“I was a builder and was self-employed since 1982. In May 2022 I had an accident at work. I went onto a flat roof that was going to have a skylight fitted. I was looking at the guttering and as I turned and stepped, my foot tripped and I went back through the hole for the skylight. I landed on my back. One vertebra totally disappeared – exploded they said – and I fractured 5 others, broke 15 ribs and punctured my lung.
I landed on my back – if I had hit my head how I hit my back I’d probably be dead. I was working in Horsham at the time so I got taken to East Brighton hospital because they have a Spinal Unit there. The first day in Brighton I had the MRI and they told my wife that I had severed my spinal cord. The operation the next day showed that I hadn’t severed it, although it took 2 hours to roll me over and then a 7 hour operation to fix everything. The surgeon put me back together and did a good job. I had knocked my spine about badly though – my spine was damaged from T11-12 I think, but the pain is all around the lumbar region.
They told me my ribs would take 2 months to repair and the spinal cord would take longer because of the belt it’d had. They didn’t know what I would get back – they were honest from day 1. No-one knows, I might get a little, all of it, or nothing back.
I was actually under the care of Stoke Mandeville when I was in Brighton, as I was 3rd in line to go there. The OTs and physios were really stretched but they fought to keep me there for about 7 weeks, but my place at Stoke Mandeville didn’t come up in time and they couldn’t keep me. So Brighton recommended QEF as it’s a lot nearer to my home in Surrey. The funding was approved so I came here as a holding position initially, so I could get started on physio, and they have been great here to be fair. I can’t fault this place, they’ve been excellent.
When I came to QEF I couldn’t really move anything below my waist – I could move my thighs a bit and I could feel everything too, but I couldn’t move much. Since I’ve been here, I can now flex my right foot and move all my toes on that foot and I’m starting to get some movement in my other foot as well. That things have started coming back as far as I’m concerned is positive. I’ve got to aim at walking, but if that’s not an option then I’m in a wheelchair. I’m quite practical, I’m black and white really.
My ribs are all good now, my back is just a bit tender and if I sit in a chair for too long it gets a bit uncomfortable. The messages are now starting to get through which is why my right foot is starting to work again. You’re in the lap of the gods really, I think it’s just a case of what comes back to you and what your body puts back together. It takes a long time for nerves to come back – 2-3 years.
I’d been at QEF about 2.5 months when Stoke Mandeville realised I wasn’t in their catchment area anymore. I’d fallen through the cracks apparently. So then I was referred to another spinal unit but they couldn’t take me from a rehab centre. QEF is a level 2B neuro rehab unit, whereas Stoke Mandeville is a level 1 spinal unit.
QEF keep giving me physio though which suits me down to the ground. I’ve been here for 6 months and I can now stand and walk across the gym with a frame and the support of the physios. Early on they had me in a hoist and a walker and the hoist was relaxed so I was holding myself up. I do have a bit of an issue with my leg that doesn’t go back to dead straight. I am having orthotics fitted to the back of my knees to help me get into a standing position more easily.
The Occupational Therapists have been brilliant here – Sarah is my key worker and she has taken me on home visits to assess what I need and organised ramps and equipment for me.
I had a driving assessment at QEF’s Mobility Services to see if I would be able to drive an adapted car – I just need one more appointment before I can be approved for driving. I can transfer in and out of the car myself. I can also get myself in and out of the shower with my own process, the only thing I need help with is getting my tracksuit bottoms over my backside and getting compression stockings on. I can be quite independent here as I have everything I need, QEF has all the right facilities to help me shower, dress and wash myself. We are having to make similar adaptations at home.
The staff are brilliant here, everything is brilliant here. QEF have helped me to keep progressing and make the most of what I’ve got, so I can reach my potential.