An edited version of the following article appeared in The Ottawa Citizen on Saturday, August 25, 2001

A seemingly minor setback could end the tour in its last leg

Mike Nemesvary
'Round the World Challenge

Mike Nemesvary, a former champion freestyle skier, is attempting to become the first quadriplegic to drive around the world - a 40,000 kilometer trek to raise funds for spinal cord injury research and rehabilitation.

Editor's note: The Team is in Mexico City anxiously awaiting the start of the final leg which will take them back home to Ottawa. This week's update is provided by home team member, Jackie Nemesvary.

There has been great excitement over the past week as we gear up for the Team's imminent arrival back to North America - we have regional committees set up throughout Canada and the level of commitment from high-profile individuals and corporations willing to plan and participate in numerous events across the country has been overwhelming. So, too, has been the mail we have received from people all over the world who have been touched and inspired by Mike and the Challenge.

Like the Toronto mother who wrote to tell us about her son who recently sustained traumatic brain injury, causing paralysis as well as other complications but who has "regained hope that he will one day be independent and back to doing all the things he loves." She went on to thank Mike for "being such a hero to many...they look forward to meeting him when he comes to Toronto". We have received many such letters from the disabled community as well as the able-bodied and we have begun to realize that Mike has made an impact and we are well on our way to achieving our goals of increased awareness and raising funds for spinal cord injury research and rehabilitation.

With such optimism in the air, it was a devastating moment when, earlier this week, we received some bad news from Mike upon his arrival in Mexico City that had the potential to not only throw off our entire schedule but, worst-case scenario, put an end to the journey. Mike has been confined to bed-rest due to a pressure sore. To the uninitiated, it sounded so minor - a loonie-sized sore on the back of his upper thigh just below his buttock. Most people would think - hey, just stick on a bandage, maybe take some antibiotics to prevent infection and get on with it.

But for quadriplegics, like so many other seemingly minor ailments, a pressure sore has the potential to be life-threatening due to the risk of fast-spreading infection, if it is not dealt with immediately.

A pressure sore is a break in the skin caused by too much pressure on the skin for too long a period of time. The pressure prevents blood from getting to the skin so the skin dies. Normally, the nerves send messages of pain or feelings of discomfort to your brain to let you know that you need to change position, but in paralysis, damage to the spinal cord keeps these messages from reaching the brain, and, of course, even if it did, Mike would be unable to move on his own anyways. Mike is well aware of these possible complications - it is not the first time it has happened. In a normal day, the risks are minimal as his wheel-chair is fitted with a gel based pressure-relieving cushion and constant slight adjustments throughout the day are usually enough to minimize such a risk.

Ironically, it was not the hours of driving everyday for five months that did it to Mike but rather, it was the 20-hour plane trip from Australia to Mexio City. Imagine being confined to an economy airplane seat for 20 hours, unable to get out of your seat, unable to even be lifted out because there is nowhere to go. Then imagine not even being able to move a muscle or change position within your cramped seat. It's not difficult to understand why this happened.

Throughout this entire trip, we have been cognizant of how easily the entire Challenge could be in jeopardy. We have feared truck break-downs, accidents and break-ins. We have feared that lack of operational funds would end it or that Mike's care attendants would not be able to stick it out. But, most of all, we have worried about Mike's health as he pushes himself to meet the punishing schedule and continual demands on his time. Making sure Mike stays healthy has always been our number one concern and fortunately, Mike has enough experience with his own health-care to know when to slow down or stop and get medical attention.

He is very pleased with the quality of care that he is receiving in Mexico City. There is a top notch rehab centre and Mike is receiving almost daily visits from one of the doctors. He has been advised that it should heal within about a week as long as he stays off of it - this means bed-rest.

In spite of this set-back, Mike and the rest of the Team remain upbeat and optimistic that he will see this trip through to the end. In a recent phone-call, Mike reminded us again of just why this trip around the world truly is a challenge.

Update (Tue, Aug. 28, 200): Since this was written, Mike has healed well enough to continue the Challenge and is currently on the road making his way through the United States.

To get involved or to donate to the ‘Round The World Challenge, please visit our web site at http://www.roundtheworldchallenge.com or contact the office at 613-274-7955.