Cath’s story: Family support after spinal cord injury

Meet Cath:

  • Mum of Pete, who sustained a spinal cord injury while mountain biking
  • Is an active member of the Back Up community, attending our Back Up Lounge and volunteering with us
  • She kindly supported us in running ten family support sessions in 2023!

The impact of spinal cord injury is overwhelming – including for the family members of injured individuals. Fortunately, Back Up provides vital services which ensure that people affected by spinal cord injury can start getting the most out of life again.

By supporting the family members around the injured individual, Back Up provides a vital lifeline, where family members can connect with people who understand the challenges they face.

In Cath’s case, her son Pete sustained a high-level spinal cord injury while mountain biking. The impact of his injury was devastating – not just for Pete himself, but also for his loved ones and those close to him. Cath found herself struggling with the uncertainty of Pete’s injury, especially as he was in hospital away from their family home.

“In the early days after Pete sustained his injury I felt as if I were out on a limb. I thought there was only support in place for Pete himself. I didn’t understand the depth of what charities like Back Up could offer.

“I had no idea how things would pan out after Pete left hospital. Especially with Pete being tetraplegic, we were uncertain what his life would be like once he left the hospital environment.”

It wasn’t until the Covid-19 lockdown that Cath got involved with Back Up. She knew she needed to speak with other family members in a similar situation, so she started attending the Back Up Lounge – an online space for people affected by spinal cord injury.

Here, Cath found a supportive community of other family members of people with a spinal cord injury.

“Talking to other family members in a similar situation really helped ease the confusion and grey areas you find yourselves in when a loved one sustains a spinal cord injury.

“There can be a lot of jargon, information, and abbreviations to learn after spinal cord injury, and it can be very confusing. Talking to people with lived experience of the same problems you are facing can help you break that information down into bite-size pieces. Being patient and getting support from others through Back Up really helped ease my worries and burdens.”

After we supported her, Cath decided to stay involved with our community by giving something back. She trained as a Back Up volunteer, and is now supporting others in a similar situation. In 2023 she gave up her time to help run ten Back Up relative’s services – including online relative’s days and our “What Next?” online course. Cath was able to share her experiences of being a parent of someone with a spinal cord injury, tailoring her support to others and helping them tackle their problems one day at a time.

“Back Up’s services really help reach everyone who is affected by spinal cord injury. As a family member you can be so focused on your loved one who has the injury, it can be easy to dismiss yourself.

“When you support family members of people with a spinal cord injury, you help them understand how to make their wellbeing a priority as well. It helps you manage your thoughts and feelings, and tackle any worries that may be building up.”

Since they found Back Up, Cath and Pete have discovered how, with the right confidence and knowledge, that they can live well with spinal cord injury. Pete is living independently with support from personal assistants, and the family still travel and have fun together.

“This year both Pete and myself will keep being involved with Back Up, volunteering whenever possible. Pete teaches power chair skills training in the Glasgow spinal injuries unit, helping others learn how to get around independently as a power chair user. He’s also got an accessible holiday booked in a cottage up in the Highlands!”

Get in touch with the Back Up team if you’ve been inspired to volunteer with Back Up like Cath does!