I was paralysed by a spinal cord injury in 2009. My friends and I had decided to celebrate finishing school by going on holiday to Majorca. We had a great time, however on the final night after having another amazing day I was showing off a little too much. I jumped into the sea hitting a sand bank breaking my neck instantly.  My friends thought I was messing around and didn't notice I was in trouble right away. My best friend pulled me out of the sea and after that it was all I blur for the next two weeks; I had my operation in Majorca stabilising my C4 to C6 vertebra.

It wasn't until I arrived back in Belfast that I was really made aware of how severe the damage was and that with all probability would be paralysed for the rest of my life.  This was a huge shock and one I refused to accept at first. I was only 18 and as most young men do, I thought I was invincible and that something so life changing would never happen to me. It wasn't until I made it to Musgrave Park Hospital where the rehabilitation centre was that it began to sink in. My family and friends were great but definitely didn't give me sympathy, in fact they were tough on me to push myself, not feel sorry for myself and to leave rehab knowing that I did everything I could to recover as much as possible. The spinal injury has impacted my life, there's no two ways about it, but this idea of never feeling sorry for myself and pushing myself to not look back with regrets stuck with me. I left hospital, went on to university as quickly as possible and was able to live like any other student, making all the same mistakes!

My life adjusted so I could manage my spinal injury but it didn't stop. 

Becoming an Aspire Independent Living Advisor

I met Gabriel, who was Aspire's Independent Living Advisor in Belfast, just after leaving the rehabilitation centre. After a few conversations he noticed that I was a huge sport fan and that I really missed the competition of sports. He got me in contact with a local wheelchair rugby team. This was a huge moment in my life and something that stuck with me.

Will playing wheelchair rugby  Will with his wheelchair rugby team

When I found out Gabriel was leaving and I saw his job advertised, I knew I had to go for it.  The opportunity to help others like Gabriel had helped me, through with a little advice and guidance, was something that really appealed to me. Getting to know each individual patient and seeing how they develop over their time recovering in the rehabilitation centre is what makes the job so special.

Going through a spinal injury is incredibly difficult for anyone, but seeing how people can gain confidence and a level of independence during their time in the Spinal Injury Centre is incredible to see. 

Family life

I met my wife five years ago, around five years after I had my injury. The spinal injury and the level of support I need never seemed to be an issue for Becky and we were engaged within six months! When I told my mum she nearly had a heart attack, I think more that Becky actually agreed to it!

Will and Becky on their wedding day

Fast forward a few years and we decided to start a family. This was only possible through IVF, which took around three years to go through from start to finish. It was a long drawn out process that was physically and emotionally draining but luckily it worked first time and my wife is due in September 2020. To say I'm terrified is an understatement! 

Although I'm a little nervous, we have prepared really well for the baby coming. We have researched tips and tricks for parenting as a tetraplegic, as well as using my brothers as inventors to create little contraptions to make life a little easier when the baby arrives. (I’ll let you know how successful these inventions are!). Going through this process whilst also trying to manage life in lockdown has been challenging for myself and my whole family but one that hopefully we are close to seeing the light at the end of the tunnel off as I have missed all the scans and pregnancy meetings which is a bit of a bummer but thank God for zoom! (Other video call apps are available!).

Life during lockdown

To give my wife a bit of support we moved back with my parents for the first eight weeks of lockdown as we were both high risk and things like shopping were a struggle so living with my parents was the best choice. To begin with getting a slot for home delivery of groceries was nearly impossible and when the applications opened to be put on a vulnerable list, I was told I wasn't vulnerable enough! Luckily I had plenty of support so it didn't really affect me but I can only imagine how this news might affect someone living alone who is already isolated.

Will and Becky at home

Keeping active was a big challenge for everyone during lockdown and I really missed playing wheelchair rugby as it's a great way to de-stress and get your head showered. Luckily, I was able to go for a push every morning as the weather was pretty good during the early stages of lockdown - two weeks with no rain is a complete anomaly in Belfast! So we tried to enjoy that as much as possible. When the rain came in, I became a big child and played Xbox far too much. However, with the ability to play online with my friends it was a great way to keep in contact with people. Boredom became the norm for long periods and a little bit of Groundhog Day. Fortunately, I have had experiences in the past of long periods indoors through pressure sore bedrest so I was a little more comfortable than the rest of my family who were tearing their hair out by week four!

With lockdown coming to an end slowly and being back to work remotely (thanks to National Lottery players) it feels like there is a little bit of normality back in our lives. It feels great to be back working even if it will take a little getting used to, working through video chat and phone calls. I feel this will be the new norm for a lot of us over the next few months.  From beginning to talk to inpatients in the rehabilitation centre I began to get a little perspective of my time in lockdown.

Going through a life changing spinal cord injury is really difficult but going through it without having your family and friends close by must be a whole other level.

The staff in Musgrave have been incredible and are trying everything to make the centre as comfortable as possible, but nothing else replaces the support of our loved ones. So, me moaning about only getting one push a day or not getting to the pub seems a little bit trivial now.

Belfast Independent Living Advisor Will

Independent Living

Living with Spinal Cord Injury

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