was still being fed by a nurse. Personal hygiene
and eating are something else that we all take the granted. All
your dignity goes out of the window when someone else has to do
those tasks for you. It's frustrating, and somehow you never get
the job done the way you would have done it in the past. There was
nothing worse than watching your dinner go cold while the nurse
who was meant to be feeding you is discussing the latest happenings
in 'Neighbours' with her colleague.
As time went on my legs became stronger. One day in the gymnasium
my physiotherapist, Sharon decided it was time to see if I could
take my weight on my feet. Five or six therapists came over to assist.
With their help supporting my weight I was lifted into a standing
position. Although my balance was precarious, I was actually standing
for a few seconds. Even though I was still supported by six people,
it was an absolutely momentous occasion. Friends and family who
were there looked smaller than they used to. This was because of
the traction applied to my neck through the halo attachment and
body brace had made me over an inch taller than I used to be. I
was now standing at six feet five inches!
On a spinal unit, every time a patient manages to stand or walk
the first time word soon gets around. When I was pushed back to
the unit in my wheelchair just about everyone already knew I had
stood up. They all offered congratulations, staff and patients alike.
This was very humbling because many of the patient's new already
they would never walk again, as their injuries were diagnosed as
complete. My arms were still very weak and would be a long-time
before I recovered any useful function in either of them. As time
went by my leg strength still continued to improve. The time I was
able to stand up gradually increased as well.
Halo Traction Removal: At about
three and a half months after my injury, the time came to remove
my halo traction and replace it with a supported collar. I was required
to lay flat on the bed whilst one of the house doctors was called
to come remove the halo screws from my head and skull. Since this
halo traction had been fitted three months ago it had remained in
place, with the screws that went through to my skull bone periodically
being checked for tightness. This was done with a torque wrench,
that was painful but just bearable.
The procedure I was about to undergo now was going to be the most
painful experience of my life. Several nurses gathered around my
bed. I knew this was going hurt, but wasn't prepared for the intensity
of the pain. After three months the metal screws were now firmly
embedded in my skull they had become joined to skull bone and surrounding
muscle and skin. As the doctor released each bolt in turn and unscrewed
it, I had feeling of someone twisting a red hot poker deep inside
my head. My whole body started shaking from the intensity of the
pain, one bolt would have been bad enough, but there are another
three to go. At the end of the procedure I was completely drained
and screaming in agony, my face was covered with blood. Somehow,
it was all worth it. My head felt free of the device that had encaged
it the past three months. The nurses fitted my neck with a supported
collar, this I would have to wear for the next three months. Although
my neck muscles were largely unaffected by my injury, because they
had been dormant three months they had also become very weak and
First Trip Home: On all spinal
units and rehabilitation centres preparing patients for a new life
in the home environment is very important. At the spinal unit I
was on as soon as the nursing staff thought you were fit enough
to journey home they would arrange a home visit. For me this came
some four months after my injury. I was only used to the confines
of the spinal unit and the safety that that had afforded me. My
journey home would be in an adapted minibus. I was in my wheelchair
which was in turn bolted to the floor of the van. I knew the journey
would take about 2 hours. Whilst it was nice to be seeing the outside
world again this was proved to be one of the most upsetting experiences
since my injury.
The catastrophic nature of my injury became very readily apparent.
Once on the motorway I saw the rest of the world was going past
its usual frenetic pace. It was then I realised the my life would
never be the same again. As I was still wearing the halo traction
and brace the journey was also physically uncomfortable, as every
jolt of the van radiated through the pins in my skull. As we turned
into my road I became very emotional with tears running down my
face, the last time I'd been in this road was when I set off on
my mountain bike back on that fateful sunny day in July. I was completely
overcome as we pulled up outside my house. My ex-wife and my two
lovely children were all waiting to see me and very excited to welcome
The nurse helped me out of the van on the remote control platform.
Because of my size the wheelchair I was in was a big cumbersome
one. It was awkward getting it into my house over a couple of steps.
After a while, I was again enjoying the confines of my house. It
was lovely being out of the hospital environment. We ate a nice
lunch and then were soon on way back to hospital. I felt very depressed
the most of the journey back, the nurse tried to reassure me that
this was only normal, and that any subsequent visit will be a lot
easier. When we arrived at the spinal unit in was about 6 PM. I
couldn't believe how physically drained and tired I had become.
I was soon back in bed exhausted.
Walking Frame: My therapy continued
over the next few months and the next major milestone was when I
was able to use a walking frame for the first time. This frame had
wheels on the front of it. My arms had to be strapped onto the handles
so I could move the frame forwards. I wanted to stay upright with
this frame for longer than the therapists would allow me to. As
the weeks went by I progressed to using the frame for short distances.
It took me ages to walk a few steps but ultimately the sense of
achievement was more than worth it. My arm function was still very
much behind the recovery shown in my legs. My left arm had virtually
no function in it. My right arm was showing slight sign of recovery.
I still had no hand function to talk of. The occupational therapy
team were very dedicated bunch of people. They persisted with lots
of exercises and routines to improve my hand and arm function. By
the time I was to leave hospital I was able to hold an adapted pen
with my right hand and move my right arm through about 30 percent
of its normal function. This still wasn't enough for much practical
use, but this continued to improve after I left the hospital.
Patient education: is another
priority which is high on the agenda of most spinal unit's. It is
essential that everyone with a spinal injury or a person who is
going to care for someone with a spinal injury fully understands
the nature of the injury and the complications that can go with
it. These complications are touched on throughout my story, they
are numerous and vary greatly depending on the nature of the actual
injury. See complications
sections of this site for more information
Breathing is directly affected by muscles controlled through the
spinal cord so all tetraplegics will have some degree of breathing
compromise. They also include the proper and hygienic treatment
and management of bladder and bowels. Skin care and prevention of
injury and pressure sores is also very important. A lot of people
with spinal cord injury suffer varying degrees of spasm. These can
vary from mild shakes and tremors, to spasm's strong enough to throw
someone from their bed or wheelchair. These spasms can be controlled
by medical intervention and drugs. Sexual function and fertility
is also affected to varying degrees with a spinal cord injury.
Because the autonomic nervous system is affected by spinal cord
injury patients above the level of T 7 , they can also be affected
by a condition called autonomic dysreflexia. This in very basic
terms is when the bodies autonomic nervous system reacts to outside
stimulation that it can no longer control effectively i.e. an overfull
bladder/bowel or injury/pain etc. If left untreated it can result
in very high rise in blood pressure and ultimately a stroke and
death. I remember being very scared, in fact petrified of this condition
when I was educated about it by a nurse.
The doctors treating me and the nursing team regularly met with
me and my family to discuss progress, treatment and a possible release
date from hospital. At the spinal unit I was on on average a paraplegic
would leave hospital after three to six months. A tetraplegic would
usually require a longer stay, normally in the region of ten to
My stay turned out to be just short of one-year. Towards the end
of my stay in hospital I was coming home at weekends to visit my
family and friends. This was an excellent experience to prepare
me for my full return home. I left hospital able to walk a few steps
on my own using two elbow crutches. As my arms and hands were still
very weak most of my personal needs were still taken care of by
family, community nurses and care workers.
Hard Times: The months following
my release from hospital were very hard indeed. This was my lowest
time mentally to date. The grim reality of the consequences
of what took a second to do was finally sinking in. The amount
of physiotherapy that is available in the community varies a great
deal. I managed to get three one-hour appointments each week at
the local hospital. The hospital staff said financial and employment
constraints meant that was the absolute maximum that anyone would
ever get. At this point only one-year post injury, they were still
plenty of time for me to gain further recovery. It was a real shock
going from at least five to six hours of therapy every day on the
spinal unit to only three hours a week. I had an Exercise routine
to do at home but looking back I'm sure I would have made much better
progress with more input from the local hospital.
I missed the other people on the spinal unit and motivation and
encouragement they offered. In short, I tried to make the best of
a bad situation but I found everything very frustrating. As time
went by, I realised that was only me that was going to make a difference
to my overall recovery. After ten months or so at home, with the
help of my doctor, I managed to get a further six-week stay in a
neurological rehabilitation unit. This was going to mean a further
six weeks away from home. The conditions of this hospital unit were
pretty dire, but I was back receiving daily physiotherapy and occupational
therapy input. The staff were well motivated and I feel I made excellent
My Renal Tumour: Towards the
end of this period of rehabilitation my spinal unit required that
I underwent a routine bladder and kidney scan. I went to yet another
hospital for this scan.
These scans detected that my right kidney was unusually large. The
urinary and renal specialist from the spinal unit told me that this
was because the kidney contained a very large cancerous tumour!
Apparently renal tumours are very rare in anyone of my age.
After everything I've been through our felt as though my world had
been taken from under me yet again. The renal specialist wanted
to act very quickly before the tumour had a chance to spread elsewhere.
It was decided that the safest option would be to remove my right
kidney. So in January of 1995, only 18 months after my spinal accident
I was again in a hospital bed wondering how long left I had to live.
The kidney was removed and after analysis by the renal laboratory
it was found that the tumour, although large was benign in nature.
To this day I still have to go undergo regular scans on my remaining
kidney which thankfully is still functioning correctly. I wondered
if the tumour in my kidney was in any way related to the trauma
I suffered with my spinal cord injury. The doctors ruled that out
categorically. After a lot of research on my part I discovered that
when the body suffers a major trauma like mine in 1994, then these
tumours can occur without reason afterwards. But there is no medical
evidence supporting this.
Obviously, this set my overall recovery and progress back a long
way. The incision required to remove the tumour goes from the front
of my stomach round to the small of my back on the right side. This
is major surgery for anyone to undergo and as a tetraplegic my recovery
was going to be a lot longer and a lot harder.
It took a further six months to fully recover from the effects of
this surgery. I lost a lot of the movement and function I had already
regained and once again I was an emotional low. I managed to get
a further admission to an excellent rehabilitation centre which
is owned and funded by my former employer. With further hard work
and persistence I regained the mobility and function to the level
that it was before the surgery.
In my experience of spinal cord injury, my physical recovery continued
albeit at a much slower pace for two to three years after my injury.
Things have improved a lot since then as well, but this is more
increased stamina and the ability to think problems through and
find other ways of managing tasks that are no longer possible because
of my restrictive range of movement.
Present Day: At the time of
writing this I am ten years post injury. I can walk with the aid
of elbow crutches for very short distances indoors. My left arm
never recovered any useful practical function. My right arm now
has about 30 percent normal range of movement. I can lift it to
about shoulder height. My right hand, very fortunately I was right-handed
before my accident, has recovered a weak but effective grip. I still
require help with some personal needs but have managed to use what
movement I have to complete a variety of tasks independently.
The Doctor's final prognosis was that my central spinal cord was
where the irreversible damage was. Apparently some nerves are relatively
intact around this area. Central cord syndrome results in weaker
arms than legs. Even with my restrictive movements and lack of arm
function amazing things are possible. I use a variety of adapted
aids and equipment around the house.
In 1997 I managed to get driving again in an adapted vehicle. So
as you can see there are still many possibilities for a fulfilling
life after the devastating effects of paralysis and spinal cord
Since that fateful day life has changed beyond comprehension for
me. I no longer have a good job and the security that came with
it, but somehow I don't miss it as much now as I did in the early
days. I am no longer married but divorced amicably with my ex-wife.
I see my children at least three times most weeks, they are just
the thing to keep anyone feeling young!
Before my accident I didn't know a hard drive from a floppy one
:~) Now I consider myself pretty advanced in the computer literacy
field. This is my most major website to date and computing has really
helped fill a void in my life left after my accident as I was unable
to continue with my sporting pursuits.
Computers, contrary to popular belief aren't just for sending emails,
there's a hundred and one other things you can do with them. I regularly
talk to friends from just around the corner to as far a field as
New Zealand and Australia. Additionally my computer is a music player,
fax machine, TV and DVD player and I compile my own CDs.
My life these days is very fulfilling. I have developed a lot of
new interests and hobbies. Where a lot of doors closed on the day
of my accident, as many, if not more have opened since then. Life
with a spinal cord injury can be immensely challenging, and yes,
I still have 'bad' days. With time and knowledge you can rise above
those challenges and start living the life you never ever thought
you'd see again. I have and am here to prove it. I have been on
skiing trips in the last two years and have a great life with 'Henry'
my assistance dog always by my side
Please have a look around the rest of this web site, if you have
any further questions you can..........
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