Mike’s story: Getting our family life back

Relationships, Advice, Family

Photo of Mike and his son and wife enjoying family life at Back Up Fest

In 2015, Mike’s wife, Natalie, underwent emergency surgery due to compression of her spinal cord, which left her with a life-changing spinal cord injury at the T11 level. It rocked their family’s world.

“I just felt numb when we discovered the full extent of her injury. Natalie didn’t understand what they were saying at first, and then it was suddenly made clear to her that her situation wasn’t going to change,” Mike says.

Natalie experienced major depression as she struggled to come to terms with what had happened. Mike believes that Back Up’s support was invaluable at this point. He explains: “Back Up came to see her while she was at the spinal centre. They told her about the different services available, and she was able to speak to a mentor who could understand what she was going through. Natalie has said on many occasions that Back Up brought her back from the brink.”

Getting back to normal family life after Natalie’s injury felt incredibly tough at times, especially as they had always been very active together.

“We used to do mountain biking, walks, visits to the park – we’d always be doing something. Our family holidays were always about finding back streets and discovering new bits of these cities. These things are trickier when you have a spinal cord injury.”

Mike often felt guilty about wanting to do outdoor activities with their young son, which might make Natalie feel left out. “I would always decide what we were going to do and make sure it was possible for all of us. I often struggled with this at times,” Mike says.

Mike spoke to our family outreach team about his concerns. Our team encouraged Mike to be honest and have a conversation with his wife. “Natalie said that she didn’t want me or our son to miss out, which was really poignant for me.”

Mike and Natalie started making adjustments to the way they enjoyed time together as a family. “Sometimes my son and I have ‘daddy days’ where we go out on trips together. We’ll get Natalie’s personal assistants (PAs) in on those days to make those day trips possible.’’

Natalie and her son enjoying family life at the beach

Mike and Natalie have also found creative solutions to allow Natalie to feel part of their adventures.

‘‘I felt very guilty about the fact that Natalie couldn’t ride a bike anymore, so I bought her a GoPro for Christmas. I took it with me on a long bike ride my son and I did, and I recorded the whole thing. Natalie wasn’t able to be with us on the ride, but she still felt included because she could watch the great day we’d had.”

Natalie has also been exploring what is still possible for her with a spinal cord injury.

“Natalie’s mentor mentioned one of Back Up’s multi-activity courses so she decided to give it a go. She tried abseiling, canoeing, the whole lot! When we picked her up at the end of that week, she was a different person.

”Back Up and the people on that course had shown her that there are still things you can do, you just have to do them a bit differently.”

Mike and his family are now excited about the future. Natalie has just been signed to the development league of the wheelchair basketball association and her first games are on the horizon. “We’re looking forward to Natalie having her first matches next year as a proper league player. We’ve booked our family holiday again and we’re looking forward to spending more time together.”

Mike recognises that all the small changes they’ve made have allowed them to get back to the family life they missed. He knows that – while making those changes was tough – these adjustments have made an enormous difference to the whole family’s quality of life.

“When you’re coming to terms with spinal cord injury, you feel like you’re the only family this has happened to.

”But there are people at Back Up who understand and will listen to you. They let you know there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, and that is worth its weight in gold.”

To get family support or for any other questions, email our Interim Family Outreach Manager, Andrew, or call the family outreach team on 020 8875 1805.