#SCIAD2020: Neil’s Story

This Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Day, we are telling Neil's story - Neil is a man with a spinal cord injury who can walk.

To mark Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Day, we are sharing stories about people who have sustained a spinal cord injury at different ages. We spoke to Neil, whose life changed forever while on a motorbike ride.

While riding down a country road one day, a deer bolted out in front of him. Although – according to Neil – the deer “came out worse” than him, the impact of the crash was devastating. Neil was rushed to hospital, where they discovered he had sustained an incomplete spinal cord injury. It was a scary time for him and his family. There was uncertainty about him walking again, he experienced bladder and bowel control problems, and autonomic dysreflexia. Although as time went on Neil regained the ability to walk, his spinal cord remained permanently damaged.

As the years went on, Neil has learned to live a full life with his spinal cord injury. As someone with a spinal cord injury who can walk, he has had to deal with plenty of obstacles. He has faced what can be described as walkers guilt – feeling “deeply guilty” about the mobility he regained while in hospital. He also still experiences ongoing pain and fatigue to this day. Fortunately for Neil, his time working as a police officer helped him understand how to look after his wellbeing in times of crisis. His experiences helping people also made him want to make a difference for people like him. This led him towards Back Up.

Now, Neil is one of our fantastic volunteers. He mentors for us, helping support people in a similar situation to the one he was in. As well as this, he also gives up his time and expertise to be a Group Leader on our courses. Last year he led our Next Steps course for people who can walk, and to help others boost their confidence and independence.

For Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Day, we caught up with Neil. He told us about how his incomplete spinal cord injury affects his day to day life, and his hopes for the future since he retired from the police – such as building up an acting career. We’re excited to see what Neil has in store for him in his 50s, we especially welcome more people with a spinal cord injury being represented in entertainment!

Tell me a bit about yourself – who you are, what you do, fun fact…

Before my injury I was in the police for over thirty years. I’m currently retired, and trying to find work as an actor. I get quite a bit of extra work, and I’ve been on some intense acting courses in London.

What level is your injury?

I have an incomplete C3/4 injury. I regained full mobility after I sustained my injury, and I can walk without using aids.

How does your injury affect your day-to-day life; pain, fatigue, mobility etc.

I’ve been injured for ten years now. I can mainly manage my pain and fatigue, but it pops up sometimes. I did some gardening a few weeks back, and I had to lie down for two days. When I feel good I can occasionally forget about my injury and push myself too much. When this happens, I think about something I tell the people I mentor: If you accept the consequences of doing something you enjoy – as long as it’s not detrimental to your health – then it’s worth doing.

What are your hopes/ambitions for the future?

I’d like to get an acting job somewhere, even if it’s just a little one. Doing that would be another demonstration of how anything can happen if you work towards it, no matter how unlikely it may seem.

What advice would you give to someone else in a similar situation?

Embrace the changes to your life your injury brought, the opportunities, the new people, the new challenges. When you learn how to accept the changes your injury brings and manage pain, you can make the best of what you have. There is no point wasting time wishing things were different.

Back Up is here for everyone affected by spinal cord injury, including people who are able to walk. Find out what support we can give you.