Today is Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Day which is run every year by the charities Back up, Aspire, and the Spinal Injuries Association.

Spinal injuries can turn your whole life upside down in an instant so they can be devastating. 21 to 30-year-olds are the age group that are most likely to be spinally injured, but it can happen to people of any age. Approximately 2500 people sustain a spinal cord injury every year in the UK.

There are several different types of spinal injury depending on how far up the spinal cord the damage occurs. Some types of spinal injury will result in paralysis below the site of the injury, and others may not cause paralysis. It all depends on how damaged the spinal cord is.

Click here for more information about spinal cord injuries.

So in honour of the occasion, I am going to talk about how I sustained my spinal injury and how it affects me.

How did you become injured?

I was injured in a car crash on the 14th of May 1995, when I was 6 years old. I was a passenger (obviously!) in a car when we were travelling back from a local festival in Scotland where we were living at the time. I don’t remember anything of the crash itself, but apparently, some guy wasn’t watching where he was going and crashed into the back of another car which then span out in front of us as we were driving in the opposite direction, and we went into the side of it.

I suffered brain damage caused by a bleed in the brain and a bit of damage to the spinal cord as well. So it’s not a straightforward spinal injury, and I don’t fit neatly into any boxes.

How does your injury affect you?

The technical name for my condition is spastic quadriplegia which means I have high muscle tone in all 4 limbs. I can move my arms and legs, and I have full feeling everywhere, so I have no paralysis. I’m lucky because a lot of spinally injured people end up paralysed, but I didn’t so I’m grateful for that.

I can only move my arms and legs a limited amount, so I need to use a powerchair to get around independently. I also need help with pretty much everything such as with eating, drinking, toileting, and getting up in the morning.

But I can use a computer independently using assistive technology, so that lets me do a lot of things on my own.

Did you find it challenging to adapt to your injury?

Emotionally I think I just accepted it and got on with it. I’m sure there were times when I felt down, but I don’t remember them specifically. It was probably harder emotionally for my parents than for me.

I think that being injured at such a young age made it easier for me to adjust because there were a lot of things that I hadn’t done by that point. I literally don’t know what I’m missing for a lot of things so that could have been a blessing in disguise.

If I got injured as an adult, then it may have disrupted my job or a relationship, but at 6 years old you don’t have to worry about that stuff.

I was in hospital for about 9 months in total – at first in Inverness and Aberdeen before being transferred to the spinal injuries centre at Stoke Mandeville in Buckinghamshire.

I also spent some time at a rehabilitation centre called Tadworth Court in Surrey, which helped me with physio and trying to get my body working again as best as it could.

Eventually, I went back to the same primary school that I was attending before my accident. I think things went well, but it was a long time ago, so my memory is a bit hazy. The school was already reasonably wheelchair accessible which helped, and they did have a department for children with special needs, called “the wee room”.

In Scotland “wee” means little, in case you’re confused about that.

We had to move to a bungalow sometime after the crash because the house we were living in at the time had 2 floors and my bedroom was upstairs, which obviously poses problems for a wheelchair user.

We hired a carer called Mrs Sinclair, who helped me at school. I used to call her Mrs “pink hair” and we got on very well together.

What advice would you give to people who suffer a similar injury?

Try to focus on the things that you CAN do rather than the things that you can’t. Even if you have a severe injury like mine, there are still things that you can do to make life fun and meaningful. I’ve been to university and sailed on a tall ship for a week, so don’t get too down. Life goes on, and you can make it a good one!

If you would like to find out more about spinal injuries, visit the website of Aspire, Back Up, or the Spinal Injuries Association.

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