Tuesday, 7 February 2012

The day that changed my life - guest post

I am honoured to publish a guest blog from a friend with an inspiring story to tell. Please take time to read it all. You can follow Rich on twitter @biddyrich
Wednesday 19th April 2000 was the day that changed my life – it was the day
that my mischievous, troublesome 16 year old brother had an accident at college, leaving him paralysed from the neck down and confined to a wheelchair. I remember it as if it were yesterday.
I remember receiving the phone call at work and I rushed to the hospital in a blur, I don’t remember much of the journey in. I had no change for parking and couldn’t contact my mum and dad.
When I arrived at A & E the nurses told me not to panic but he would be arriving by air ambulance. Of course, the moment I heard that, my heart started beating really fast and I started to panic! I wanted my mum to be there but she was stuck at work. I was alone, scared and wondering what the hell I was going to say to him when I saw him.
Seeing the helicopter land, I raced over to him and asked him if he was alright. I can’t repeat his answer, but for those who know my brother I can tell you it contained a few swear words.

Steve and Rich

The seriousness of the accident dawned on me when the doctors were pinching his hands and feet asking if he could feel anything. When he replied ‘no’ I knew it was bad news.
Steve was transferred to the Heath Hospital in Cardiff for further tests and we went to Cardiff that evening to be told the horrible news that Steve had a spinal injury and it was almost certain that he would never walk again. I don’t remember how I felt at that particular moment, but I do remember crying when we got home. A lot. I can’t imagine what must have been going through his mind.
He was very down and depressed for the first few years after the accident, and this is where the Spinal Injuries Association proved invaluable to us. They are the leading national charity for spinal cord injured people and they helped Steve, myself and my parents come to terms with his injuries and how to deal with our changed lives.
When he first had the accident, Steve suffered from pressure sores because he was in bed all the time and some were so bad that he had to have a skin graft.
With Steve in a specialist spinal injuries unit at Rookwood Hospital, Cardiff for the next 13 months, we spent every evening travelling to Cardiff to see him. I was 19 and studying for my accountancy exams as well as holding down a full time job. It was tiring and hard work, but I had to do it, for him.
During his stay in hospital he had a number of problems including a Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) and had to be transferred back to another hospital for treatment.
When he came home for good, first on weekend visits, I used to sleep on the sofa downstairs with him. My mum worked in a care home and taught me how to turn him at night time to stop him getting pressure sores. Now I do this without thinking and it is part of everyday life.
Steve managed to get the movement in his left arm while he was in hospital – which has proven to be a real lifeline for him now. He can operate a computer and he has enough movement to steer his motorised wheelchair – giving him some of his independence back. This was a major achievement.
After he came home for good, the trips to hospital weren’t over. A few years after his accident he was very thin and prone to pneumonia. He underwent surgery after suffering a collapsed lung for the third time and spent some time in intensive care after the operation. It was terrifying and a few times we thought the worst.
But if there’s one thing Steve is, he’s stubborn and he’s a fighter. He wasn’t going anywhere.
He came out of hospital and put all of his time into studying at college – he did a business studies course and an AAT accountancy course. My parents and Steve moved to a different house and I think this set him on the road to recovery.
I have nothing but admiration for my parents. They hold down full time jobs as carers in homes and being caring is in their nature. They are on full time caring duty at home looking after Steve and do pretty much everything for him – all unpaid. They never moan about it and I understand this more now I have my own child, they don’t do it because they have to, but because he is their child.

Steve with his biggest fan

Life got better. Steve became his own boss and now employs his own carers to look after him while mum and dad are at work.
He was best man at my wedding – and no better man for the job in mine and my wife’s opinion. He is a fantastic brother and brother in law and is an even better Uncle to our three year old daughter, Ella.
She thinks the world of Steve, and the feeling is most definitely mutual. She doesn’t treat him any differently, climbs all over his wheelchair and they are always up to trouble together.
My relationship with Steve is stronger now than it’s ever been. We are typical brothers, we always wind each other up but I am still very protective over him which is why I take my responsibility of caring for him so seriously. He needs me and I will always be there for him any time of day or night.
He is my best friend.
If there’s one thing I would like my daughter to remember when she is older is not to treat people with disabilities differently; she doesn’t now and I hope she won’t in the future.  I see lots of kids staring at Steve when we’re out but they don’t know him. To me, he’s just the same as he was before his accident, maybe not physically but certainly personality wise. I guess some people are scared by people in wheelchairs but I am glad that Ella isn’t. She loves him for who he is and I have no doubt that will continue.
My wife says that Ella asks her other Nan why Uncle Stevie is in a wheelchair, I know there’s going to be a time when I have to sit down and go through the detail with her, but I think the answer of ‘Uncle Stevie had an accident and his legs don’t work’ is fine for the time being.
This year I am going to do something I’ve never done before - I am in training for the biggest challenge of my life. In June this year, I will take part in a 300 mile cycling challenge, from London to Paris in four days.
Do you think I’m crazy? My wife does, and if I’m honest, I think I am too! But I’ve got the cycling bug and I’ve been inspired by my little brother to raise money for a great charity – the Spinal Injuries Association (SIA).  I wanted to share my reasoning’s with you if you don’t think I’m crazy after reading it, I’m hoping that you might be tempted to dig deep and sponsor me.
Steve was so supportive of me when I told him what I was planning and I hope it shows him how much I care about him.
You can sponsor me at: www.justgiving.com/biddy-sia.