In April 2014, while at the doctors for a routine appointment I mentioned I had started to feel a pins and needles sensation in my righthand index finger.  By June 2014 I could feel the pins and needles in both hands and sometimes it would run up to my elbows. It was never debilitating or painful, it altered my sensation of holding things. 

After an MRI showed prolapsed discs at C3/4 and C5/6 it was decided surgery would be needed to resolve the issues.  The operation would focus on the prolapsed disc at C3/4 as this was causing my symptoms. I underwent my surgery in late September in The Walton Centre in Liverpool. Unfortunately, there were complications during the operation which resulted in a spinal stroke/bleed.  When I woke, I could not feel anything from the neck down, and it was explained I was showing signs of complete paralysis.   

Jo on her scooter in the sunshine

Over the coming days and weeks in the ICU and HDU I gradually started to get sensation, feeling and slight movement down the righthand side.  After three weeks in the Walton Centre neurological hospital, I was transferred to the rehabilitation unit of Seddon Suite in St Helens.  I went on to spend six months in the “suite of dreams” and completed daily physiotherapy and occupational therapy to treat my incomplete Spinal Cord Injury  

During my hospital stay I missed my family extremely.  My little girl Jessica had just turned five and Max was three.  It was very hard not seeing them every day but Dave, my husband, kept everything as normal as possible for them, with my mum and dad close by to help as much as possible. 

By December 2014 I started working towards home visits, with the aim being to spend Christmas Eve and Day at home.  Occupational Therapy assessed my house and helped with adaptations to aid me in my return.  They arranged for grab rails and other equipment.  As our house had just the one living room downstairs, this became my bedroom, bathroom, living space, dining area and family room all in one.  It wasn’t ideal, but I was home for Christmas and that was the most important thing. 

Jo with her husband and two children

When I was discharged in March 2015, I had regained enough feeling, movement and power to access all areas of my house.  I could walk with a walking stick inside but needed a Zimmer or delta frame outside on the uneven pavements.  I could only walk short distance outside so used a manual wheelchair for longer distances.  However, as I have partial paralysis down the left side, I could not power the wheelchair myself so tended to only use that when someone could push me. 

The first year after my spinal cord injury seemed to race past!  With being in hospital, learning to sit up, stand, walk, climb stairs, dress and clean myself, my recovery was so visual and noticeable.  Everyone could see how well I was doing and how far I had come. 

Eight years down the line as a tetraplegic person the changes I make now are few and not as noticeable, but still just as important to me.   

To aid with my recovery and once the community physiotherapy had stopped, I started visiting the local swimming pool.  I try to go often as I find movement in water is so much easier and very soothing.  The weightlessness of being submerged gives my muscles the chance to completely relax and recover.  I have also tried various classes through the gym, such as water Zumba, water aerobics and sit-down yoga.  All great motivational activates plus you can meet new people and share experiences.  I have always enjoyed swimming and love spending time on the beach near our caravan in Wales.  As a family we spend as much time as possible there, and I have found ways to access the beach and sea without too many issues.

Jo with her family by the beach 

I decided at around the same time as joining the gym, that I needed to lose the weight I had put on.  After not being mobile I had put on extra weight.  I joined slimming world in January 2016 and by December 2016 I had lost 3 and a half stone.  I am happy now with my weight and find that attending class regularly and going swimming, keeps me focused, healthy and motivated. 

Jo in a life jacket on a lake

As a “walker” I do have complaints and off days.  I have a bladder and bowel issues and use a peristeen irrigation system.  My left hand and toes on my left foot claw, I have Botox injections to help with this.  Due to spasticity my gate pattern is awkward and as a result I fall often.  I’ve had two serious falls resulting in hospital treatment but generally I stumble and just appear unsteady on my feet.  It is a continuing journey, and my health and mobility are still changing after eight years. 

I now drive an adapted car and have a mobility scooter, both of which afford me my independence. I volunteer with a group called Focus on Involvement which allows me to share my lived experiences with the medical professionals of the future, in Universities in the Northwest.  I talk to students studying nursing, Occupational therapy, Physiotherapy and nutritionists to give them an insight into living with a medical condition and share stories of what worked well or could have been improved during my stay in hospital.

Jo on her scooter with her daughter standing next to her

I have been an Independent Living Advisor for two and a half years and I really love the job as I enjoy talking to and helping people.  I wasn’t in a Spinal Injury Centre myself, so I struggled to find out information that could help me.  Knowing that I help and give advice that could benefit someone and positively affect their outlook is incredibly rewarding.

In January of this year, I took on the role of managing the Independent Living Advice team, which is honestly something I am incredibly proud of.  Before my injury I was a manager in Marks & Spencer and in the early stages of my rehabilitation I didn’t know if I would work again let alone return to a managerial role in a completely different type of work.  To now be working more closely with the incredible members of the ILA team and supporting patients is wonderful.


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