Jess’s Story: City Skills

Spinal cord injury can happen to anyone at any time. In Jess’s case, her accident happened just before planning to start a new job in Australia. This caused chaos with her plans, but Back Up was there to help her rediscover what was possible.

Read her story below, and discover how our City Skills course helped Jess live life to the full again.

“In 2021, I was just finishing my medical training and was planning to move to Australia where I had a job lined up in an A&E department in Queensland. I was 26 and life was looking pretty good – but my accident happened five days before the end of my training.

“A tree fell on me while I was at a party, dancing outside. It was very traumatic. My friends, who were also medically trained, worked together to keep me alive until the air ambulance arrived. It took two hours to free me. I had bleeding on the brain, a punctured lung, and my spinal cord was damaged at the T8 level.

“Being in hospital was awful. It felt like my life was out of my control – but I didn’t realise at the time how much easier life was in the accessible environment of the hospital, with lifts and adapted bathrooms. We weren’t allowed any home visits because of the Covid-19 pandemic, so I didn’t know to what extent that life outside wasn’t adapted for me.

“Things fell apart when I got out. I had a total loss of independence.

“My home in Sheffield was on an incredibly steep hill. I could only get out it if someone drove me. I thought things would improve when I returned to London but it was still so hard. It was a terrible time in my life. Only 25% of the tube system is accessible, bus ramps were too steep for me to cope with without tipping, and on top of that I had neuropathic pain to deal with.

“Luckily, I met Back Up when I was on the ward.

“They matched me with a mentor right at the beginning and that was really helpful. It was nice to talk about bowel and bladder issues with someone who understood. She gave me tips and tricks to find places that are accessible for me.

“I also took part in Back Up’s City Skills course. Because Sheffield is such a hilly city, I knew this would be useful. I wanted to learn how to get up and down kerbs and about going away as a wheelchair user. I learnt so much on the course. How to go down ramps safely, how to get up shallow kerbs, how to cope with cobbled streets, and how to use public transport. I literally use the skills they taught me on that course every day.

“The course was also so much fun – it was really good for my mental health.

“One thing I’ve found incredibly useful is the community that Back Up gives you… Role models who are simply ordinary people who have faced the same challenges and overcome them. I met ambitious and driven people who have done really amazing things.

“One lady told me she had been canoeing down rivers in Africa and had to sleep outdoors. She told me how she had managed. Your life isn’t all limited. You have to figure out how to overcome things so that you can do all the activities that you want to do.

“I had been due to present via video-link at a conference in Germany but I felt so empowered on the Back Up course that I booked the plane ticket right there and then!

“Going to Berlin made me realise that life will continue to present new challenges. The wheelchair skills I’d learnt definitely helped as they had small kerbs rather than dropped kerbs. I would not have been able to get around the city without Back Up.

“Life with a spinal cord injury will be a journey and it’s good to know that Back Up is there for me as I go on to face new challenges, providing the support I need to live life to the full.

“I’m currently training to be a GP. I’m living in London but, thanks to Back Up, I know how to get around independently. The first time I managed it, I messaged our Back Up group and said “I just got on the bus by myself!” I love the hustle and bustle of city life.

“As my journey continues it’s great to know that Back Up are here. Every four hours, another person will find out that they have a spinal cord injury. I would love it if you would be able to donate today and join me in supporting Back Up.”

We’re so glad that our vital services have given Jess the skills and confidence needed to live life to the full. If her story has inspired you to get involved, visit this page to support our Christmas appeal.