When I was in court to get custody, the judge said, "Tell me how you can love your children if you can't pick them up?"  I looked him in the eye and replied, "Love comes from the heart."

I've had 33 years of my spinal injury.  In them days, there were no services like there are now.  It was just a pat on the shoulder and, 'you'll be alright, Richard' as you left the hospital.  My goal was never just to learn to cope, my main priority was my children.  No way was Social Services going to take them away.

My main priority was my children

At first I had a District Nurse come in to help with my daily routine.  You had no say in how they worked, you just had to wait and they'd turn up when they could.  Often, they'd give you a suppository, go off for a couple of hours, come back and say, 'nothing's happened, I'll come back tomorrow.'  So you'd get dressed, have an accident and no one was around to help.  There was nothing available in the evenings or through the night - we had a night-sitter but she wasn't allowed to help.

I wanted to be more independent; it was important for the children, to make sure they could have a normal home life.  Getting your own PA was a new idea, but if you don't take a risk, you'll never know if it'll work.  At first I advertised in the job centre, then used medical students from Denmark who wanted placements as part of their studies.  I'm still in touch with some of them, and they're doctors and physios now.

I've learnt that you have to vet very carefully; people say they can do things, but they turn out not to have a clue.  And it gets a bit worrying when you are let down; it happened one Christmas, but I sent some texts out and got someone in.  Over the years I've had one or two people who've not worked out, but really I've been very lucky.

Richard in his wheelchair flanked by four of his grandchildrenThe most difficult thing has probably been the driving!  Most of my PAs come from abroad and it takes some of them a while to remember that we drive on the left.  And you have to watch their speeding - they think they're still driving in kilometres an hour!  I've managed to talk our way out of a few tickets, but not all of them.  

Sorting out my own care meant that I could go to meetings at the school, we could go on holiday as a family, we could do all those things that you realise are important when you can't do them.  Now I've got seven grandchildren and being independent means they know that Granddads can still go to the park!

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