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Spinal Cord Injuries

Meet Jonathan Fogerty: CFG Law’s latest guest writer

The latest addition to our team of bloggers at CFG Law is Jonathan Fogerty, Associate Solicitor at CFG Law and who sustained his spinal cord injury 32 years ago.

In the coming weeks and months, Jonathan will be sharing his experiences of living with a spinal cord injury through his blogs here on the CFG Law website.

In this introductory blog, Jonathan tells us about his spinal cord injury, how he sustained it and his immediate transfer into hospital.

Part 1

“Like most people who have sustained a spinal cord injury, I remember the day of my accident as if it were yesterday. It was in fact over 32 years ago but such is the traumatic, life changing experience of a spinal cord injury that the events of the accident never leave you.”

Before my injury, I was a regular young teenage boy. I got myself into my fair share of scrapes, built go-karts at the weekend with old bits of wood and pram-wheels and raced them down the hill on the housing estate where we lived, I was a member of the local Scouts group, I went fishing with my Grandad, (I caught nothing) and generally enjoyed a fun, carefree childhood.

I also enjoyed a whole range of sports, as you do when you are at that age; football and rugby but cross-country running was my main sport. It was something I excelled at and enjoyed very much.

The 14th January 1988 started like any other. I was 14 years old and a 4th year pupil at secondary school in Manchester. It was a crisp winter morning as I left home, the sun was shining and as I got off the bus to walk through the school gates that morning, my classmates and I were in high spirits. We had just returned to school after the Christmas holidays and we were boasting about the number of shandies that we had drunk on New Year’s Eve!

At around 11:30 am, nothing was unusual about the day as myself and my classmates went to the swimming pool, changed and went through to the poolside area.

Minutes later, it wasn’t something that I had ever done before but standing on the edge of the pool at the shallow end, I dived into the shallow water. My head hit the bottom of the pool very hard instantly breaking my neck at C5/6, severing my spinal cord and leaving me paralysed from the chest down.

They say life can change in an instant? How a singular, fleeting moment can completely and abruptly alter the course of your life and forever change your existence from what it was - to what it is now destined to be. Well, that was my moment. And I had become a statistic. On average, during the course of a day, six people in the UK will sustain a spinal cord injury that will leave them paralysed – I had just become one of those six.

I floated to the surface of the pool and I was then face down staring at the bottom and unable to move any part my body. It was painless and quite peaceful and I was getting short of breath.

After what seemed ages (but was probably only a minute or so) a classmate who had seen the accident happen jumped in to help me. He turned me over so that I was able to breathe and I was now lying motionless on the surface of the water; my arms and legs floating by my side. I was completely unable to move them and it was quite a surreal experience, to be able to see my limbs next to me but have no movement or sensation in them.

I tried to move them of course, something inside of me refused to lie still. I believe it was an irrepressible will to live - something innate in all of us. I knew immediately that I was paralysed. I remember lying on the surface of the water shouting for help as I was paralysed. I don’t know how I knew at that age; somehow I just knew.

Believe me if you are unfortunate to sustain a spinal cord injury yourself, you will understand. But such was the mind of a teenager I was entirely unable to imagine that this kind of thing could ever happen to me. This kind of thing always happens to other people – not so.

I was in no pain after my injury and I never lost consciousness. Far from it, my mind was busy, full of thoughts about how I would be excused that evening’s cross country training and would I still be able to go on the school skiing trip that was planned to take place in only a couple of weeks time.

After the paramedics arrived, I was taken from the swimming pool area by stretcher and transferred into an ambulance that took me to the local Manchester Royal Infirmary.
It was there that the serious damage to my spinal cord was diagnosed after routine scans. Later that evening, I was taken to the operating theatre to have a rudimentary skull traction applied to my head. This involved some screws being attached to the side of my skull and a metal halo-traction attached to the screws with weights hung on it to allow the bony injury to my spinal vertebrae to heal.

If I close my eyes and think about it hard enough, I can still hear the noises from the operating theatre, the pressure on the side of my skull as the screws were drilled into it, the beeping of the monitor above my head and I can still taste the chlorine infused water on my lips from the swimming pool.

The following day, after a night at the Manchester Royal Infirmary, I was taken by slow-moving ambulance to the North-West Regional Spinal Injury Centre in Southport and which was to become my home for the next nine months.

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