This is the story of Grace, who has been able to regain her independence thanks to Spinal Cord Injury charity, Aspire and Your Fund.
I can’t remember a time that I didn’t want to be a doctor. I dreamed of working for Médecins Sans Frontieres. I was going to be out in the field in the Middle East, treating traumatic injuries. I was learning Arabic, I was in my fourth year of medical school at King’s College and I completed the right masters at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. I had everything planned out, I just needed to graduate.
I was living with my boyfriend on a boat near Tower Bridge. it was hard work in the winter but was so beautiful in the summer. My passion was climbing, and I had been doing it for over 15 years. For many years I did it competitively, and I was under the 18 UK Champion in 2012, then I proceeded to get my coaching qualifications and was teaching kids climbing.
But nearly a year ago, something happened in a second that changed the course of my entire life. I had just finished my first placement as a fourth-year medical student, and my friend dropped me off at Westfield so I could travel into Central London. I remember very clearly walking through the shopping centre’s ground floor, and then suddenly waking up. This felt very strange, because I hadn’t been asleep. I remember opening my eyes and looking up at how incredibly bright and white everything was. The next thought was my legs. They had ceased to exist. I remember screaming at the police officer who was cradling my head that I couldn’t feel my legs, hoping somehow he could fix it.
From what I could hear, there was a man lying next to me. I’d find out later that that man had jumped from the third floor and landed head first onto my back.
I was taken to the Royal London Hospital and my spine was operated on the next morning. The first thing I asked when I woke up was if I could still be a doctor, and when they said yes that gave me the strength to try and recover.
For the next two weeks, I was bed bound. I felt like I had completely lost control of myself. I can’t tell you how strange it is looking down and feeling like you have someone else’s legs attached to your body. Even as a medical student, I had barely been taught about spinal cord injuries, let alone come across a patient affected by one. I had spent my whole adult life being on the other side of the bed, and now I found myself in one.
My saving grace was when I got the call to say I was heading to the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital in Stanmore. I spent two and a half months in specialist care there, learning to be independent. But I still felt completely lost, an alien in my own body. I was grieving the loss of my legs and struggling to imagine my future. There’s not exactly a handbook when it comes to spinal cord injuries.
The first time I came across the charity Aspire was when I was lying in my hospital bed one day, and a smiley blonde lady wheeled over to me. Her name was Lindsey, and she had an answer for just about everything. She had such a wealth of information that every time she came around my parents scrabbled for their notebooks. She’d spend hours with me, coming up with practical and creative solutions to all of my issues. She made me feel like everything was going to be okay, that I didn’t have to just exist, I could thrive.
Aspire also helped me to set up a Your Fund. This meant I could raise money to help pay for equipment to aid and improve my rehabilitation and independence; equipment such as an FES bike that helps to engage my leg muscles, improving my circulation, joint mobility and strength. It also improves my chances of becoming more mobile in the future. I was also able to buy various wheelchair attachments with the fund, which allow me to feel more confident when going out alone.
Being discharged from hospital was a scary prospect, and I felt like the support from my healthcare team and local social services wasn’t enough to prepare me. Aspire was a major support for me, from advice on housing and benefits to working on how to live independently.
On top of the more acute needs, they have given me some great opportunities to grow and learn now that I have left hospital, front row seats to the Six Nations being a great example!
I know that even now I’m discharged, their support is always there. With their help, I am so much more confident; I have gone back to university now, am doing lots of physiotherapy, making plans to start coaching again and climbing. I feel like I’m thriving again.
With some of the people I met while at Stanmore, and through the Inter Spinal Unit Games, we created a podcast called ‘This is Spinal Crap’. It’s all about living well with a spinal cord injury. We have just finished our first series, where we cover our injuries, bowel and bladder control, sex and relationships, travel and work. It’s for people with Spinal Cord Injury, people that have a loved one with a spinal cord injury, or just anyone that wants to know more and wants to have a laugh - we’re pretty funny if I do say so myself! It’s been a brilliant way to talk through what we’ve been going through and I love the support from them all.
Want more info on Your Fund?
Are you interested in fundraising for someone living with a Spinal Cord Injury? Click on the button below: